Aftercare, Part I: The Basics

This is Part I of a three-part series on aftercare. Part II can be found here. Part III is here.

I live to give Brit affection. Holding, petting, kissing, and smelling her hair is something I constantly crave. I insist she constantly touch me as well. I only had to ask this of her once, and have never had to ask her again. I think I tend to be more touchy-feely than most people, but affection is something all lovers share to some degree. What I am going to talk about now is not this, specifically. Aftercare can be affection, but it can be other things as well. In the D/s context it can be a reward, and in my opinion, is an obligation on the part of Dom after a scene. I make this disclaimer to point out that I need affection in a “relationship” and it is not a reward. I need it as much, maybe more than she does. However, if I lead a scene with Brit, or with another sub while Brit kneels there, bound, helpless and watching, there is still the need for aftercare.

What is aftercare? From a post on Fetlife’s forums:

[Aftercare is] the time after a BDSM scene or play session in which the participants calm down, discuss the previous events and their personal reactions to them, and slowly come back in touch with reality. BDSM often involves an endorphin high and very intense experience, and failure to engage in proper aftercare can lead to subdrop as these return to more everyday levels. Subdrop, as defined by Wikipedia… [is] a physical condition, often with cold- or flu-like symptoms, experienced by a submissive after an intense session of BDSM play. This can last for as long as a week, and is best prevented by aftercare immediately after the session.

Humiliation, restriction, pain, being made to feel helpless and used is not for everyone. For those who do enjoy/need such a scene this can still be very intense and draining. Saying “Thank you, I have to go meet my trainer,” while packing up your bag and heading out the door, is not proper aftercare, and something I am ashamed to say I have done. We all learn by our mistakes and I think I get it now. Aftercare is more than just a cuddle and a peck on the cheek. Not closing out a scene leaves a tremendous number of loose ends emotionally and if you don’t deal with them at that point in time, you will certainly have them to address later in much less hands-on and less enjoyable ways. A sub wants attention. A sub is giving you everything to get it. A donkey will only follow the carrot so long before the donkey really could care less.

Brit: For me, aftercare isn’t about getting attention. Scenes bring me to a really raw, intense, emotional place. It creates this kind of endorphin high that I need to come down from, yes, but it also releases all kinds of feelings and emotions that I may not have known I had. I’ve also just been (sometimes pretty severely) beaten by someone very close to me, and aftercare serves as the reassurance that it’s just play and that everything is okay now.

My note to other Doms is as follows: Aftercare can be many things. Holding the sub afterward, talking softly like lovers is certainly one way. Talking to the sub as a vanilla person, giving a bit of yourself is another. Basically, step out of character a little (no you will not lose your edge) and talk about what happened, what was good, what was bad, what your perceptions were and how/why you reacted the way you did. How does she feel now? Learn from it. I promise (spelt correctly, I might add), next time your scene will be better and deeper, with increased trust. Furthermore, the emotional clean-up you have to deal with and manage afterward will change to a constant longing and desire to please you once again.

Wikipedia had AFTERCARE as an acronym, and described it as such, which is pretty helpful for someone new to BDSM that is unsure of what, exactly, aftercare requires:

  • A is for Attentiveness: Attend to the needs of a sub, both physically and mentally. Try to figure out in advance what you’ll need, so it’s readily available.
  • F is for Fortify: Fortify the body’s needs. Keep hydrated. Make sure to take into consideration any medical conditions. Take time to clean up and rest after play.
  • T is for Transition: BDSM involves a power exchange. It’s important to learn how to refocus after play, shifting mental gears back to “normal”. Proper aftercare allows a sub to feel safe and secure.
  • E is for Express: Express appreciation for a sub (or a Dom) and the effort that went into play. Talk about the connections you’ve made, the way you care about each other because of them.
  • R is for Recovery: Take the time to fully recover from a scene, be it emotionally or physically. Depending on the intensity of play, this can take some time.
  • C is for Communicate: Communication is the most essential aspect of BDSM. Being supportive, listening to each other after play helps each person return to a normal state of mind.
  • A is for Analyze: Assess any immediate needs, both physical and emotional. Don’t dive into a massive analysis of the scene right away, but look at what worked, what didn’t, and the effects of the scene.
  • R is for Reflect: Was the scene successful? Did both parties enjoy it? Is it worth repeating? Would different equipment or precautions be necessary for similar play in the future?
  • E is for Explore: What worked? What didn’t? Where would you like to go with this in the future?

