Aftercare Is a Bridge Back to Reality
All You Need To Know About BDSM Aftercare
By Tess Dagger • 8 min read • ENGLISH
By Tess Dagger • 8 min read • ENGLISH
It’s Saturday night with your play partner, and you’ve just ended a scene that fulfilled all your fantasies: You were brought to your edge and back, experiencing things you’ve never felt before… and then, it’s over.
The mood is sinking, and you sink with it. It’s time to delve into a little aftercare.
Imagine your brain a slow-filling chemical bucket that occasionally tips some of its mood-influencers into the body. It can feel positive, negative, intoxicating, or nerve-wracking. In the end, the bucket is left a little emptier as its contents work to give your body a chemical boost.
In an intense BDSM exchange, that slow-filling bucket can be completely upended into your system, and suddenly, there’s very little left to draw from. In these moments, we turn to outside sources to seek replenishment, otherwise known as aftercare.
Aftercare is immensely important and not specific to BDSM. Each industry has its own terminology to describe the depressive state after a large event: Post-Event Blues, Post-Adrenaline Blues, Con Drop, and the Let-Down Effect are a few. All describe the intense build-up of tension that suddenly leaves you depleted post-climax. I simply refer to this effect as Drop.
It’s little wonder why you may suddenly feel tired, depressed, or isolated after a scene. When coupled with BDSM, you’ve changed your calibration for normal entirely and may need a while to reset. Your bucket’s empty, and in need of a refill.
Everybody needs aftercare!
Some believe they don’t need it without realizing they’re providing it to themselves; a wander in a bookstore and a sandwich post-scene can be both grounding and healing, and exactly what you need. Others crave more direct and anticipated forms of aftercare; a soft blanket, cuddles, snacks, and water are the classic staples.
Aftercare preferences vary wildly from person to person, and therefore, it can be more complex than it sounds.
We can minimize the amount of aftercare required before entering a scene by slowly ramping up and tapering off the intensity of play, which decreases the volume of stress hormone released at once. It can even begin before the scene is over; the gradual replacement of more brutal activities with tender or soothing ones sets the foundation for aftercare before the scene ends.
There are many guides to BDSM aftercare and most of them list similar basics to start from. Since it’s helpful to know the whys behind the whats, so here are a few essentials:
Water | When we cry, sweat, squirt/lubricate/ejaculate, and sometimes venture into the realms of other bodily fluids lost, it can lead to drops in blood pressure, which causes dizziness. This can be scary when already feeling uncertain. Hydrate both yourself and your partner.
Food | Blood sugar is necessary for cognitive function, since glucose fuels the brain. Low blood sugar can lead to confusion and irritability and is best combated with a post-scene snack. This can be done preemptively, before a scene. Many avoid eating too much beforehand, not wanting to play on a full stomach, which is a large factor in low blood sugar after a scene. Snack before and after.
Intimacy | You and your partner(s) just engaged in something potentially degrading, physically painful, or emotionally challenging. We do these things to connect, but they require reassurance afterward. To know that our darker, edgier sexualities still stir feelings of love, attraction, and admiration in our partners helps us accept the healthy need to explore our base desires. Intimacy can range from cuddling to sex and will reinforce the good feelings that linger after an intense session.
Communication | Processing with your partner allows you to analyze what worked for you and how you can benefit from the exchange. It’s common practice to check-in, not only during aftercare but on the morning after. I encourage taking this a step further; check in with each other after a week, and then a week after that. Communication doesn’t end with a scene, it begins…
Normalizing activities | These act as recalibrating psychological bridges between BDSM activities and day-to-day life. Ranging from relaxing to stimulating, they’re generally something a person can easily grasp mentally while still in Drop, such as a crafty hobby or good book.
Rest and comfort | When we’re sick, we rest. When we’re injured, we rest. Our bodies release prolactin and growth hormone during sleep onset, which allows tissues to mend and our immune systems to catch up. Comfortable, cozy lounging also increases oxytocin and allows us to fill the bucket a little.
There are, of course, more unconventional means of aftercare: Exercise, laughter, personal space, and socializing can all fall into the realms of what a person needs to bring themselves back to earth. There are as many forms of aftercare in the world as there are people.
How do we become good at providing such a highly personal need?
Repeat after me: Tops need aftercare too.
This bit of awareness is thankfully beginning to spread—and not a moment too soon. We often see aftercare focus on the bottom, with the top as the one giving it.
