Partnered Play
January 7, 2022

BDSM Aftercare: What It Is, Plus Some Aftercare Ideas To Try

Winding down after a scene for some TLC can be an important part of play.
Written by
Kaye Smith
Published on
January 7, 2022
Updated on
What's changed?

BDSM is an umbrella term referring to a range of bondage, dominance, and submission, sadomasochism activities. Before and during any BDSM experience, it’s important to establish boundaries, consent, and safe words and nonverbal cues that might indicate a hard “stop” any time during the scene. 

Because BDSM acts require a huge amount of trust, communication, and negotiation, and can, at times, be physically and emotionally taxing, participants often need aftercare to wind down when play ends. Kink-knowledgeable sex therapist Dulcinea Pitagora, the co-founder of the AltSex NYC Conference and Sexuality Speaker Series, tells O.school: “Aftercare is the process of care and attention paid to the more emotionally and physically spent participant after the [BDSM] scene concludes, and often includes comforting physical contact or verbal processing of the scene.” 

Here’s why aftercare can be a crucial part of BDSM play and a few aftercare ideas to try.

Why Aftercare is important when engaging in power exchange 

Most BDSM activities involve participants engaging in carefully staged “scenes'' where one person has power over another. This exchange of power can be an erotic turn-on for both doms and subs. Some people act out a dom-sub lifestyle 24/7, but most do not carry these power dynamics beyond the sexual experience. Aftercare can help a couple contain their fantasy to BDSM play and transition into their typical roles outside of the scene. For example, a couple might be interested in acting out a dom-sub role play but want to feel their relationship dynamic shift back to an equal footing when it's over. 

Pitagora tells O.school, “Some people are in an altered state (e.g., sub-space) following an intense scene, and need time to come back to baseline, and the means of returning to baseline vary from person to person. The most important thing is to have already discussed what types of aftercare to be prepared for at a neutral time, well in advance of the scene, since someone in an altered state might not be as communicative as they usually are.”

In The Ultimate Guide to Bondage, Mistress Couple writes that partners in “top-space” and “subspace” may have different physiological and psychological experiences. Mistress Couple says that subspace is often experienced by subs as a “disoriented” and “floaty” feeling like being drunk or high. It typically occurs during BDSM play from the surge of endorphins, oxytocin, and adrenaline produced in the brain by the experience. A top can also experience top-space, which makes them feel “supercharged” and mentally “overactive.” So, aftercare isn’t something that is limited to subs. Both doms and subs can benefit from some TLC after BDSM play.

Aftercare ideas to try for TLC post BDSM play 

Different types of aftercare may be best for different types of BDSM play, which is why you may want to discuss beforehand which aftercare activity best suits you and your partner. This can also allow you to have aftercare items at the ready — be it massage oils, comfy pillows, snacks, a comfort movie queued up, etc. Here are a few aftercare ideas for various types of BDSM activities. 

1. Aftercare if you practice bondage or restraint

Restraints and rope bondage is often a key part of bondage. You might try rope play based on elaborate Japanese binding techniques, such as Takote Kote (TK). You could also try a simpler method and tie your partner to the bed with a silk scarf or cuff their hands to the bedposts with some furry handcuffs. 

If by chance you have tied the ropes too tight and have cut off circulation, aftercare might include gently massaging your partner’s wrists and ankles to get the blood flowing again. Bondage can cause muscle cramps and some people enjoy warm baths, stretching, or doing yoga together to loosen up after a bondage scene. It’s a good idea to have some water available for both of you to drink and a blanket to wrap around your sub. 

2. Aftercare if you practice impact play 

A classic example of impact play is to use your open hand to spank your willing bottom. But you could also use a paddle, a flogger, or a whip. People enjoy impact play for the sensations, the power dynamics, or both.

Impact play can be painful and, depending on the intensity, it can leave marks behind or lead to bruises or inflamed skin. After you finish a scene, aftercare may include washing any injured areas well and applying topical antibiotics if there are any abrasions. Icing a swollen area and massaging arnica on any injuries is a good idea as well. You might want to talk with your partner about how they feel about the marks, especially if they weren’t planned. Because impact play increases blood flow to the skin, some people enjoy light sensual touching or gentle sensation play after a scene. You can stroke your sub’s sensitized skin with feathers or an ice cube, which can feel incredibly erotic, loving, and sensual. Such care can help rebalance the power dynamic after an intense scene.

3. Aftercare if you practice role play 

BDSM is often fantasy-based. People role play elaborate scenarios during their scenes (e.g., naughty schoolboy and stern headmistress or tyrannical boss and mousey employee). The various roles and scenes you can act out are seemingly limitless. 

Roleplay aftercare might include processing the scene and discussing how each of you felt about what happened, what you thought went well, and what needs to be improved. Many people enjoy cuddling together, having a tasty snack, taking a shower or bath together as a way of connecting with each other after a tiring scene.

4. Aftercare if you practice humiliation play

Humiliation is a special kind of edge play that can stir up intense emotions in participants. Typical examples of humiliation play include calling your partner names like “slut” or “pig” and making them participate in degrading scenes. 

While being humiliated can be erotic for the sub, they may require a lot of emotional care after a scene has ended due to the strong feelings that can be triggered during such play. A sub who has just been humiliated may need to be held, kissed, and praised afterward. They may need to be reassured that there is nothing wrong with them since some people have lingering guilt about enjoying humiliation. Processing the scene together may be especially helpful. Cuddling together and talking can also help restore the relationship equilibrium. Some people also enjoy having sex following humiliation play as a way to enhance intimacy. 

Hw to communicate which aftercare activity you need

At times, nothing on these aftercare suggestions may feel quite right to you. You may need something different or more specific to your personal needs. It’s important to ask what your partner wants after a scene because they may very well need a different type of aftercare than what was originally agreed upon. Just ask. 

This requires a high level of self-awareness. Both participants need to be aware of their own needs at any given moment and to be able to communicate them effectively. Pay attention to how you feel after a scene and identify what would help you restore balance. Are you hungry, do you want to be held, do you need words of affirmation, or do you want to be left alone? You can ask your partner to hold you, bring you a snack, or leave you alone. Negotiate for the kind of aftercare you need. It’s also important to understand that aftercare isn’t over in the hours immediately following a scene; it can extend for days or weeks. And some people need to request their partner check-in on them, even if they’re casual play partners. 

The bottom line 

Aftercare serves many purposes. It can help a couple transition back into the real world, reconnect on an equal playing field, and unwind mentally and physically. Along with clear communication and safewords, aftercare is one of the most crucial components for safe and enjoyable BDSM play.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Kaye Smith is a social psychologist, life coach, and sex educator. She did her graduate research study on female sexual dysfunction and blogged as Lilith Land for the legendary Betty Dodson. She can be reached at kayesmithphd.com

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