Bonding in this manner is real and quite strong, and creates intense attachment and connection between Dom and sub. Having a sub consent to this type of bonding is very powerful on both sides. This manipulation does make affection a “reward” and can be further strengthen by mixing it into the scene. Pleasure or pain, which will she get next? What is she willing to endure to get it? The anticipation and determination to earn the reward is another wonderful scene in itself. 

Brit: Because BDSM involves such a power exchange and very strong emotions, aftercare is not just important for the sub; it’s important for Doms as well. They need the time to return to their normal state of mind, just like the sub does. I know that I enter subspace during a scene, and need time to come out of it. I’ve been told that Doms get into a kind of “zone” as well, and they, too, need time to come out of that fog, and to come down from the endorphin high that kicks in while they’re in the scene.

Oh, how sweet a touch can be, given by the hand that strikes you! Brit will address how this last line is actually what can create the most intense bonds between a Dom and a sub, through a process called traumatic bonding, in part two.
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  1. Sexy Sixty
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    I want to thank you for this post. It came at an important juncture in my developing understanding of D/s relationships.

  2. Wilhelmina
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    thanks for the informative post :)

  3. piecesofjade
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I was glad to see you address that aftercare is not only for the sub's sake–it is just as necessary for the top to know that "everything's okay" afterward, especially when they have done intense, edgy, painful, or humiliating things to one they care about. He (or she) needs to know the sub is okay with what happened, and needs to feel that sense of "humanity" returned to them.

    One thing I would point out is that what constitutes aftercare is not the same for everyone, tho. I know one sub that simply likes to have a blanket thrown over her and to be left alone until she comes around. My own Top plays with someone that doesn't want any "loving" interaction after, for her, that diminishes the power of the scene. It is thru their ability to communicate those needs that they realized and were able to give each other what they needed to feel a sense of completeness after the scene, and that, too, is a key element of aftercare–recognizing both the top and bottom's needs and fulfilling them.

    Excellent topic, excellent post!

  4. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Jade, you are 100% correct in that aftercare is different for everyone. It's actually something that I meant to address and forgot to include here. Some people need more, others need less.

  5. Ms. Inconspicuous
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me a bit of the advice for dealing with an introverted child–and in a way it *is* similar (hey wait, I'll explain that better).

    Introverts live inside their head more than extroverts–so they recommend that parents give a child ample warning before engaging in another task so they can work their way out of their own headspace and into the other activity.

    I feel very much that way in sub-space. It's incredibly mental and requires a lot of living in one's head. The shock of reality without transition can be harsh (though I've never heard of the flu/cold symptoms before…very interesting).

    I always feel in a bit of a haze for a day or so after a very intense "session" (for lack of a better word, because I don't really do "scenes" or anything), despite the aftercare.

  6. Aurore
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    This is a great, informative post – definitely should be required reading for newbies.

  7. dragonmage
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I started reading this post, and found myself saying "Ok, yes, but don't forget that it's important to the dom/top as well … ah, yay! There it is." ^_^

    I can tell you with certainty that it is possible (and not uncommon in my case) for the dom/top to get into a zone as well as the sub/bottom – and yes, we can drop as well (been there, done that, wouldn't wish a drop on anyone).

    I would like to add that not only can aftercare be different for different people, it can be different for different scenes. Some days, Luvbunny needs me to hold her for several minutes to an hour after a scene, but sometimes a couple of minutes or even just a quick kiss is enough.

  8. Another Suburban Mom
    Posted December 16, 2009 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    This was a very educational post. I never realized that so much care, thoughtfulness, and tenderness went into the relationship until I read your posts.

    I really appreciate yours and Britni's efforts to educate us on D/s

  9. mylittlekinkyworld
    Posted December 30, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Great post on aftercare. Ours consists of cuddling and him drinking a juice box and eating skittles. :)

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