Tops are in the difficult position of appearing outwardly untouched after a scene, aside from the occasional sore whip-arm. Because of this, they’re left to languish while the battered bottom gets to lap up all the lovely pampering. Bottoms are the immediate post-scene focus, and not without good reason — the bottom’s physical needs are often more immediate, especially after heavy play. But let’s talk about what we don’t see.
A top has been meting out punishment to a bottom in a way that could be seen as completely inappropriate. They may not carry external bruising, but if we don’t focus on reassuring internal doubt, the post-scene Top-Drop can be very real—and damaging.
This may take longer to show—in some cases weeks or months—but guilt, depression, and doubt, if left to fester, can worm their ways into the spaces left after play to cause emotional anguish.
What can a bottom do to ensure a healthy post-play relationship with their top? Well, check-in with them, for one. As mentioned, frequent post-scene check-ins can be healthy and reassurance, appreciation, and intimacy go a long way in both directions. Just as a bottom may need to be reminded that they’re valued, tops do too. And while it differs with each person, the only thing needed to start the process is a simple question:
Hey, how’re you feeling after our scene?
Now that we’ve listed the classic examples of aftercare, let’s move into knowing what is appropriate and when.
When playing with a new partner, we tend to rely heavily on the pre-scene negotiation to give us directions for aftercare. The problem is, it’s not a one-size-fits-all process. A new play partner may tell me that her standard aftercare is something highly specific, but there’s a fair-to-good chance that she may suddenly feel that she needs something entirely different after our scene.
Why? Because the dynamic is new; our exchange is unique, and what may work with others may not work for us.
Since no two people are the same, the greatest assets to mitigating Drop are flexibility, and knowing your internal tendencies (and how to work with them).
Flexibility permits you to change track depending on your partner’s needs. They’ll thank you for your ability to roll with their sudden urge to talk instead of a cuddle.
Problems can arise when both parties need aftercare that directly conflicts with that of their partner. In these scenarios, it’s important to remember that you can address needs one at a time. If they’re time-sensitive, it’s ok to seek your aftercare elsewhere, or figure out who will need more pressing care and prioritize thereafter.
Knowing your post-play needs is an extremely valuable gift to give your partners. Understanding the fluctuations of your process and how they might differ from person to person will ensure that your future play partners won’t have to fear you being unable to tend to your mental well-being. A deeper knowledge of your needs makes you a safe and reliable player, both during and after.
Remember, what you need to be able to maintain your stability may change, but knowing your path out of Drop and back to happiness is a golden key to good, healthy BDSM practices.
Lastly, I want to address the difference between aftercare and what I personally refer to as palliation. These can often be similar, but there’s a key difference between the two that can be hard to spot.
Aftercare specifically applies to all activities that help a person process and move forward from a scene. It’s a highly beneficial process that allows us to play without internalizing negativity.
Palliation is utilizing internal and external techniques to calm ourselves. It’s a blanket term for things we do to help ourselves feel better but doesn’t address moving forward from a BDSM mentality to real life. Palliation is not a negative term, but it should be recognized as soothing rather than processing. It doesn’t address the gap we need to bridge between BDSM and daily living
In some instances, people reject processing a scene in favor of activities that may not be healthy. If somebody self-isolates in an unhealthy way, drinks or takes substances after a scene—or plays with such frequency that they don’t take the time to check in with themselves or their partners, it can be a detriment to their mental health. BDSM challenges us each time we play, and it’s important to check ourselves internally after each session. Otherwise, we may push ourselves into realms that we are not mentally prepared for. In these instances, palliation will do nothing to help us move forward.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of palliation, and it’s not always a bad thing. Some people require a bit of time before moving forward. Internalizing our aftercare can take anywhere from hours to days, or even longer. Because of this, it’s important to provide a strong foundation of support and caring during our most vulnerable moments outside of play.
You may have been wondering to yourself while reading; what does my ideal aftercare look like?
You may already have hints of giving and receiving aftercare in your life, whether it be from soothing a partner after a rough day at work or knowing you need to sit quietly and drink a glass of water after doing anything strenuous. We learn by being attentive to ourselves and others, and it’s a skill we can hone every day in our vanilla lives!
If you’re still uncertain where to start, however, there’s an easy place to begin from: Do what makes you both feel good, happy, and normal. If you’re still unsure, bring a snack, a water bottle, and a good fuzzy blanket, just for good measure.
As always, be safe, sane, and consensual. But most importantly, be yourself.