I honestly thought I’d done a post on aftercare at some point, but when someone asked a question about it and I searched, I couldn’t find one. I’ve probably rolled it into other posts on several occasions but nothing exclusive. So, this will be a two-part article focused specifically on how to handle the sub/bottom/receiver/Little when they are in need of aftercare.
Since aftercare is such a basic part of any kind of scene play, I know everyone has heard the term and I’m sure most people understand the basics. For those that don’t, it’s pretty simple. When you do a scene with someone there are effects that linger once it’s finished. These can be physical things like endorphins, soreness, shock or fatigue, but they can also be emotional or mental things like flashbacks, depression, feelings of being alone.
Since there are such a variety of scenes, from a quick spanking to an intense full on-bondage, whipping experience, those lingering reactions will vary. Typically, the more intense the play, the more your body will have effects and need care.
In most cases aftercare is basically an extension of the scene where you wind down and recover from the play. It’s a time to make sure that the bottom is okay and to deal with any leftover emotions or physical problems that have occurred from the scene.
However, there are a few very common misconceptions about aftercare that I’m going to mention here, and then we’ll come back to them as we go through the article.
- Overt aftercare is not always needed or wanted (but should always be offered.)
- Aftercare is often basic things that you are already doing and didn’t even notice.
- Aftercare doesn’t have a specific timeline. It might be needed immediately after a scene, or it might be needed days later.
- A scene isn’t always a specific set event. For some submissives a ‘scene’ can be a headspace that can occur at any time. Which means that aftercare might be needed at any time.
- Aftercare isn’t just for subs/bottoms. (However, that is what this article will focus on. We’ll cover aftercare for Tops another time.)
So how do you know if you need aftercare, or if the person you are playing with needs it?
Well, some of the basics should be automatic. For instance, when you release someone from bondage you check for physical problems automatically. You don’t need to wait for a sign that something is wrong. And the sub shouldn’t need to be exhibiting any symptoms at all for aftercare to be offered, but here are a few things to look for that might indicate an issue:
- Dizzy or dehydrated
- Hands/feet tingling or cold after being restrained
- Feeling cold/shivering
- Feeling sleepy
- Feeling tipsy/drunk/ euphoric
- Crying or feeling heightened emotions once the scene is over
- Depressed/lost feelings
- Any obvious injury
If you have any of those then you probably need some form of aftercare, but you also don’t need to be feeling any of that to want aftercare. If you want an extension of the scene where the Top cares for you, then you have a right to it, even if you feel perfectly fine. Sometimes we just need a few minutes to regroup and that’s okay.
Some kind of aftercare is pretty much a non-negotiable thing, and any Top who says they don’t believe in it, or don’t do it is a Top you can’t trust. That’s a huge red flag of a wannabe or an abuser. It’s also a sign that they don’t really understand aftercare and are pretending to have more experience than they do. Either way you should walk away.
Quick note here: Tops are allowed to have limits too and if there are certain kinds of aftercare that you are unable to do, that is not the same as refusing all aftercare. If what you can’t do is a normally expected kind of care (for instance, a hug) then it’s probably a good idea to be upfront about that. Discussing what aftercare is likely to be needed before a scene is always a good idea and something we should normalize.
But aftercare can take many forms and it can be extremely quick and casual. Not all subs want/need anything special after a scene, especially if it was just a quick, fun thing, but it is up to them to decide what they need. It could be a simple hug. It could be some casual conversation. It could be something to eat or drink.
The Dom should at least give them the opportunity to make their needs known. In other words, the Dom/Top should ask something like: “Do you need anything? Can I get you a drink? Do you want to sit down?” It’s not difficult. Most people would do it as a matter of politeness anyway and asking does count as giving aftercare.
But what if they don’t want aftercare?
Not every sub/bottom will want aftercare and there are a lot of factors that go into this. It may feel too personal for them if they don’t know you. Or their version of aftercare may not match what you are used to. For instance, drawing inside themselves to sort through their emotions might be what they need after a scene.
They could just honestly not need it. I don’t need it after casual play. If it was a fun scene and I’m laughing, then I often just want to go off to play some more.
If it’s an intense scene and my emotions are riled, then I do need some form of attention but if I’m playing with someone I don’t know well, I won’t accept it from them. Which is fine because I almost always have people with me. So, while I say, “I’m fine,” to the person I played with I do get it from others.
If the sub/bottom doesn’t feel like they need anything once the scene is over then “I’m fine thanks,” or some variation will get that point across most of the time.
I have, on a couple of occasions, seen a well-meaning Top try to force aftercare on someone they didn’t know well. Don’t do that. I get it, everyone says, “You must do aftercare!” and so you feel like a jerk if you don’t do it, but you have to understand that you’ve done your part by asking the questions and making the attempt. They don’t have to accept it.
If an extension of the scene for care is not wanted, you need to let it go and walk away. You can’t force that on a bottom any more than you can force the rest of the scene itself on one.
It can be a tricky thing when the bottom says they don’t need anything, but it seems as though they are still unsettled. However, rejecting aftercare can be a sign that the scene didn’t go well for them, in which case they won’t want to continue with you.
It can also be a sign that the bottom is still sorting through their emotions. Finally, what you consider aftercare may not be the same as what they need. They may need to be alone after play and most of the time you’ll just have to step aside because it’s their choice.
