What Is Aftercare?
Ever had a partner roll over to grab their phone right after sex? A lover who disengages on the heels of lovemaking can make you feel neglected, uncared for, and even unsafe. That's why aftercare is such an important part of satisfying sex.
What is aftercare and how do you practice it? Does everyone need it? Join me as I dive into this often overlooked but essential aspect of intimacy. I'll discuss why hormones can make you crave cuddling, what aftercare has to do with mental health, and how to make post-sex moments as memorable as the main event.
What Is Aftercare?
Tending to your partner after sex is a crucial part of intimacy called aftercare. During aftercare, partners check in with each other to make sure they feel safe and comfortable and their needs are attended to. There are no hard and fast rules for aftercare, but the aim is to communicate and ensure everyone feels good and taken care of.
Though the concept originated in the kink community, aftercare isn't just for kinky encounters. Aftercare is key to a fulfilling sexual experience, no matter what type of play you enjoy. And if you are kinky, aftercare isn't just for submissive partners. All partners can benefit from aftercare, including tops, Doms, and switches.
Learn more: Dominant And Submissive Relationships
The Importance of Aftercare
Aftercare is about much more than sex! It's a way to maintain and deepen the connections, physical and otherwise, between you and your partner. Let's look at some of the ways aftercare supports emotional and sexual well-being and brings partners together.
It eases the hormonal crash
After sex, so-called "love and happiness hormones" like oxytocin and endorphins drop suddenly. This hormonal crash can cause feelings of sadness or irritability, formally known as post-coital dysphoria. Cuddling, kissing, and touching can help counteract the after-sex blues by stimulating the release of more feel-good hormones.
It deepens emotional bonds
Aftercare means setting time aside to talk to and take care of your partner. Dedicating time to connect helps to ensure that you both feel valued and cared for.
Whether you give each other verbal affirmations, discuss the experience you just shared, or just lie together quietly, this kind of vulnerability heightens trust and strengthens the bond between you and your partner.
It supports mental health
Aftercare not only helps to bolster your relationship with your partner, it's also a great way to nurture your mental health. How?
Aftercare promotes relaxation
Sharing relaxing post-sex activities like eating together, deep breathing, or taking a walk can help make you feel calmer and less stressed.
Positive communication boosts self-esteem
Providing positive reinforcement by expressing appreciation for your partner's efforts during sex boosts their confidence while reinforcing a healthy dynamic in the relationship
Expressing feelings creates emotional resilience
Discussing negative or complicated emotions that come up during sex can help you work through feelings or worries and build emotional resilience. A vital part of this is the ability to accept each other's experiences without defensiveness or judgment.
Learn more: Mental Self-care
How To Practice Aftercare
Aftercare can be whatever you and your partner want it to be! Maybe after sex there's something you like to do together, private nicknames you like to use, or certain songs you like to listen to. If you're not sure how to care for your partner after sex, here are some ideas.
Physical touch is one of the most intimate and important parts of aftercare. This might mean spooning, hugging, kissing, taking a nap together, or just resting your hand on your partner's arm as you lie side by side.
Feeling free to talk honestly after sex is essential for maintaining trust and understanding. Expressing both positive and negative emotions gives you and your partner an opportunity to grow closer and get to know each other on a deeper level.
To communicate effectively:
- Listen without judgment. Create a safe space where both partners can share their thoughts and feeling without fear of rejection
- Show empathy for your partner by validating their experiences even if they're different from yours
- Listen carefully. Really hear what your partner says, and ask questions if you don't understand or need more information
Learn more: How To Talk About Sex
Give positive reinforcement
When you compliment your partner and express gratitude for them, you can help boost their self-esteem and feelings of safety. Be specific about what you enjoyed or appreciated during your sexual experience together. Did they say or do something that made a lasting impression? Verbalizing what you liked can help build trust, closeness, and a deeper bond.
All of us have unique preferences when it comes aftercare. Let's talk about how to identify yours, communicate those preferences to your partner, and understand in turn what your partner needs from you.
Start by thinking about what makes you feel comfortable and supported after sex. This might include physical touch like cuddling or holding hands, praise from your partner, sharing a meal together, or giving each other massages.
Communicate those desires to your partner
Clear communication is key when it comes to sex and aftercare! Talk about your preferences and listen to your partner's ideal aftercare scenario. By collaborating on the process together, you can create a private routine that you both look forward to and enjoy.
Learn more: Sexual Openness
Adapt over time
As you and your partner explore aftercare, stay open. What worked once may change as you, your lover, and your relationship evolve. Check in with each other about how your current routine is working and make adjustments as needed.
Addressing Trauma Through Aftercare
For those of us who've experienced sexual trauma or suffer from PTSD-related symptoms, aftercare can be an important way to help promote healing. Here are some tips for making sex feel safe, before, during, and after.
Establish clear consent ahead of time
Open communication about consent is essential for creating a safe space where both partners feel comfortable. What does this kind of communication look like?
- Talk before sex about your triggers, limits, preferences, and concerns
- Check in with each other during sex to maintain ongoing consent
- Establish a safeword that either of you can use if you need to stop or take a break
Learn more: Guide to BDSM Safety
Give ongoing reassurance
In addition to establishing clear consent beforehand, it's important to offer continuous support and reassurance throughout the experience. Ask your partner how they're doing or if they need or want anything. Expressing care and appreciation are key to creating an atmosphere of trust and respect.
Offer support and understanding post-sex
Aftercare can be crucial when addressing past traumas or PTSD-related issues. If you or your partner have gone through trauma that impacts your sexuality or your relationships, make sure you feel supported and connected after sex.
Learn: What is Consensual Non-Consent?
This might look like talking about emotions that came up during play and validating each other's feelings, or exchanging words of affirmation. Aftercare methods like these can create an environment where you and your partner feel safe to explore your desires, while also acknowledging the effects of past trauma.
For more on navigating intimacy with trauma survivors, check out resources like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
Why is aftercare important in the kink community?
Sexual aftercare is especially important in the kink community to ensure that both partners feel safe, respected, and cared for following intense BDSM experiences, known as scenes. Aftercare can help to manage feelings of vulnerability or shame and allow partners to process emotions related to power dynamics or pain play.
Learn more: Sexual Shame
What if my partner's idea of aftercare is different from mine?
It's common to have needs that are different from your partner's and aftercare is no exception. Similar to a love language, your aftercare language will be unique to you, just as your partner's is to them.
Don't be afraid to explore various options together until you find what works best for both of you. Most partners can agree on some aspects of aftercare that make them both feel fulfilled and cared for.
How do I practice aftercare if I'm polyamorous or part of a throuple?
Aftercare is just as important, if not more so, if you're part of a throuple or practice polyamory! Aftercare can help throuples and polyamorous partners stay close and in touch with each other's needs for care and connection. The same general guidelines apply: communicate with your partners, make time to give and receive the kind of aftercare that's important to each of you, and make it a non-negotiable part of sex.