What Is Aftercare?
Remember, in 50 Shades of Grey, when Christian gave Ana aftercare following an exceptionally intense session? Yeah, neither do I, because it didn’t happen, even when she seemed a little upset about the experience. One of the many problems with the movie and novel was how inaccurately it portrayed BDSM, and leaving out aftercare is chief among its worst offenders. In most healthy BDSM relationships, aftercare is a lovely and regular part of sex.
More specifically, aftercare is an affectionate ritual that the top does for the bottom after a BDSM “scene,” which is BDSM-speak for sexy time. The top is someone who is dominant or taking action within the scene; the bottom is someone who is submissive or receiving the action—switches can play both roles. (Unsure if you’re a top, bottom, or switch? Take the quiz!) In particularly intense scenes, the bottom may enter a state of mind called subspace, which is a beautiful thing to experience. However, the end of the experience can feel somewhat abrupt, and bottoms may encounter a feeling known as “subdrop.”
Subdrop occurs when the bottom goes from experiencing intense, mind-blowing feelings to suddenly being back in real life again. Sometimes the subdrop can last for a couple of hours but it may even appear a few days after the scene. Important note: aftercare is unquestionably essential if someone safeworded out of the scene, so that you can both talk about what happened and gently return the bottom to real life. Aftercare isn’t a balm used to mitigate the effects of abusive behavior; rather, it’s part of how your mind differentiates the scene from abusive behavior.
Types of Aftercare
There are two main types of aftercare: physical and emotional. You’ll have to discuss with your partner which type of aftercare they prefer, or if they like to have a combination of both. Ensure you talk about it, preferably in advance. Plan to stay together until you both feel calmed down from the intensity of the scene. Finding aftercare that you both enjoy will protect your mental health and your relationship from what can otherwise feel like an emotional rollercoaster.
Physical aftercare is, unsurprisingly, when you care for their body. Some bottoms appreciate their tops bringing them a snack or a glass of water, tucking them in with a blanket, or cuddling. Other bottoms may like to be brought some painkillers, ice, or a bandage so that the top can dress their wounds. A massage (of a non-injured spot on the body) is also an excellent way to show care for the bottom after a session of physical pain. Or, you could take a shower together, and the top can offer to wash, dry, and dress the bottom.
Emotional aftercare occurs when the top tends to the bottom’s mind. This type of aftercare includes words of affirmation or acknowledgment. There’s no need to exaggerate your commitment or say, “I love you,” if that’s not a part of your relationship. You can do a post-mortem on your scene—what you liked and disliked, though you should keep your focus on the positive aspects. This type of openness is a must in BDSM relationships, but don’t let it feel intimidating if you’re in a newish relationship. What’s crucial is that you restore a feeling of connection as two people, outside of the scene. You can tell the bottom how fascinating you find their kink, how much fun you had during the scene, or if you tried something new that you liked.
Further, some bottoms are not big fans of aftercare. Bottoms that fall into this category much prefer to have a bit of alone time to reflect on the scene, or nap, or otherwise engage in self-care. This situation works, too, but it needs to be discussed in advance. And the bottom should never feel like aftercare is a burden for the top, especially when aftercare can be so much fun. If you don’t have time for aftercare, then you simply don’t have time to have a scene. Schedule it in, and follow through.
Make Aftercare Fun
If you are a bottom, consider keeping a kit of aftercare basics with you whenever you play with someone. That way, it’s easy to explain what you need, and you’re prepared no matter who your partner is. Some helpful items include lighthearted movies, slippers, comfy pajamas, and snacks that improve your mood. Tops who regularly play with the same bottom could tackle this project—there’s nothing sexier than someone who came prepared.