This is mostly aimed at play partners who are casual or don’t know each other well. A Dom/sub partnership is a little different since you have an established relationship and, hopefully, the dominant partner will know what reactions to be watching for.
If you are partners, then a few factors need to be taken into account. Sometimes just after a scene bottoms can be a little out of it, disoriented, confused, tipsy. In that event saying they don’t need anything might not be accurate. If you know them well or are their partner, then you will be able to tell that they need some attention even if they say they don’t.
That doesn’t mean you should force care on them unless it’s part of your agreed-on dynamic. In a relationship it can be understood that the bottom might try to isolate after a scene but that it’s not allowed, and that’s a different situation. Even then, it’s probably not a good idea to force anything in particular on them, sometimes emotions can be rocky after a scene.
But you can accept their need for space while still taking care of them by putting things within their reach just in case: water, some chocolate, a blanket, etc., and then moving back. And if they say they don’t need anything, but are obviously shaky, you can keep an eye on them from a distance to make sure they are okay. That’s really the only compromise you have.
But what should I be doing for the aftercare part?
While some form of aftercare must happen, even if it’s just asking, “Do you need anything?” before you walk away, there is no specific checklist that must be done. Everyone has individual needs to be considered.
Aftercare isn’t always specifically named or noticed even though it’s occurring. Like many things in the lifestyle most people do it automatically without realizing they are doing anything special. And in the beginning, that’s basically how the idea of ‘aftercare’ started.
It was simply natural for a Dominant to take care of their play partners after a scene. In clubs and public spaces, you often didn’t see any kind of outright aftercare ritual taking place. At least nothing that stood out. No one said “Well, it’s time for some aftercare now.” They just checked the sub over carefully, maybe handed them a drink, and that was it.
It often wasn’t any more detailed than that, partly because you might be strangers to each other. You might not know exactly what that person needed afterwards, but there were certain basics that any Dom with experience did anyway.
It is a normal and natural response to check your partner over to make sure there’s no unintended damage after a scene. If they’ve been restrained, then you check where the restraints were. You might rub their hands and feet to get circulation flowing again if they’re cold.
You make sure they are stable, not dizzy. If they are acting silly/tipsy then you keep an eye on them. Possibly lead them over to sit down or ask if they want something to drink and that’s about it. Honestly not too much has changed at least as far as casual play goes. You can sum all of that up as basically just make sure the person you just played with is okay before you scoot off.
While BDSM club romance books often show fancy ‘aftercare rooms’ I’ve yet to run into any club that has them. And the same with blankets to wrap the sub in, most public play spaces don’t have them. Your typical BDSM club runs very close to the margin. Many of the staff are volunteers, and they are basically there as a community club for kinky people, not necessarily a money-making venture.
The upkeep on a pile of blankets to wrap subs in after a scene would just be too much. They’d probably never be washed and just keep getting used over and over so…. Yeah. Anyway, you don’t tend to find any kind of extras at a club and are expected to bring that stuff yourself. Just like you bring your own implements and your own rope.
If you’re already carrying a toy bag, you’re not likely to want to add blankets and towels and whatever as well. But when it comes to your partner at home, of course you’re going to be able to tailor the self-care more closely to what they need, and you’ll have options that clubs don’t have. Does your sub get cold after a scene? You make sure a blanket is nearby. Do they get low blood sugar? Keep something sweet handy.
Are they thirsty? Well having water standing by is honestly just good practice for both of you anyway. But otherwise, it really all depends on the person you play with. While a bottom in a club may not want the intimacy of being hugged and cuddled by the person they just played with, your partner probably will.
For some aftercare needs are very simple, but for others it can get more complicated, which means an important part of aftercare is keeping any special needs the bottom/sub might have in mind. Maybe the sub has abandonment issues and after a scene stops, they feel that separation strongly, so they need to be held until they settle.
Maybe the bottom has PTSD so after the scene they need to just move on like it didn’t happen and go off to make dinner while they think about things. Maybe scenes exhaust them, so they need to sleep afterwards. It really just depends.
I do need to say at this point that it’s the responsibility of the bottom in the scene to make clear, before the scene, if there are triggers or issues that they experience frequently. Things can happen unexpectedly, but if you are diabetic and you know that low blood sugar is an issue after playing then let your partner know upfront so they can be prepared.
If you have PTSD and flashbacks or other responses are common for you then let your partner know. To be honest I have often been guilty of keeping these things to myself to because it can be awkward talking about it, but it’s really better all around if you communicate in advance.
I’m going to wrap this up here for now, but next week I’ll be giving you a couple of lists with some aftercare ideas that might help. I’d like to leave you with this thought: even if you know all about aftercare and have been doing it all along, it’s always good to try new things. You might find that they work better than your established routine.
Like so many parts of life a little bit of experimentation is necessary before you find the perfect fit. People coming into the scene are often told what aftercare is in specifics and that definition can be kind of narrow and limiting. When it doesn’t always work… they are at a loss because they did what they were told and yet !?!
Sometimes it goes like this:
Did the thing…
Thing didn’t help…
Thing must be stupid and pointless…
Stops doing thing.
You need to understand that it’s going to be different for everyone and that you really should communicate before the scene about what they might need, unless you know them well. If what you do for aftercare doesn’t seem to help, or the bottom doesn’t seem to want it, then you aren’t doing it right. So, consider that and I’ll see you next week for some suggestions that might work better.
In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home if you can!