Simply put, aftercare is seeing to the physical and emotional needs of your partner after a BDSM scene or play. It's taking time after play to recover and reconnect to reality. Aftercare is important for both the sub and Dom as BDSM play can be very demanding and intense for both.
Why is aftercare important? We should practice aftercare to ensure our partners can transition from the euphoric headspace of BDSM play and back into the real world. It’s important that partners feel cared for, especially because we want to avoid or at least minimize dom/sub drop.
First, some terms that may or may not be familiar to you:
Subspace: A trace or hypnotic like feeling many subs feel during a scene. It is experienced differently in each submissive and can include feeling of euphoria, dizziness, incoherence, and out of body like feelings. Its the "high" subs feel when mixing pain with pleasure. Doms need to be aware of this as a submissive deep in subspace will have a much harder time communicating and consenting to activities. They may not feel pain the same way and thus it will be harder to tell a Dom when he is crossing limits.
Sub drop: The other feeling subs can feel after play is done and they come down from the subspace high. Sub drop again varies from sub to sub. It can have physical effects, such as fatigue, sadness, aches and pains. You could feel lost, guilty, and depressed for hours or days! The effects may occur immediately after play, minutes, hours, or days after the scenario. Some subs recover in a matter of hours, but others could exhibit signs of sub drop for weeks after an intense session.
Dom drop: Similar to sub drop, Dom drop is an after-effect that may be experienced by a dominant after they have finished a scene with their submissive. This effect is usually characterized by a feeling of guilt or depression. They may feel irritable, tired, melancholic, guilty or mentally and/or physically exhausted. This change in mood may not happen immediately and could even be experienced hours or days later.
Ways to practice aftercare
Care for wounds and injuries: Bruises, abrasions, and lacerations should all be treated with first aid. Icing bruises and sore muscles will reduce swelling and discomfort. Clean and bandage any open wounds to prevent infection. A first aid kit should be a part of any aftercare kit. Most professional dungeons will have one available but bring your own just in case.
Hydrate and snack: BDSM play can take a lot of energy out of both the sub and Dom. Especially after and long session, it's important to get some carbs and water to help restore energy levels. If diabetes is an issue, checking blood sugar levels may be a good idea. Comfort food can help making a return from sub or Dom space easier.
Cuddling: Providing physical comfort and contact helps us release the hormone oxytocin, which can reduce stress and increase intimacy. Cuddling is also a low energy activity that can soothe a submissive on the receiving end of humiliation or impact play. This type of comfort will vary depending on the relationship you have with your partner of course. Casual play partners may not feel as comfortable with the intimacy of cuddling as would life long partners.
Massage: Massage can help sooth aching muscles and much like cuddling mentioned above, can reduce stress and release oxytocin. Who doesn't like a good massage after a hard workout? Good for both subs and Doms!
Sleep: Sometimes after a intense play session, what's really needed is a good power nap or good nights rest. Sleeping next to your partner will bring comfort and intimacy. Not all partners will feel like sleeping together though depending on their needs and relationship.
Watch a movie: Watching a favorite movie can certainly relax a person especially something light hearted like a comedy. The escapism of a good movie gets your mind off some of the negative feelings that may pop up after play sessions are over.
Music: Put on a favorite playlist and let some music sooth and relax your mind.
Other relaxing activities: Video games, a hot bath or shower, cooking a favorite meal together, or just reading a good book can all help reset your mind and help you or your partner relax.
Talk it over: Sometimes aftercare is as simple as talking about the scene you just did. What you liked about it is especially useful to bring about the positive aspects of playtime. It might be wise to avoid criticism or what you didn't enjoy until later when you can speak of it calmly and with a clear head. Communication is key for healthy, safe BDSM play. Discuss the good, the bad, the things you may want to try next time. If its not possible to talk right after a play session, follow up phone calls to check in are always a good idea to show you care and are looking out for each others needs.
What aftercare looks like will depend on the relationship you have and the needs of each other. Its a very good idea to discuss these before a play session just like you would for limits, safe words, etc. Does everyone need aftercare? Not necessarily. Some are fine having some alone time to do their own thing to unwind while others will need a lot over several days.
Did I miss something you use in aftercare? Feel free to comment and I can always add to the list!
New to BDSM? Check out the BDSM 101 page to get you started!