By Ariel Rose
When portrayed in popular media, BDSM is all about the beginnings. The seduction, the initiation, the unveiling of toys or rope or a shiny kink dungeon – these all appear to be par for the course, if you’re going by what HBO considers BDSM to be. But what most films, books, and TV programs don’t show is the end of a scene, and what comes after. Aftercare may be less exciting to the mainstream crowd, and it certainly doesn’t gel with the image of a sexy underground scene whose players use whips and chains 24/7. In my opinion, though, the aftercare is what makes BDSM worth the pain, the stigma, and the hard work. Without it, the whips and chains mean nothing to me.
So what is aftercare? Nothing more or less than the processing undergone after a scene is over, in which both top and bottom are allowed to cool down and ease out of BDSM play. I may be especially enthusiastic about it, but for many people in kink, aftercare is an essential part of the lifestyle. Without further ado, I’ll explain why.
You may think that the only person who needs aftercare is a submissive, or bottom, who’s having all those lovely/nasty things done to them by the top. But that’s a misconception that should be cleared up right away. True, not everyone needs aftercare, but the people who do need it can be sub or Dom/me, top or bottom. It’s not exclusively limited to the receptive partner of the scene, because it involves so much more than “recovering” from whatever the scene entailed.
Aftercare involves exactly what it sounds like: care and attention paid to all aspects of a person. That means it’s not just physical care, like first aid, but mental and emotional care as well – and anyone who’s done more than dabbled in BDSM can tell you it plays funny games with your mental and emotional state! Aftercare for your body may be as simple as treating any injuries or sore spots sustained during play. Aftercare for your mind, on the other hand, is sorta like “Chicken Soup for the Kinky Soul”: it can take the form of reassurance, discussion, “processing,” or simply calm and quiet. Emotionally, the goal is to surround yourself with things that feel good; mentally, you want to bring yourself back to a non-scene state, to come out of whatever role you’ve been playing in scene. So it’s a bit more complex than simply slapping some lotion on your rope-burn.
A concept I find really important in aftercare, and BDSM in general, is Clarisse Thorn’s maxim “Start from a position of strength, and seek strength afterward.” The gist of this motto is that BDSM is best when it makes you feel strong, validated, and good about yourself rather than weak, uncertain, or bad. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for vulnerability in kink, and in fact a lot of great experiences can stem from letting down one’s defenses both physically and emotionally. But if the result of that scene is that you proceed to feel more helpless in the future, something may be wrong. BDSM can be hugely emotional, and every party involved has a right to act in the best interests of their emotional health. By coming from a place of strength – approaching BDSM with a healthy mindset that won’t be easily shaken – you can protect your wellbeing before starting to play. Aftercare is for the second half of the motto, seeking strength afterward. It renews the security you should feel in your BDSM activities, whether you be the most inexperienced Dom/me or the most masochistic sub in the scene. That’s why it’s so important.
When I started incorporating BDSM into my established relationship, I admit that I wasn’t always coming from a place of strength. No matter how hard I tried, outside emotions could sometimes creep into a scene, or I would experiment with dynamics I wasn’t entirely sure about. Aftercare was the reason I didn’t fall apart, but rather learned how to strengthen both the relationship and myself. Following every scene, I would take some time to cool down with my sub, talking about what had just happened – what worked, what didn’t, what I could do in the future. We also shared in a lot of cuddle time, which can go a surprisingly long way towards making you feel better post-play.
After a time I pushed my sub’s pain limits through spanking, the aftercare for the scene proved to be as critical as the scene itself. I wanted to be as careful about my partner’s wellbeing as possible, even though physically I had been much harsher to him than before. So when he called “stop,” and the scene ended, my first words to him were ones of approval. “You did well.” “Such a good pet.” These reassuring statements were accompanied by a softening of my Dom/me persona, going from cruel to kindly as I also brought myself out of the scene. Both of us came down fully during the final part of my aftercare, in which I devoted some time to rubbing lotion over my partner’s sore backside. The sensations were soothing for both him and me; we both needed a bit of calm after a very exciting experience. I felt equally cared for, as a Dom/me, even though I was the one performing most of the care.
This only goes to show that aftercare is crucial to both Dom/mes and subs, and I speak as one who’s experienced it on both sides of the equation. The phenomenon of subdrop is well-known in the BDSM community, yet its equivalent, domdrop, is less talked about even though it hits just as hard. Aftercare can help prevent the emotional collapse brought on by intense BDSM and the endorphin rush that accompanies it. It can also guide someone already going through the experience with minimal pain.
For me personally, aftercare is more necessary when in a relationship, because the emotional aspects of kink and sex impact me greatly if I’m committed to another person. Outside of a relationship, you may find people have different emotional investments, and may need more or less aftercare depending on the situation. As always, the best thing to do is ask. A partner may be too shy to request aftercare unless it’s suggested first, so better safe than sorry. Even if you don’t feel the need for aftercare yourself, please be accommodating to people who do – it’s only polite, and you may find yourself enjoying it as well!
A few tips for different kinds of aftercare that appeal to different needs:
For physical care following a scene, make sure to have a first aid kit or something similar nearby. You may need antiseptic for cuts or anything that’s bleeding, bandages, an ice pack, or a body lotion that can be used to soothe rope-burn or other sore spots. Painkillers usually come with a first aid kit, but you might want to go easy on these, as they may mask a serious pain; treat injuries first, then determine whether you need an aspirin or not. BDSM can involve a lot of exertion, so it’s also good form to have water readily available, and light snacks to restore lost energy. A blanket should be available too, in case you or your partner’s body temperature has dropped. If you want some full-body relaxation, try taking a long hot shower, or a bubble bath. If tired, you can place some pillows in a good place to collapse on after you’re done – or retire to the bed with your partner for some tender cuddling.
Mental care should involve adjusting your mindset after leaving a scene, particularly if you’ve entered sub- or domspace, which can drastically alter your capacity for thought and speech. If someone is coming down from a state of incoherence or bliss, take some time to stay by them until they’ve regained their senses. Words of reassurance, meditative breathing, and a strong physical presence by your side can all help ease the transition into rationality.
As for emotional care, the goal is comfort and reassurance. This can be offered through cuddles, hugs and kisses that are gentle rather than rough, or words of praise and appreciation. Tell your partner how much you care for them, or how well they did in the scene. Have plenty of nice sensations on hand, like a soft blanket or your favorite snacks – and make sure your partner is aware of how important they are to you. Aftercare can sometimes be necessary for up to days after a scene, because sub- or domspace can last that long, so checking up on your partner with a call the next day can never hurt.
Again, not everyone needs aftercare, or thinks they need it. Don’t make assumptions about whether a partner would like it or not – but don’t be afraid to ask if you do.
What’s your favorite kind of aftercare? Questions, comments, concerns about what I’ve written? Leave me a note in the box below!