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Why Does My ‘For You Page’ Want Me to Practice Post-Sex Aftercare?

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

For some of us, no matter how comfortable we are talking about sex, the word intimacy induces a uniquely un-fun strain of nausea. Before TikTok, I assumed this was a personal problem — but then the algorithm once again reminded me I am, in fact, not special. Apparently, there are a lot of us intimacy-fearing folks out there whimpering quietly in the shadows and wondering why our needs are not being met.

It’s because we’re not practicing aftercare, as in, actually tending to the emotions that arise post-sex instead of avoiding or wallowing in them alone. It’s an important act of self-love, TikTok teaches — increasingly often. With more than 386 million views and counting, #Aftercare has risen lately to the level of online visibility and group-chat fodder similar to other popular-on-TikTok relationship tools and terms such as love languages and attachment styles.

So what exactly does post-sex aftercare mean?

“Honestly, it’s the bare minimum,” quips sexuality doula, author, and host of the Sensual Self podcast Ev’Yan Whitney, of the time after a sexual encounter that allows for a positive “comedown.” It’s an opportunity to regulate emotions and deepen connections. “It’s essential to a good sexual experience, casual or otherwise,” says one TikTok creator in their video on the topic. The bottom line: It’s doing whatever it takes for you and your partner to feel safe, seen, and comfortable discussing what happened during sex.

The term originated in the BDSM community and was introduced as a way to make sure everyone was taken care of post-sex (i.e., removing restraints and blindfolds, providing reassurance, tending to marks and bruises). TikTok creators, however, have worked their algorithm magic to make sure that the aftercare discussion reaches an audience outside of the BDSM world and into that of sexually active folks everywhere.

Why is it necessary?

There’s actually a science-backed reason why we should all partake in post-sex aftercare. During sex, oxytocin and dopamine are released. Fun! Until they’re spent. Aftercare is a way of helping your body and mind adjust while those chemicals fade away — not to mention a great tactic to help avoid post-coital dysphoria (PCD), otherwise known as the “post-sex blues” or the sad or irritable feelings that may arise after having consensual sex.

While PCD is typically most common in women (a 2015 study showed 46 percent of women surveyed expressed feeling sad after sex at some point in their lifetime), 41 percent of men surveyed in a 2019 study conducted by The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy also reiterated similar sentiments.

“Taking care of the person you just had an intimate experience with should be a prerequisite,” Whitney says. Irrespective of what kind of relationship you have — be it a long-term partnership or a one-night stand — aftercare is a practice that, when appropriate, should be tightly weaved into the sexual experience.

Whether you head straight for the shower, order takeout, talk about the experience, or want to cuddle with your partner in total silence, aftercare is an opportunity to connect and create a space of comfort, ease, and safety, and it has millions of TikTokers talking about it. “As somebody who is autistic, has ADHD, and is a trauma survivor, aftercare is super important for me,” says creator Hayley Eigenfeldt in one TikTok. “Because neurodivergent folks tend to be more susceptible to a fear of rejection, aftercare is specifically super important for us.”

Picture this: You’ve just had amazing sex (congrats to both and all parties involved), and, whether you like it or not, you are experiencing an array of emotions. But then your partner quickly puts their clothes on, pats you on the head, and walks out. An unfortunate and disrespectful (consciously or not) situation — but not uncommon. Even if the experience is not that mortifying, feeling as though we’re being dismissed in any capacity is hurtful, let alone after such an intimate experience like sex.

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

Unlike a lot of sexual experiences, aftercare tends to come with a level of intimacy many of us are uncomfortable confronting, particularly when we’re not in a relationship relationship. Asking to have our needs met in a nonsexual way broaches a level a vulnerability we don’t often tread toward. “I wanted to remind folks that it isn’t exclusive to relationships, so even if they are experiencing casual sex, they too still deserve tenderness and care,” says TikTok creator and trauma-informed, inclusive sex educator Jeneka Jool of her video addressing aftercare.

So how do I practice it?

Like any other sexual or intimate practice, consent is always at the top of the list. In the aftercare department, that can look like simply asking your partner if it’s something they’re comfortable with and which types of acts are preferred and which are off-limits. Whitney recommends yes, no, maybe lists as a jumping-off 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 to best relay your sentiments to your partner, Jool emphasizes that “most of us weren’t taught this, so doing it for the first time can feel terrifying.” She notes “cultivating a safe space with partner(s), where compassion and curiosity are leading the charge, can make it a lot easier. Existing in nonjudgmental relationships allows us to lean into vulnerability, which is ultimately how we build our arsenal of healthy, sensual language and desire articulation.”

If this sounds terrifying, Jool suggests you begin by practicing on yourself through a tried-and-true game of trial and error. Then approach your partner (preferably outside of the bedroom) and ask them what aftercare looks like to them. And if they’re unfamiliar as well, 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 meld together the needs of everyone involved to craft individualized moments post-sex.

So while all of the above can serve as valuable tools to hopefully improving your sex life, it’s important to note that afterplay and the conversation that comes along with it may not always feel right, and that’s okay too. “In some situations, it’ll feel appropriate, and in others, it really may just be like ‘get the fuck out of my bedroom,’” quips Whitney. “Aftercare is so much more than the acts themselves; it’s about the intention behind them,” she reiterates. “The point is to be present.” Regardless of where you stand, speaking up should always be your best friend. “The best sex toy you will ever own is your throat,” Jool says. ”You have to open it (and communicate) to get what you need.” A superpower we often forget we have.

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Why Does TikTok Want Me to Practice Post-Sex Aftercare?