What comes before and after a sexual, or any intimate, encounter can be just as important as what goes on during this encounter. Namely- consent and aftercare. This is especially true for any intense bdsm (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadomasochism, masochism) or kink play. This article focuses on aftercare. Generally speaking, the more intense an encounter is, the higher we fly... and the softer the landing needs to be.
Aftercare is what happens after an encounter, but should be negotiated, talked about, or thought about before the encounter. This is a concept that is discussed in BDSM communities because biochemical, psychic, and emotional states are often in more extreme states within these scenarios, but any sexual encounter has the possibility of attaining those heights, too. There are terms that refer to these intense states relative to the role one takes. For example, "subspace" refers to the physical and mental state of mind a submissive experiences during the thick of intense alternative "sex" play. (I'm putting "sex" in quotes here because not all bdsm play involves actual sex. Plus, there are different ideas of how "sex" is actually defined.)
On a neurochemical level, after physical pain and pushed emotional states (which is the bulk of many bdsm scenarios), endorphins flood our system. As a result, this triggers dopamine flooding our brains, which leads to a very euphoric state. Flying high. It is an altered state that can transcend consciousness. This is experienced as either cathartic, therapeutic, purely emotional, spiritual, energetic, or all of the above.
Alas, what goes up, must come down (as far as I know!), and the resulting state during the aftermath of a scene as such is referred to as "subdrop." This is not to say that this was all for naught (if you are a keeping score kind of person) because the experience during the scene can be truly transformative, healing, and/or insightful in a lasting way, but the ethereal high does subside and so subdrop must be dealt with.
Biologically speaking, the dopamine goes away and another chemical- prolactin- takes its place as a dopamine regulator. That's right- it's the fun police. Studies have shown that prolactin is a chemical that is associated with depression and alienation. Mentally speaking, subdrop may feel like confusion, vulnerability, disorientation, feeling emotionally conflicted, depression, anger, just plain tired, or even energized! It is not one thing for everybody.
So here is where aftercare becomes important. In a BDSM scenario, it is part of the job of the "top" or the "dominant" to be responsible for aftercare. At the most basic level, physical safety and health should be attended to. This usually takes the form of water for dehydration, snacks for salt depletion, and a ride home for those who may be a little too out of it to drive themselves. Everything else is as unique as the state of mind during subspace and subdrop itself. Some people may want some cuddles and verbal reassurances that everything is cool. Others may not be the touchy feely type but feel comforted by peanut butter cracker sandwiches.
Sometimes subdrop doesn't really occur right away but may hit like a brick a day or two later. And maybe then, a reassuring phone call is what the doctor ordered. The more experience we have with our own patterns, the better we will be at preparing for it.
Are you a top that really isn't into cuddly aftercare, but your play partner needs some touchy feelies? This is something to discuss before agreeing to do the scene! Perhaps, you can negotiate in a cuddle surrogate- a third player to swoop in for the aftercare? Or maybe you both need to find another play partner? There are options.
"Topdrop" is a similar phenomenon that refers to—you guessed it—the state of mind the "Top" or the "dominant" partner may face after the scenario. Often, tops experience similar biological processes as the bottom, so it can be equally important for us in that position to fuel up properly as well. In addition to that, there may be other complex feelings of guilt and self-doubt even though the scenario was fully consensual and negotiated. We are complicated creatures. It's important to just recognize it for what it is. Mindfulness is a great balm. It can be beneficial to check in with the sub, too, if they are in a proper state of mind to hold that kind of space. Just talking about and processing through the scene at a later time can be very helpful, as well as a fun way to relive some of the finer moments.
While a lot of this conversation refers to kink play, many of our other intimate encounters can also be quite charged and so aftercare can be just as helpful. Perhaps we may not need someone to drive us home due to endorphin drop disorientation—you know, unless it was really quite a night—but some cuddles, pillow talk, or breakfast together can be a great wind-down.
No strings attached one night stands can be a heck of a lot of fun, but sneaking off without saying good bye, or treating your partner aloofly as if they are simply a convenience is not how a no strings attached encounter is defined, and is in fact a serious buzz kill. Respectful care does not mean you are now engaged or dating, it just makes you are a decent human whose humanity is not thwarted by their own hang-ups about sex and intimacy.
Many of us have been on both sides of this equation throughout our life because of the weird mixed messaging we get about physical connections, and so it is important to articulate sex as not simply a mechanical act, but a dance—as simple or as complicated as we want to make it—woven in with consent and aftercare. Even if the aftercare is as simple as giving each other a hug and a quick kind word as you're out the door.
Ally Booker is a pleasure activist passionate about educating herself and others on sexuality, creating and respecting boundaries, sexual self-determination, destigmatization, gender and sexual expressions, sex toy use and safety, and all the other mechanics of pleasure. You can often find her at her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St. You