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Sex Life 101: An Expert’s Guide to Aftercare

This article comes from our Sex Life 101 series. Here, Sensuality Coach and Sex Educator Eleanor Hadley takes readers on an evidence based journey through the world of intimacy, relationships and desire.

Have you ever had some delicious sex, only to feel disconnected, disappointed or even straight-up disrespected afterwards? Maybe your lover got up straight away to leave or do something else, rolled over and went to sleep without a word, grabbed their phone and started scrolling? Or perhaps this sounds like you? If you’ve experienced these feelings, had a partner behave like this, or if you identify as someone who does these things after sex – you need aftercare. The term aftercare comes from the BDSM scene and simply put, refers to the actions you take post-sex to continue and reinforce connection.

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In the world of kink, aftercare is an essential and non-negotiable part of the culture. Often the scenes that are played out can be rather intense in nature – be that physically or emotionally – and coming together and checking in afterwards is integral to maintaining a respectful relationship. Aftercare allows you to bask in the afterglow of sex.

Considering your style of aftercare can be as simple as reflecting on the actions that make you and your partner feel respected, connected and close. It’s a way to soothe your nervous system, reinforce intimacy and slowly come back to real life after the rush of emotions, sensations and hormones.

Sex is a vulnerable and intimate thing to share with someone. Post-sex you’re naked, exposed, potentially have just had an orgasm and your body is flooded with dopamine and oxytocin. We need to allow space and connection to come down from that experience. Disconnecting too soon can lead to feelings of shame, low self-worth and even trigger abandonment wounding. Shame is a big one, and many of us can experience feelings of guilt or shame after sex or even masturbation due to societal, cultural or religious conditioning, particularly when it’s for the sake of pleasure and not procreation. Now, we know this isn’t the case, but intentionally caring for yourself and your partner after sex can mitigate any of this conditioning and reinforce positive feelings around sexual expression.

In fact, there’s even a condition called post-coital dysphoria or ‘post-sex blues’, which refers to the feeling of emotions rising, feeling a bit sad, anxious, melancholic, agitated or disconnected after sex. It’s rather common, with some studies suggesting that roughly half of us have experienced it before.

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Image: Becca Tapert/Unsplash

Now, you may be reading this and assume aftercare is only for those in committed relationships, but nothing could be further from the truth. Even with a one-night stand or with your fuck buddy, aftercare is extremely important. It helps people feel validated, respected, cared for. Contrary to hook-up culture beliefs – you can still be respectful of someone and not want to be serious with them. The two are not mutually exclusive. It should also be said here that when we read into someone’s behaviour without having a conversation to clarify – we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. If you’ve had a discussion pre-sex that this is only a hook up, only casual and then you decide to interpret the fact that they snuggled you afterwards as an indication that they must be in love with you, then that’s an invitation to check in with yourself and them.

When asking my clients and followers over on Instagram what they desired post-sex, the most popular answer was presence. Be present, don’t disconnect from one another after sharing something so intimate. Stay present, connected and truly with the other person even after climax. It makes such a huge difference to your intimacy and to everyone’s self-esteem and nervous system.

Below are the dos and don’ts of aftercare. Feel free to choose the do’s that work for you, you don’t need to do them all but they’re all really beautiful ways to connect. As for the don’ts, definitely take note!

The Do’s of Aftercare

  • Do make time for post-sex cuddles. Staying close, skin-to-skin and within each other’s energy is a beautiful way to retain that connection even after the act is over.
  • Do maintain physical contact – along with cuddles, stay connected with back scratches, gentle strokes, massage, caressing the hair.
  • Do share some food and drink. The simple act of sharing a glass of water is simple yet so effective.
  • Do kiss each other. Kissing isn’t just for the build up, a gentle post-sex make out can be delicious.
  • Do have a chat. This is a great opportunity to compliment one another, talk about your favourite parts, things you want to explore next time and just generally connect.
  • Do express words of affirmation. It can mean so much and really reiterate that you care about each other and not just about the sex as another way to ensure we feel respected as opposed to used or objectified.
  • Do maintain eye contact. The power of eye contact is so potent and something I highly suggest to explore before, during and after sex. Nothing portrays presence like eye contact.
  • Do tune in to your breath. Allowing your breath to slow down and sync with your partner is a powerful act of co-regulation that can really reinforce intimacy.
  • Do read together, or watch a show together. Be sure to connect first, rather than reaching for the remote right away.
  • Do take a shower together. The act of cleaning each other off and indulging in a warm shower is a total intimacy booster.
  • Do check in the next day. A cute text to acknowledge what went down between you two is a great way to mitigate any potential anxiety that can build after such a vulnerable experience.

The Don’ts of Aftercare:

  • Don’t get up and leave the room immediately. If you would usually go to clean up, try having a towel and some wipes ready next to the bed instead.
  • Don’t put your clothes on and head off immediately. This is a surefire way to make someone feel used. There’s always time for a moment of connection and reassurance no matter how late you might be running.
  • Don’t grab your phone and start scrolling. Your partner may have to get up to pee after (this is vital for her to avoid urinary tract infections), but resist the urge to use your phone. Wait for her to come back so you can cuddle and keep that connection strong.
  • Don’t just roll over and fall asleep. Remember, we want to stay connected. If you’re ready for a sleep, that’s fine. But communicate this and make time for some intentional connection before dozing off.

Aftercare is going to look really different depending if you’re with an established partner or a new partner – and this is okay. If you’re with a first-time lover, don’t be afraid to speak up, request what you need and ask what they need too.

Eleanor Hadley is a Sensuality Coach and Sex Educator, specialising in & sensual movement and embodied lap dance. Through 1:1 coaching, group programs, retreats, workshops, writing and speaking, Eleanor is passionate about helping you to enhance your sex life and elevate your relationships.