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What is Aftercare?

women cuddling in bed 

By Ena Dahl

What goes up must come down! Isaac Newton said it first, and it is true for much more than physical objects controlled by gravity.

When we reach any kind of elated and euphoric state, we're bound for an inevitable come-down, and—if we don't take care—potentially a huge crash. Most of us have at some point experienced feeling down or even depressed after a blissful or mind-blowing event, whether a party, a holiday, an exerting physical performance or something else that brings us high.

Through experience, we adapt ways to cushion this drop and ensure that we land comfortably. This could mean that we schedule in some self-care, allow ourselves extra rest, a nutritious meal, or take a few days to adjust between our summer holidays and going back to school or work.

Aftercare in a BDSM setting

The self-explanatory term aftercare refers to the extra care and consideration provided by partners after an intense sexual experience.

For people in the BDSM community, this is standard practice and one of the first things you'll learn about when venturing into the scene. Due to the massive amounts of hormones released during these sessions, they tend to produce powerful highs which can result in a heavy drop after the fact.

Subspace

While aftercare can and should go both ways, it's especially important that the submissive receives proper aftercare from their Dominant partner after a scene. The euphoric state entered during BDSM play, referred to as subspace, is often described as a floating, out-of-body, and oftentimes, a near-spiritual experience.

Accessed either mentally or physiologically through sustained pain, the state causes an influx of adrenaline and endorphins to flood the system. It is, quite literally, a drug high produced entirely by the submissive's body.

There's also something referred to as a Dom-space, which is basically an opposite type of high: While subspace causes submissives to disassociate and lose track of time and space, dominants often feel extra heightened, focused and tuned-in.

Sub drop

While a slight low is normal after such an intense high, the goal of aftercare is to soften the transitioning back into 'reality' and avoid feelings of drain and even depression.

Apart from the massive hormone-high, BDSM play demands absolute vulnerability and trust between partners. As if having been 'split wide open', aftercare can be seen as a way to be 'put back together' after the fact.

couple laying around aftercare

How do you give aftercare?

Aftercare is not a specific thing or action, but rather whatever the involved parties need to feel good and cared for. It requires that we talk openly with our partners about our wants and needs and do our best to meet them for each other.

For many, aftercare might simply mean copious amounts of physical affection. A hot bath with essential oils, or a full body massage, are wonderful ways to come down, while others prefer to cuddle up and watch a movie, share a nice meal or something sweet.

Most importantly, you never want to 'play and leave', but be there for each other.

After aftercare

This is not officially 'a thing', but I believe that aftercare shouldn't end the moment you part ways physically. Instead, it can continue via sweet and caring messages, phone calls or whatever extra attention necessary.

Slowly, this care often transitions to flirting and teasing, which builds anticipation and excitement for your next 'session' together.

couple laying in bed

Have you ever had the post-sex blues?

It's not just BDSM related sex that produces natural highs, instead, all sex has the potential to release a menagerie of hormones: Blending together, the mood-booster, endorphins mix with dopamine and the love and connection hormone, oxytocin, to create a delectable pleasure-cocktail.

As with most deliciously sweet cocktails, this too can cause a mean 'hangover'.

Postcoital dysphoria (PCD), nicknamed 'post-sex blues', is a term that describes the sadness, tearfulness, and melancholy that can occur after sex. While not as commonly acknowledged as in the BDSM scene, the causes of PCD is similar to the sub- or dom-drop, and, according to this article in Psychology Today, around 40% of both men and women report having experienced it.

Aftercare is for everyone!

In a recent article, I wrote about how communication and trust are the most important components of BDSM.

While our kinks, fetishes, and preferences are individual, and a lot of BDSM related activities are not everyone's cup of tea, I do believe that we all have a lot to learn from the community's focus on these values.

In the same way, aftercare shouldn't just be reserved for submissives after a spanking session. We can all benefit from taking the time to come down together after bonding in the bedroom.

We've learned to avoid and coddle the worst hangovers in various areas of life—except for when it comes to sex. In our fast-paced culture sex can often turn into a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am ordeal, leaving us feeling blue.

Talking, sharing and being extra caring and affectionate after sex can make it a more pleasurable experience for everyone.

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