Pampering your Partner when the Ropes Come Off
The wildly popular release of the movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey has caused quite the stir in the practicing BDSM (bondage, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism) community, specifically around the movie’s (and book’s) glaring overlooking of what makes BDSM different from domestic violence, coercion and abuse; namely, informed consent and responsible aftercare. The queer community especially, which often overlaps with the BDSM community and tends to be very consent-conscious in porn, play and practice, has been especially active in this debate. 50 Shades or no shades, this conversation has brought us a great opportunity to revisit the importance of consent and - as this column will tackle - aftercare!
True BDSM practitioners know that the partner interactions and dynamics that occur before and after a BDSM “scene” are just as important as the actual sex play that happens during. Consent is heavily discussed beforehand and afterward, when the cuffs come off, the submissive in the scene is pampered with “aftercare.” Oftentimes in the BDSM community, the “bottom” (or submissive) in a scene enters into what’s called “subspace,” an altered psychological state induced by intense physical and mental sensations, not unlike being high on drugs. The BDSM community’s best Tops (or Dominants) won’t start playing with a bottom without first knowing their “aftercare program”, the things that individual person requires in order to feel safe and appreciated after pushing their sexual boundaries. This can be anything from being wrapped in a snuggly blanket to being made a PB and J with the crusts cut off.
BDSM 101 aside, my theory is this: whether or not you’re being consensually slapped around by your partner, everyone - vanilla to total kinksters - can benefit from a little aftercare. Whether we’re screwing our long-term partner for the 109th time or just had a casual roll in the hay with the local barista, when the orgasms are all done, any of us would appreciate a gesture that says “Hey, thanks for sharing this extremely personal part of yourself with me, babe.”
BDSM requires more serious aftercare that pays attention to physical safety, like driving your bottom home so they don’t wreck the car in their altered state. With more vanilla sex, you might focus more on emotional health than physical. Aftercare doesn’t need to be overly sentimental, grand or even creative—it just needs to be an intentional display of acknowledgment, appreciation and humanity. Take a shower together, spoon, dish about that awesome orgasm, share a popsicle, get your partner a glass of water, help her find her discarded underwear—hell, give them a high-five after going down on them in a library.
This is what aftercare isn’t: sneaking out in the morning sans goodbye, acting ashamed/embarrassed/aloof, treating the person as a convenient collection of body parts, or otherwise refusing to acknowledge that you just banged.
Now, I’m all for no-strings-attached, “emotionless” sex, but it’s impossible for (good) sex to happen without feeling. And where there’s feeling, there should be aftercare, with the general rule that the higher you fly, the softer you should pad the landing. This doesn’t mean your sex can’t be casual. Investing in your sexual experiences through aftercare doesn’t mean you’re investing in a relationship. If anything, aftercare is even more important for one-night stands, f**k buddies and friends with benefits because, unlike with a serious sexual partner, you probably have less of an idea about what kind of physical or emotional sexual intensity they’re experiencing. Though you don’t need to assume responsibility for their feelings, as their sexual partner (no matter how fleeting), you’re a part of that experience, so respond accordingly. Don’t know what they need? Ask!
Aftercare’s also a great investment in your sexual future because the better you care for your partner, the safer they’ll feel in bringing sexual experiences to new levels. Even if you were the Top in the situation, aftercare ties up any loose emotional or physical strings that may have come up for you, too. Plus, being sexually nice feels good! Now get me a popsicle.