Aftercare: Someone to Watch Over Me.
The flogging was superb, the spanking divine. The caning was a work of art. The zipper of clothespins was not only aesthetically pleasing but came off smoothly and left a gorgeous set of exactly the kind of marks you were hoping for. The endorphins were high. Daddy’s little girl got her reward, Mistress was pleased, slaveboi got a special treat. Top and bottom, Dominant and submissive were as one. Bliss. The perfect realization of both Top and bottom’s fantasies.
Or maybe the whole thing sucked. The scene was a disaster from beginning to end. It was a mistake to even open up the toy bag and it just got worse from there. The only thing missing was a broken ceiling beam, a police raid, and an unexpected visit from your vanilla parents/boss/ex-partner. If either of you ever play kinky games again it will probably be in a Broadway production.
Or perhaps you had the time of your life. Never before have you enjoyed giving or receiving whatever pervy goodness you were involved in. But your partner – well, they would have preferred a Saturday morning wake-up call from two dowdy women carrying a copy of the Watch Tower. Ouch. Now that hurts.
Just as the existence — or lack – of foreplay and afterglow can make or break a sexual encounter, so can the existence — or lack — of aftercare make or break a BDSM scene. Even a wonderful SM encounter’s long-term success can depend on how each person transitions from the endorphin-rich headspace of playtime back to the “real world.”
Some wits have joked that negotiation begins a scene with discussion of what you plan to have happen, whereas aftercare ends the scene with apologies for what actually happened. It’s an exaggeration, but not an entirely inaccurate statement. Aftercare is, essentially, the attentive and affectionate process of returning to one’s daily reality after experiencing a potentially powerful event.
Aftercare isn’t something you’ll see discussed heavily in most books about BDSM play, but it certainly gets discussed within the Scene, at play parties and between individual players. “I had a good time, but I could have used more aftercare,” isn’t an uncommon thing to hear bottoms say after a scene, especially after playing with an inexperienced Top. But bottoms aren’t the only ones who need aftercare. Tops can benefit from it, too. It’s hard work to be in control of another person and can be taxing both physically and emotionally. Even the most confident Top can have times when s/he feels uncomfortable about engaging in mutually consensual (but still socially unacceptable) behavior with another person. And both Tops and bottoms can experience letdown or “drop” after a scene.
As is the case with relationships in general, most people give thought to what they want to do during a play session; what toys to use, what music to play, what to wear… but not a lot of time or thought is dedicated to the end of a scene. For many, once the negotiated activities are completed, it’s time to put away the toys and go home. Wham, bam, thank ya ma’am. Having said all of this, what exactly is aftercare?
In two words: Checking in.
Aftercare can be as simple as asking how your partner is feeling physically and emotionally or as complex as spending the night together cuddling and talking in depth about the scene you just shared. It can last five minutes or five days, depending on the scene and the people involved. There are essentially two different areas to check on during aftercare:
There are four different target recipients for aftercare:
Although individual needs will vary based on the people involved, the situation, and the kind of play engaged in, aftercare techniques can be applied to anyone. Like negotiation, it is fully customizable. The important thing to keep in mind is that after a scene, those involved can feel vulnerable, exposed and emotional, so tread carefully and exercise common sense and compassion. The quality of aftercare provided can salvage a bad experience or damage a good one because, being the last thing undertaken, it will likely be the first thing remembered. Its value is increased following a particularly intense experience or one resulting in accidental injury, especially involving new partners or those with limited experience. Although Tops are traditionally seen as the providers of aftercare to their bottoms, reciprocity is often appreciated.
Here are some things to keep in mind when providing aftercare:
Tend to the Body
BDSM activities can be physically draining to everyone involved. To ensure that there is plenty of time to tend to your self or your play partner(s), factor in recovery time and don’t wear yourself out during play. Budget at least 15 to 20 minutes, although you may find less or more time is needed, depending on the situation. Make sure everyone gets something to drink afterwards. Juice or water are both excellent after-play beverages. Check to make sure circulation in hands and feet are good and that heart rates return to normal. Check visually and with the spoken word. A bottom can be dazed, stoned on good feelings, and think they’re fine. Don’t trust them initially unless you are certain they have the judgment and experience necessary to determine such a thing. Ask specific questions how your play partner is feeling. If there are cuts, scratches or bruises, determine whether they need to be tended and make sure any wounds are cleaned and dressed. Look carefully at the eyes to see if they’re dilated, listen to hear if speech is unusual and watch to see if coordination is off. Warm baths or showers, a soak in a hot tub, a light meal, a nap or just a moment of quiet before leaving the play space or building, alone or in combination, can help ease the transition from scene world to outer world.
Tend to the Mind & Spirit
BDSM activities don’t merely engage the body, they often delve into parts of the mind that polite society prefers to keep hidden. Tears, for instance, can be as much a result of strong emotion as strong physical sensation. D/s scenes can be especially sensitive, particularly if any player has unresolved abuse issues that can arise during or after play. Regardless of past personal history, play can be emotionally intense, and feelings of fear, adoration, submission or dominance may need to be transitioned out of gradually. If the dynamics exist, expressions of physical affection such as hugging, caressing, cuddling and petting can be soothing to both partners. Quietly discussing the scene and learning what elements worked and which were less successful can allow for processing of emotions and evaluation of the scene. This is a good time for compliments on one another’s technique, appearance during play, and general enjoyment. Returning to more peer-based interactions can also help the journey from playtime headspace into real world roles.
Tend to the Details
If you play with someone else’s submissive or bottom, make sure to find out if providing aftercare to them will be acceptable or comfortable. You may want to time your scene in such a manner that your play partner’s Dominant or Top can give them the attention that they need. Spending a bit of time with them while you both cool down is still a good idea, however. If you’re able, a follow-up call the next day can be an excellent way to ensure that any regrets or concerns can be attended to promptly and all involved can provide any feedback they’ve developed over the evening. Bruises and other marks can appear overnight and this provides an opportunity to discuss them, as well as other issues that may have resulted. And there are rarely too many opportunities to tell someone what a great time you had.
Finally, whether you do it for yourself, your play partners or a viewing audience – one of the best things you can do to communicate that you’ve enjoyed yourself and, no matter how spooky things may have looked, you’re happy with the results of your efforts – is to look like it.