In BDSM, aftercare can be the secret to things being lasting and retaining that sense of magic you share with your play partner. It allows you to feel safe, build trust, and create a strong connection through the shared experience. Although it is the play rather than the aftercare which naturally becomes the focus, aftercare is an essential part. It is talked about a bit in BDSM circles with the focus mainly on the safety of the submissive, but in my opinion, in a D/s lifestyle dynamic, aftercare can have a much wider, more varied and more significant role.
What is Aftercare?
Typically, aftercare refers to the care administered to the submissive, by the Dominant, following a BDSM scene. Often when limits are pushed, a sub will move into subspace, a state where they are not fully aware of their surroundings or able to articulate their own needs. While this sounds scary, it is caused by the endorphins produced during play, which create a natural high or feeling of euphoria. This is a feeling that many submissives enjoy, and is a state that many Dominants want to achieve for their partners.
When a submissive is in subspace they will be particularly vulnerable, not only in a physical sense but in an emotional one too. Aftercare is important because it allows the Dominant to keep the submissive safe until they return to the point where they are fully aware of themselves and their surroundings again. For many this will involve taking care of emotional needs through a close physical connection (cuddles etc), and also the physical needs (food, water, a blanket etc).
Aftercare in a D/s Lifestyle Dynamic
The need to provide aftercare following an intense scene for Dominant submissive couples in a lifestyle dynamic is vital, as outlined above. But from my experience, it can be further reaching than this. Our play will not always push me to the edge and I will not always reach subspace. This does not mean that aftercare isn’t important though or that it doesn’t have a key role to play.
Whether or not subspace has been achieved, there will be a huge letting go on my part. I am giving up control to HL and the act of doing that means that I access a very submissive headspace where I exist much more for him than for me. I become consumed by what is happening, experiencing it through my senses in such a focussed way. The outside world seems to disappear, even if only for a short while, and I am grounded by him and by his words.
If the scene of play ends and there is no aftercare then it seems to me like an opportunity wasted. To feel so completely connected to another person in one moment and then prolong that through physical and emotional contact leads to a longer lasting and deeper connection. It is something that works for us both, and whether we are talking gently or holding each other, it is an important part of the overall scene because it allows us to take what has happened in the play, into the other parts of our life.
I suppose in some ways, it means that I retain that feeling of literally being part of HL as I move from nothing else mattering, to the realisation that there are other demands on my time and my life. We come back to reality together and what we have shared is translated into the other selves that we are. For me, it is part of keeping us at the centre of our world. So that whatever happens, it happens to us and becomes a shared, rather than an individual experience.
Aftercare for subs
For a submissive, aftercare is important not only because it is about keeping you safe when you might be vulnerable on a practical level, but also because you are emotionally vulnerable. This helps to build the closeness and trust with a partner which allows you to continue to push boundaries with them; it also means that your need for them as a Dominant is more easily carried out beyond the play into other areas of your life.
My aftercare will extend beyond the cuddling care into the period after. It will include check-ins, positive references back to what we have shared, and chat about how it went and where it could go next. In the same way that the foreplay can begin much before the scene as a way of creating the right headspace, the aftercare is used to bring us back gently. Doing this not only reinforces the power exchange, but also supports the sexual charge which runs along in the background.
Sometimes if we have had a really intense scene, I can feel quite clingy for a bit afterwards so it really helps if HL is close. This doesn’t have to be physically if you don’t live together, but if you experience sub-drop then it can really help to have time to reconnect in the days following, even virtually. Sub-drop can be caused by return of the endorphin levels to normal, but also because of the intensity of the emotional connection. If you want to know more then this post, written for The SafeworD/s Club, might be helpful.
Aftercare for Doms
There is never much said about aftercare for Doms but I think that there can be benefits to them in terms of keeping the close connection too. We have found, especially in the beginning or when trying new things, that HL can worry about how it has gone. I think for any Dominant it can be difficult to ‘hurt’ your submissive, even though it is consensual and you both want it. It goes against the grain and the feelings that you get afterwards can be quite difficult to deal with so the opportunity to have reassurance if often welcome.
When Aftercare is Forgotten
So with all of this in mind, you would think that we would have the aftercare nailed. But as with anything, sometimes knowing the theory doesn’t mean that you put it into practice. I think that when you play a lot and are in a long-term full-time dynamic, it is easy to become complacent and for things to become habit. As we have been together a while, a lot of our play is exciting but not necessarily new.
Because we have little time alone, we usually play at night, therefore our immediate aftercare will be HL checking in with me and then spooning me as we fall asleep. There was a time a short while ago when we neglected to give the proper attention to aftercare and there were repercussions from that. They were not serious, but they were noticeable. The scene we had was with the howler and it tested my physical limits in terms of pain. I have written about it here, but essentially it came from HLs declaration that he was a sadist and enjoyed watching me take pain for him.
I was able to focus my mind really well on this occasion and will admit that I took quite a beating. We had found ourselves with a couple of hours alone and so had taken full advantage of them. The mistake we made was to rush things and not spend the time that we needed post-scene processing and coming down from the experience. Due to the shortage of time, I said that I would start the dinner and so off we went. HL poured a glass of wine and then sat down at his laptop to check over the pictures he had taken.
I was all over the place. I tried to follow the recipe but was getting things wrong and became irritable and weepy. I still didn’t connect and neither did HL who had become quite absorbed in what he was doing. I struggled for a little bit feeling overwhelmed and upset. I ended up in tears before I actually went to him and told him how I was feeling. For me it had been a big deal and although I had sprung quickly back into practical mode, it really was far too soon. HL’s gut had been to stay in bed a while but he hadn’t challenged me for some reason.
Basically we could see that we had messed up and that the missed aftercare was the issue. The impact scene we had done had pushed the edges for both of us and we had not spent the time on each other that we should have to try to get the best from that. It was a stark reminder of the importance of doing these things and that no matter how familiar you are with each other or with your kinks, there can still be things which come along to catch you out.
Happily Ever Aftercare
Hopefully this illustrates the importance of aftercare and not just what can go wrong if you don’t spend time on it, but more importantly the many advantages when you do. It shouldn’t be seen as something you should do to keep things right but as an integral part of your play and relationship. I know that in fiction, D/s is presented often as some sort of fairy tale and, while I don’t feel that is realistic, it does feel more intimate and intense than any relationship I have had before, so I will keep believing in the power of my happily ever aftercare.