What Is It, How to Practice It

Photo Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: @hayleyhoneyman, @jenekajool, @nnebugho, @withlovewick/TikTok

For some of us, no matter how comfortable we are about sex, the word intimacy causes a unique unfunny strain of nausea. Before TikTok, I assumed it was a personal issue — but then the algorithm reminded me again that I’m actually nothing special. Apparently there are many of us who fear intimacy out there, whining softly in the shadows and wondering why our needs are not being met.

That’s because we don’t practice aftercare, we actually care about the emotions that arise after sex, rather than avoiding them or wallowing in them alone. It’s an important act of self-love, TikTok teaches — more and more often. With more than 386 million views and counting, #Aftercare has recently surged to levels of online visibility and group chat fodder similar to other popular relationship tools and terms on TikTok such as love languages and attachment styles.

“Honestly, it’s the bare minimum,” jokes Sexuality Doula, author and host of the sensual self Podcast Ev’Yan Whitney, on the time following a sexual encounter that facilitates a positive comedown. It is an opportunity to regulate emotions and deepen connections. “It’s important for a good sexual experience, whether casual or not,” says a TikTok creator in his video on the subject. The bottom line: It does whatever it takes to make you and your partner feel safe, seen, and comfortable talking about what happened during sex.

The term originated in the BDSM community and was introduced to ensure that everyone received post-sex care (i.e. removing restraints and blindfolds, providing reassurance, tending to blemishes and bruises). However, the TikTok creators have used their algorithm magic to ensure that the aftercare discussion reaches an audience outside of the BDSM world and that of sexually active people everywhere.

There’s actually a science-backed reason why we should all participate in post-sex aftercare. Oxytocin and dopamine are released during sex. Fun! Until they are used up. Aftercare is one way to help your body and mind adjust as those chemicals fade — not to mention a great tactic to fight post-coital dysphoria (PCD), aka “post-sex blues,” or the sad or to avoid irritated feelings that can arise after consensual sex.

While PCD tends to be most common in women (a 2015 study showed that 46 percent of women surveyed felt sad after sex at some point in their lives), 41 percent of men surveyed in a 2019 study who was carried out by The Journal of Sex and Marriage Therapy also repeated similar feelings.

“Caring for the person you just had an intimate experience with should be a prerequisite,” says Whitney. Regardless of what type of relationship you’re in—whether it’s a long-term partnership or a one-night stand—aftercare is a practice that should be closely tied into the sexual experience, where appropriate.

Whether you want to head straight into the shower, order takeout, talk about the experience, or cuddle with your partner in complete silence, aftercare is an opportunity to connect and create a space of comfort, ease, and safety create, and there are millions of TikTokers talking about it. “As someone who is autistic, has ADHD and is a trauma survivor, follow-up care is super important to me,” says creator Hayley Eigenfeldt in a TikTok. “Because neurodivergent people are more prone to fear of rejection, follow-up care is particularly important to us.”

Picture this: you’ve just had fantastic sex (congratulations to both and everyone involved), and whether you like it or not, you’re experiencing a range of emotions. But then your partner quickly gets dressed, pats you on the head, and walks out. An unfortunate and disrespectful (consciously or unconsciously) situation – but not uncommon. Even if the experience isn’t that humbling, the feeling of being released in some way is hurtful, let alone an experience as intimate as sex.

“I think we could all raise our standards to what we’re really worth when it comes to the sexual interactions we have with people,” says Whitney. “Especially for people who identify as women. It’s inherent in our bodies to bend to other people’s wants, needs, and desires…we were socialized that way.” “Spoiling mood” or “being a burden” are two threats that we, mostly women, know all too well. So of course it makes sense that we might not speak up even when the urge arises.

Unlike many other sexual experiences, aftercare usually comes with a level of intimacy that many of us are uncomfortable with, especially when we’re not in one relationship Relationship. Asking that our needs be met in nonsexual ways touches a level of vulnerability that we don’t often tap into. “I wanted to remind people that it’s not just about relationships, so they too deserve tenderness and care, even if they’re experiencing casual sex,” says TikTok creator and trauma-informed, integrative sex educator Jeneka Jool of her video address aftercare.

As with any other sexual or intimate practice, consent is always at the top of the list. In the aftercare department, this can seem like simply asking your partner if they’re comfortable with it and what types of actions are preferred and which are off-limits. Whitney recommends yes, no, maybe lists as a starting point. Some ideas: talking about your partner’s body, your partner touching you without asking first, or even just direct eye contact.

As for how best to convey your feelings to your partner, Jool points out that “most of us haven’t been taught this, so doing it for the first time can feel daunting.” She notes, “A safe space with Cultivating your partner(s) where compassion and curiosity take the lead can make it a lot easier. Existing in nonjudgmental relationships allows us to lean into vulnerability, ultimately building our arsenal of healthy, sensual language and desire articulation.”

If this sounds daunting, Jool suggests you start practicing on yourself through a tried and tested game of trial and error. Then approach your partner (preferably outside of the bedroom) and ask them how their aftercare is going. And if they don’t know either, resources like Jool’s TikToks or a round of the Cool to Connect Intimacy deck are a perfect place to start. From there, find ways to fuse everyone’s needs together to create customized post-sex moments.

So while all of these can serve as valuable tools to hopefully improve your sex life, it’s important to note that postlude and the conversation that goes with it doesn’t always feel right, and that’s okay. “In some situations it will feel appropriate, and in others it can really be like just ‘get out of my bedroom,'” Whitney jokes. “Aftercare is so much more than the actions themselves; it’s about the intention behind it,” she reiterates. “It’s about being present.” No matter where you stand, talking should always be your best friend. “The best sex toy you will ever own is your throat,” says Jool. “You have to open it (and communicate) to get what you need.” A superpower we often forget we have.

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