Before, during, and, especially, after.
You may be familiar with aftercare without knowing it: the practice of cooling down after getting hot and heavy is not new, it’s something our bodies need after a bought of physical activity. What may be new, then, is aftercare beyond clean up and the requisite glass of water.
Aftercare refers to the deliberate post-sex practices that help both partners feel comfortable and reassured. The term originated in the BDSM community, where postcoitus can involve recharging after very physical sex, removing props, and verbal reassurance. However, sex-positive dialogue, from Twitter to Tik Tok trends, have encouraged that aftercare be practiced by all people doing the deed.
A good framework for understanding aftercare is thinking about foreplay: foreplay enhances intimacy between partners, makes space for focused pleasure, exploration, and even enables things like teasing, play, and talking. Foreplay sets the stage for the sex to be mutually enjoyable in that it is dedicated time for both partners to assess, and discuss, what they like and don’t like.
So, if all things “before” are factored into what makes sex good, it would stand that all things after should be taken into consideration. Much like foreplay, aftercare helps to maintain a sense of intimacy. Be it something casual or a long-term relationship, there is always an element of vulnerability to sex. Dialogue helps acknowledge this vulnerability. Even if it is simply naming something you liked (or something you want to change or try) during sex or complimenting your partner, this verbal reassurance helps both parties come down from the physical act while remaining intimate.
Another approach for thinking about aftercare can be: what needs have to be met? Do you need to shower? Do you need to physically tend to yourself or your partner? Need food or water? While this shouldn’t feel like a to-do list, thinking through these basic needs post-sex can be a simple and effective way to make yourself and your partner feel cared for. It can feel as thoughtful, introspective, or playful as the moment requires.
In the way that you may set a mood for sex, setting an intimate mood for aftercare can be important too. Help your senses come down from a big boost of oxytocin and dopamine by creating a soothing environment. Cuddle and enjoy some comforting touch, burn a favorite candle, play some calming music, opt for warm, soft light.
Beyond that aftercare is an experience that can make sex feel positive, complete, and validating, it is worth noting that many people struggle with feeling anxious or detached after sex, including those who suffer from postcoital dysphoria. Making a concerted effort to demonstrate care for your partner after intimacy does not just add something nice to the sex, it is inherent to the experience of good sex. Like good foreplay, it sets dedicated time to check-in, and sets the stage for feeling understood.