In a comment on my Facebook page, I was scolded by a reader who remarked how I never really write about aftercare in BDSM. She was right: I don’t – but for a very sensible reason. But before discussing that, let’s get everybody on the same page with a quick refresher.
In the jargon of extreme eroticism, ‘aftercare’ is the cuddly phase following a “session”, that is getting rough with your partner and submitting them to psycho-physical stimulation ranging from a little spanking to extreme torture and degradation. After all, when they are done both the submissive and the dominant will feel exhausted, possibly embarrassed by having unleashed their most impolite and primal sides, maybe feeling guilty… and let’s not forget the pain from all those bruises, marks, violations and whatnot. The least they need is to get back with their feet on the ground and reassure each other that everything is ok.
Aftercare is therefore composed of two parts. An eminently practical one where you take care of any bodily distress, from removing ropes to rehydrate and recover, from cleaning up the running mascara to disinfecting any cut and abrasion caused by the games. A second, equally if not more important part, however, consists in giving each other all the affection and emotional support that everybody requires after a walk on the edge of the abyss. Showing respect, love and one’s humanity is paramount to prevent any trouble down the line, including for example lowered self-esteem, insecurity about the partner’s feelings, loneliness, moral doubts and so on.
Such drops aren’t too rare. 46% of women had postcoital dysphoria episodes, that is weeping fits and anxiety after orgasm, due to a conflicting idea of sexuality. The cognitive dissonance between the pleasure experienced through BDSM and our socio-psychological background further complicates things up. This is why since the earliest days of the “modern” kinky culture, when everyone began to commit to that Safe, Sane and Consensual philosophy you probably heard about, all educators and manuals rightly stress the importance of a proper and in-depth aftercare. And yet, maybe except in the case of random play with a total stranger, I am still not fully on board with that.
Let me clarify: I am not against taking care of your partner (and of ourselves), far from it! My resistance is all toward that ‘after’ particle, for it often represents the evidence of a quite unsound approach to sexuality.
You see, what I really cannot subscribe to is the underlying concept that during a play session – and I am using the word ‘play’ very loosely, for these activities can be very, very serious indeed – people are somehow supposed to behave like brutes or to adopt special, inhumane personas.
I am not referring to occasional role play where you decide to explore the vilest sides of power exchange. Call it “Torturer and Victim”, “Inquisitor and Heretic”, “primal sex”, “Guantanamo questioning” or whatever, consensually experiencing how abusing another person or getting abused feels can be an intriguing experience. But only if it is one game among many others. If that kind of dynamic becomes a constant instead… well, I reckon something’s wrong.
The misconstruction is understandable after all, especially because its causes are crystal clear. Everything depends on the stereotypes that informed our discovery of extreme eroticism and influenced more or less every one of us, becoming ingrained into our view of what domination and submission games “should be like”. Old intellectuals may have masturbated to the tortuous and ritualistic scenarios described by de Sade; pre-Internet types probably remember stuff like Histoire d’O or the heavy-handed adult comics of the Seventies and Eighties; your fantasies may come from grainy German VHS tapes, mainstream movies like Secretary or the oddest websites… but surely not from a realistic depiction of what an actual BDSM relationship is really like, especially because nobody ever produced porn featuring empathy, fastidiousness for safety, laughter, blunders and the such.
Add the ever-present cultural disconnect between sex and “real life”, and it becomes easier to understand why when it comes to erotic domination so many people adopt improbable attitudes in order to mimic fictional ideals.
If you have ever been at a kinky playparty, for example, you have certainly noticed the fortunately rare guests who don’t have any fun because they are too self-absorbed in playing a character. You know who I am talking about: the uber-macho master who’s stiff as a board and keeps checking his ChristianGreyish expression in the mirrors; the perfect slavegirl who’s too preoccupied to strike picture-perfect poses to actually socialize; her male counterpart who is so submissive that he’s left any opinion, limit and preference at the cloakroom… Like awkward teenagers, they believe that the key to being accepted is to conform to the stereotypes they have seen in the media, be it movies, bad TV shows or, in this case, online BDSM porn clips and stories.
In the case of parties the issue is minor: just being amidst people who live their eroticism with more spontaneity is usually enough to abandon that personal stage play and better enjoy life. Still, a somewhat unhealthy “Master/slave” dynamic can easily survive in private. Let’s analyze it.
In most kinky relationships, Dude and Dudette are two pretty decent persons who lead a rather ordinary life. Then, when they feel a special urge, they discard their everyday identities, assume the characters they learned from their favorite pornographic material and they become Slave Turd and Mistress Gigagoddess Supreme. They let the whips crack, say unspeakably dirty things to each other, fuck with filthy abandon… and eventually they are done.
Now they notice the sex toys inexplicably lodged in the chandelier, the patch of lubricant pooling on the carpet, their less-than-porn-perfect bodies and the perplexed look on their cat’s face. Suddenly they are back in their everyday’s shoes, so they stop treating each other like animated sex dolls and the “aftercare phase” begins. Which may go well or it may not, especially if they are just mechanically following the instructions of a BDSM article. It doesn’t happen often, but in my personal coaching practice I have met the results of half-assed or botched aftercare experiences and boy, they are not pretty. So what about reframing the whole thing?
Please consider John and Jane instead. Sharing my own view of erotic power play, they were of course intrigued by kinky fiction imagery as well – but they were smart enough to realize the difference between porn (or alternative romance, for the euphemistically inclined) and real life. They know that sex doesn’t happen in a bubble separated from the other facets of their rapport nor from everyday concerns like, say, physiology and psychology. Being sane adults, they are aware that nobody can fully compartmentalize their history, so they probably won’t be able to brush off offenses entirely, even if they happened within a consensual role play – not to mention any serious physical harm, no matter how unwanted. So, just as they easily prevented the latter by studying the technical aspects of kinky practices, they take a sensible approach to the rest of their BDSM relationship.
This simply means applying the ‘safe’ part of the SSC motto to every side of extreme eroticism, not just the physical play. After all, if people can lovingly torture their partners with whips and needles, they surely can take the same care with the emotional side of their games, can’t they?
The trick is just to keep said games integrated with the rest of the relationship. Trying a different persona on from time to time is fun, but sex – in any form – is an important form of intimacy and not accepting responsibility for it by offloading it onto a secondary identity is a signal that something is very wrong with us or the relationship. While adopting a fantasy role can be useful to overcome a certain shyness when first exploring new dynamics («it wasn’t really me but my mask to do those “forbidden” things, so I don’t have to feel any shame or guilt for that»), adults should feel free to talk about them afterwards. To be able to serenely discuss what they liked and what they did not so much also allows them to include the former in their erotic repertoire and make it better.
This sort of frank communication gradually removes the need for role playing except for the sheer pleasure of playacting. What remains then are the very same two people who eat, sleep, travel, shop or go to the movies together – and why should they behave any differently than they normally do? This hopefully means they‘ll be just as normally loving, caring, funny, polite, emotionally close and tender to each other even during BDSM play.
Sure: you can be all of the above even as you anally fist your partner, squeeze their nipples with serrated clamps or piss in their mouth. Kink after all, like vanilla sex, should be a collaborative experience, not a competitive one. And if it is, even the most intense session won’t require any special aftercare, simply because you kept caring for each other throughout it all – the regular tenderness between lovers, the continued intimacy, will be natural and enough to keep you happy. Caring for each other should be an instinct, not an odd ritual among perverts.
Isn’t this better, compared to getting hurt and having to repair yourself every time you play?