If you’re new to the kink and BDSM world, you may be new to the term “aftercare.” It’s a word that gets tossed around a lot. But it’s worthwhile to take a moment to understand and educate yourself. What is it, why is it important, and how to get it if you need it.
What is aftercare?
Aftercare is just what it sounds like: it is care given/received after a kink scene. It can be as simple as a nap or cuddling, it can involve managing the physical after effects of the scene, or it can involve a lot of talking and emotional/mental care.
Who is it for?
Aftercare is for everyone. It’s a term that is most often applied to submissive partners because they are, more often than not, on the receiving end of the scene. But you don’t have to identify as a submissive to receive aftercare. Dominant partners often need it too, particularly in dynamics that involve sado-masochism. After the fun is over, they sometimes grapple with big feelings.
Knowing what you need for your own aftercare, and understanding what your partner needs, are both essential things to talk about. It is also remember that giving or receiving aftercare is a consideration for all kinds of kink players. It is okay to want or need aftercare, no matter which role you are in.
Why is it essential?
Let’s use the D/s structure as an example. Imagine a consensual spanking scene where the submissive is willingly spanked to tears and is called all kinds of (pre-negotiated) names. By the end, they will have experienced a significant adrenaline spike and most likely be on an adrenaline high, often referred to as sub-space. In this state, that person may struggle to speak, be physically exhausted, be unclear mentally, or in a “fog.” They may be physically sore or in need of some basic first aid. While they are not necessarily helpless, they are vulnerable.
The dominant in this situation will more than likely have had a similar adrenaline spike and experience their own come-down from an endorphin rush. They may also be physically exhausted from the effort of the spanking or restraining of their sub. It’s also possible for the dominant to have emotional and mental struggles after a scene. Feelings of shame and guilt can surface making them vulnerable and as in need of aftercare as the sub.
What are my responsibilities for aftercare?
Your primary responsibility around aftercare is to communicate, and to do so before the scene takes place. When you play with someone you know well, you may not need to discuss aftercare in detail every single time. But it’s important to understand your partners’ basic needs and that you express and communicate your own. You must prepare for, and follow through on, the pre-negotiated aftercare.
What does aftercare usually look like?
Not surprisingly, aftercare is very personal. Some folks just need a cuddle and to be told they did well. Others need space and quiet, possibly alone, or without much talk or touch. Some people just want rest and something mindless to do like watch a movie. Other folks will be energized and want to get out for a walk. There is no universal recipe for aftercare!
Aftercare can be any activity or comfort that is needed, but commonly aftercare involves physical comforts or some sort of emotional comfort. If both partners are ready to discuss the scene, a debriefing session to talk about the details of the experience you just shared.
Aftercare does not necessarily end immediately after a scene. It’s not always as simple as slapping on a band-aid and sending your partner off with a bottle of water and a granola bar. Aftercare can include a text a few hours later or the next day to check in. It means knowing that your partner made it home safely. Aftercare means making yourselves available to each other for more talk or debriefing. For many folks, the decision to play with a person again in the future hinges on how well the aftercare goes.
But how do I know what to do? How do I get what I need?
You communicate. Ask your partner what they usually need after a scene and share with them what you will need. If you are unsure of what either of your needs and wants might be, decide and agree on a basic minimum. This basic minimum might be just to have some water and sit in relative silence. It could involve a cuddle or going your separate ways for a day or two. Whatever it is, talk it through and know that aftercare, just like the play that comes before it, is based in consent.
What if a play partner declines or refuses?
It cannot be stressed enough that while aftercare needs to be consensual, it also needs to be pre-negotiated. Playing with people you trust should be an obvious part of any kink situation. And it’s important that you both talk about aftercare before things heat up and play begins. It is an absolute jerk move to promise aftercare and then rescind it when your partner is vulnerable, post-play. There is a small school of thought within the kink world, that aftercare is not essential and can be skipped. Which means there are kinksters that will refuse to provide aftercare. Whether you engage with playmates with that philosophy is up to you, but at the very least, be informed of their intentions and limits.
Find your aftercare elsewhere
Sometimes, even if a play partner provides excellent aftercare and is available for follow up in the days after, their care may not be what you need. Having a kink-friendly pal to chat with about the experience or who simply understands that you may need some space after a session, can be invaluable. Kink is a complex thing for most folks because it is physical, mental and emotional, so getting support or comfort from understanding people in your life is not a bad thing.
Aftercare may sound like a lot of thought and work and worry but it can be a really enjoyable and valuable part of the kink lifestyle. Don’t forget, an essential component of good aftercare is communication by everyone. No matter what role you are in, you have a responsibility to share your thoughts on aftercare and ask for what you need. Take care of yourself, take care of each other, play safe, and have fun!