What do you do after sex or a session of self-pleasure? Do you simply get up and get on with your day, or do you take a moment to relish your experience and take care of yourself and your partner?
Just like how foreplay and communication about consent and expectations add to the pleasure derived from intimacy, sexual aftercare allows you to recover and transition meaningfully back to your everyday life. It can mean different things to different people and range from cuddles and watching Netflix, to a loving conversation or grabbing a snack.
"Sometimes I ask for an 8-minute hug with spiritual sound in [the] background so we can pray and connect to positive energy for overall well-being, love, and care," says a 27-year-old peer support specialist and artist (who didn’t want to be named) about her aftercare needs. She also has a long talk with her partner after intimacy to feel grounded and present at the moment.
As someone who has faced sexual violence, when she partakes in self-pleasure, she checks in with her body through breaths and affirmations. "I have noticed that I [pat] my stomach almost like a way to tell myself that I’m fine, my body is mine, it’s holy and it’s healing," says the artist.
Similarly, a 24-year-old writer/researcher said on the condition of anonymity that he enjoys cuddling and making out with his partner or having something to drink or eat together after sex. A comforting experience, he recounts, was with a sexual partner who helped him clean up after sex.
But he finds it difficult to communicate these needs. "It almost feels like I'm asking, like a child, to be taken care of, but it's more about feeling cared for especially post an intimate act," he says.
In a culture where sex remains a touchy topic and a complicated experience, what can we do after sex or self-pleasure? And how do we ask for what we need?
"Some people just have sex and they need to run away because they are extremely uncomfortable with their feelings. Or there is a sense of guilt," says Aili Seghetti, founder of the sexual wellness forum, The Intimacy Curator.
The intimacy and sex coach confirms that it is helpful to have a conversation with yourself or your partner, before sex or self-pleasure, where you discuss your needs and preferences, and if you are going to have intercourse or outercourse.
"Whether you are engaging in pleasure with someone or with yourself, why you are engaged in it is something that you think on your own before you even start," says Seghetti, noting that this can help avoiding any feelings of guilt or shame.
For care after sex, Seghetti suggests establishing what you want prior to the experience as well. It may involve platonic touch, a fun moment, or cracking a joke together, even just some general conversation, or dancing and crying. Even if you don't know for sure, ensure that you can make space for whatever comes up after the act.
A post-sex conversation can also become more about exchanging feedback to check in if you achieved what you planned to, from this engagement. "And if it didn't happen, [to reflect on] why and what can be done differently next time," she adds.
Pallavi Barnwal, who provides sexuality and intimacy coaching through her organisation Get Intimacy, agrees that you need to address all kinds of emotions that come up during intimacy with yourself or your partner. This can range from happiness, bliss, and joy to dejection and frustration.
She speaks of the transition period from intimacy to practicing aftercare. "This transition can come in the form of affirmative words [like] 'I love you', 'I care for you', 'You're beautiful'," says Barnwal.
Barnwal also suggests having a meal and feeding each other to recoup the energy and bond after sex. Joking that pop culture only portrays the stage of undressing each other and not what comes post intimacy, she suggests helping each other clean and dress up after sex – especially since sex is a messy affair, she advises not leaving the disposing and cleaning to one person. "Everything can be done with intention. Rather than seeing it as a mess, see it as something that you are doing together," she suggests.
As for self-pleasure, Barnwal advises setting time aside for it when you can enjoy the sensuality and connection with your body instead of going through it in a hurry, or being afraid of someone walking in. "You can find bliss in the mundane. When your body is filled with those happy hormones [after self-pleasure], it's time to introspect," she says.
Care after pleasure products or intense play
For those using pleasure products like massagers, buttplugs, harnesses, and other kink wear, hygiene can be a major concern. Tanisha RK, co-founder and Chief of Social Voice of sex-tech manufacturer Sangya Project, says that some may feel confused and nervous as platforms that sell these products have to be careful about the details they share about their usage and cleaning. "We make sure to mention each product’s cleaning needs based on its material, battery placement and time required to dry out completely," says Tanisha. Some examples may be instructions on not using silicon lubricants with silicon products or washing them with unscented soaps and warm water.
They also suggest other forms of aftercare like physical contact and holding each other close while using pleasure products. "If your partner is watching you use a toy, they may want reassurance of your desire for them," adds Tanisha.
For an intense sexual activity that involves kink play or BDSM practices, Seghetti suggests talking about aftercare in your negotiation that otherwise includes addressing health issues, STI and STD status, and duration and intensity of play.
If the kinks involve more psychological play, for example, “like fear or humiliation, you could get really heightened emotional states,” Senghetti notes. “So, it's important that you know what calms you down after the session."
This includes grounding exercises like feeling your feet on the ground andsensations of your beating heart to return to the present moment. Also, don't forget to address any physical wounds that you or your partner may end up with, with disinfectants and burn creams.
Asking for aftercare
Even though many of us may want aftercare, how can we make space for ourselves or how can we ask our partners for it?
Barnwal suggests that you first let go of the perfectionist notion of sex, where it has to be done in a particular way. "Let go of that 'should' and ask your partner whatever you may need," she says.
It can be especially difficult for some women because they are not used to asking for what they want. For such situations, Seghetti suggests that men take the lead in cis-het dynamics to ask their partner time and again. Also, she suggests a change in language, specially to stop considering pleasure as just an indulgence.
"That's the biggest problem…we shame ourselves [and]…call it indulging. It's not really indulging, it's…just a regular way the body works," she says, adding that it helps regulate hormones and stress levels and boosts your mood.
This recalibration of thought and understanding of intimacy and pleasure as a right can be helpful in not only ensuring a great sexual or self-pleasure experience but also in its aftercare.
"Be okay with giving oneself or the other person pleasure,” says Senghetti. “Just the idea of being okay with pleasure will save everyone from a lot of grief later on.”
Anmol is an independent journalist who writes and reports on gender, health, social justice, and culture from an intersectional lens. You will find them on Twitter @ha_anmol.