When it comes to sex, there are countless tips for what happens before and during it, but rarely do we think about what we may need to do to make it better after the deed. Yet, studies are showing the importance of sexual aftercare even when individuals explore hook-up culture and casual sex.
Aftercare is where you take a moment to unwind, relax and reflect after a sexual encounter. Commonly spoken about after BDSM scenes, aftercare isn’t just a kink-focused activity—the techniques can be used after any form of sexual play as you come down from the excitement, stimulation and hormonal releases that happen during erotic activities, whether full-blown intercourse or simply exploring some of the best sex toys around.
Sex therapist Lyndsey Luther (opens in new tab) says that sexual aftercare is a vital part of a romantic relationship: “Aftercare builds an emotional connection and shows that you care about each other outside of sexual activity."
Sexual aftercare: what you need to know
1. Chat with your play partner(s)
When communicating about aftercare, Luther suggests talking not only afterward about your play, but discuss your aftercare needs beforehand so you’re both prepared: "What does aftercare look like to you and what does it mean, and clarifying how you can discuss what you need after sex should be done in advance and throughout.”
Communication can help you digest and unwind from sexual encounters. It’s also a great opportunity to take a moment to chat with your play partner and discuss your sex session likes and dislikes. This will help you bond with your partner further and encourage even more enjoyable sexual encounters with them in the future.
2. Massage and body contact
Taking a moment to enjoy the presence of your lover’s body can help slow down your heart rate after rigorous sexual escapades. Not only will the warmth of another person’s body help you feel safe and comforted, but hugging can also promote the release of feel-good hormones that will allow you to leave your sex session in a positive mindset.
3. Clean-up and chill
Sex is naturally messy (hello, drippy lube and arousal serum!) and there’s nothing wrong with that. After getting all hot and sweaty, post-sex clean-up can help you feel ready to take on other day-to-day activities. Hydrating and having something to eat can also help and will boost your blood sugar levels so you’re set to take on the world after sex.
BDSM play can require extra aftercare needs
BDSM play—"bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism" (check out our bondage for beginners guide for more)—can push people through erotic limits that sometimes go against their day-to-day beliefs systems and personas, meaning things can get emotionally intense.
“With BDSM, aftercare is there to minimize the 'drop' (the feeling after BDSM that can leave you feeling sad or anxious), and well as to minimize any post-sex shame," says Luther.
Some individuals benefit from taking time after BDSM play to relax and take a moment to re-emerge back into their day-to-day roles and personas.
BDSM play can also require additional aftercare, including after forms of sadomasochism play. For example, when spanking occurs—the area where impact has landed needs some aftercare attention to reduce the chances of injuries. Making sure these areas affected by sadomasochism play are clean afterward is important to reduce the chances of infection.
Luther suggests that when you’re planning an intense play session, it’s important to factor in if you have time for aftercare, as the drop after BDSM play can be very powerful. If you don’t have time to factor in aftercare for intense play, it may be best to wait to explore that type of activity for a day when you do.
What if your aftercare needs differ from your partner's?
It’s very common for aftercare needs to differ from person to person. "Differences in aftercare habits can happen, but it’s all about communicating what each of you needs,” says Luther.
She suggests trying the following: “If what you need is different from your partner(s) needs, can you each receive something different from aftercare and, if so, is there a middle ground where each of you is comforted in the way you need? It’s all about discussing the negotiable and non-negotiable and deciding how you want to feel during aftercare.”
And despite the name, aftercare doesn’t have to be something that you just do right after sex. Checking in on your partner even a day after an intense sexual encounter can act as a form of aftercare and help you maintain that flow of intimacy.
If you haven’t explored sexual aftercare before, it’s worth taking some time to give it a go!
Ness Cooper is internationally recognized as a leading expert in sex and relationships and has trained with the Kinsey Institute for human sexuality. She is a sexpert and writer for Marie Claire, and is a published author not just in news and magazines, but in books and academia, too.