Why Afterplay Is Just as Important as Foreplay
Foreplay is a common part of sex for a lot of people: warming up, getting into the mood and communicating with one another. What can get left out of the conversation, however, is afterplay, or aftercare.
Many people practice self-care in small or large ways every day, so why shouldn't a similar effort be made during sex? Winding down with partners after sex comes with a whole host of mental and physical benefits. Plus, people get to stay in a happy "sex bubble" longer.
What is aftercare?
"Aftercare is when you look after yourself or a partner after sex in a way similar to self-care," said Ness Cooper, a clinical sexologist in the United Kingdom. "It is to help with dealing with any psychological or physical effects that may occur after sexual interactions. Everyone has their own aftercare method and not everyone will enjoy aftercare in the same way."
Aftercare has a long history of use in the BDSM and roleplay communities, where people might need some time after sex to wind down the roles they were playing or seek reassurance after an intense encounter, but it doesn't have to be limited to kinky play. It can be equally important for all kinds of sexual intercourse and all kinds of relationships.
On a physical level, taking time to relax post-sex encourages muscles to relax and ease fatigue. On an emotional level, aftercare can help deepen bonds between partners and mellow out the post-orgasm rush.
"Aftercare in sex is recognizing that you are still in the energetic and emotional 'bubble' of sex, even when the physical aspects may have come to an end," said Rebecca Lowrie, a sex therapist at Sexual Alchemy in the U.K. "It is taking care and time to stay connected and look after each other as that bubble dissipates."
Why it matters
How people go about aftercare and finding benefits from it varies from person to person. There are, however, various common benefits that plenty of people share.
"Too little time after sex is a big complaint," Cooper said. "Aftercare can help with the body coming down from all those feel-good hormones after sex; some individuals may feel sad when this happens, and aftercare helps them navigate this sadness...It's a good way to show that you're present with another after sex, too."
The rush of endorphins that follows an orgasm or any sexual experience can fall away quickly, leaving some people with an experience of postcoital dysphoria (PCD), or a sudden feeling of sadness after sex. Staying physically or emotionally close after sex helps minimize these feelings.
"For sex to be really great, you need to feel safe, to open yourself up, not just physically but energetically and emotionally," Lowrie explained. "Once you are in that deliciously open space, it doesn't just shut down after an orgasm. You are still open and connected to your partner. Knowing that aftercare is in place might make you feel safer to open up more in the first place."
Aftercare is especially important in instances when people might be trying something new or there are different expectations from sexual partners.
"Everyone feels different after sex and/or orgasm," Lowrie said. "Some people feel energized and want to get up and move around, and other people feel sedated and want to rest. Challenges can occur if one person doesn't value aftercare or feels shame about sex so wants to shut down immediately afterwards. Aftercare is even more important in these instances."
How to bring aftercare into the bedroom
There are as many ways to go about aftercare as there are people in the world. What works for one person might not work for another. Here are a few tips to help you get started before exploring the world of afterplay for yourself.
"Instead of thinking of sex as just the physical aspects of intimacy, expand your thoughts and planning to include aftercare," Lowrie suggested. "Take your time to come back to 'everyday life'; stay cuddled up for a while or at least stay in physical contact in whatever way feels good to you. Ask for what you need and allow your partner to ask for what they need."
"Communication can be a good form of aftercare, and asking about the likes and dislikes of that particular sex session can be good aftercare," Cooper said. "Share some of your personal self-care habits with your partner. Aim for things that switch your mind off from sex. Tidy-up and having a warm shower or bath can be enough for some."
Naturally, aftercare doesn't need to be part of every single sexual experience. There's not always the time, opportunity or need for aftercare. A quick session can be just as fulfilling as a longer one, but when there's time to slowly wind down and stay in that intimate moment with partners, the overall experience can be that much more rewarding and energizing.