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Is Aftercare Consent?

Aftercare ensures attention to a partner's needs following an intimate encounter.

Key points

  • Aftercare in BDSM involves caring for the needs of a partner after a kinky encounter.
  • Aftercare is a component of consent and lack of aftercare is identified as an indicator of consent violations.
  • Sexual regret is increased after an encounter where a partner doesn't follow up in a kind, caring way.
Image by Victoria from Pixabay
Source: Image by Victoria from Pixabay

In the world of kink and BDSM (a compound acronym describing practices of bondage, discipline, submission, sadomasochism, and other related power-exchange activities), aftercare is an intentional part of engaging in a consensual “scene” with a partner. Aftercare is generally negotiated in advance of the activity, with the submissive partner identifying to the person taking on a dominant role, exactly the kinds of caregiving, nurturing, or cuddling the submissive person needs after the mutual activity, in order “to come down.”

So, the one partner might describe, “After the scene, I’m usually almost nonverbal, unable to talk clearly, so I really need you to just hold me, tell me I did good, and not expect me to do anything requiring thinking for at least an hour.” Aftercare is a practice that evolved in the intense world of BDSM, in order to center the experience on the person taking a bottom, or submissive role, and to ensure that the entire arc of the experience is intentionally crafted to ensure a positive experience.

Because such behaviors can often involve extremely elevated feelings such as fear, lack of control, and pain, effective aftercare is taught as a process to assist a partner with re-establishing a sense of calm, peace, and safety. Aftercare can be a time to discuss what aspects of the encounter were pleasurable, and to identify any miscommunications or missed opportunities. In sexual communication educational strategies, sexual partners are encouraged to discuss their desired forms of aftercare, prior to engaging in sexual behaviors. Aftercare is intended to facilitate a positive, consensual sexual encounter, from start to finish. Engaging in aftercare serves as a sign of compliance and follow-through with previously established boundaries, maintenance of consent, and positive regard for a partner’s well-being.

Interestingly, aftercare appears to do something else as well, cementing a foundation of consent regarding the experience, from start to finish. A lack of aftercare is not clearly linked to feelings of sexual regret, though in the BDSM community, it is noteworthy that a lack of aftercare is frequently identified as a component of nonconsensual behaviors that may occur within BDSM.1 In a study of nonconsensual experiences in the alternative sexualities’ community, a lack of aftercare was one of the components that people identified as an indicator that the experience had been nonconsensual. In other words, failing to attend to a partner's needs before, during, and after the experience may be viewed as a sign that there had been a lack of full consent by BDSM practitioners.

Pitagora described aftercare as an integrated component of consent: “The concept of aftercare might be seen as integrated within the overarching theme of consent, which includes negotiation, the designation of a safeword, and a collaborative return to a baseline cognitive and emotional state.”2

Aftercare is not a commonly discussed element of sexual education, outside the BDSM community. However, sexual regret following casual sex encounters may be influenced by one partner realizing “they did not want the same thing as their partner.” Such differences suggest inadequate discussions of consent and relationship negotiation play a part in developing feelings of sexual regret.3 Other research finds that when sexual relationships include higher levels of gratitude toward one’s partner, the relationships tend to be more sexually positive, with higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Thus, the opposite is clearly true: Relationships devoid of gratitude and interpersonal communing post-sex are more likely to experience distress and discord.4

Campbell studied the affective reactions of men and women, following one-night stands. A noted factor among women was strong reactions toward a partner’s behaviors (or lack of behaviors) following a one-time sexual encounter. Specifically, a great number of women reported they felt “used” after the sexual encounter, when the partner did not talk to her afterward, did not contact her or call her afterward, ignored or “ghosted” her, or did not contact her simply to say, “Thank you for a wonderful experience.” Women who reported such experiences were highly likely to report feelings of regret for the sexual encounter.5

Sexual regret is a concept closely linked to allegations of sexual assault, as feelings of regret contribute to questions of whether or not a sexual encounter had been fully consensual. Sadly, feelings of regret are also common when alcohol is involved, and the presence of alcohol affects the abilities of partners to negotiate their sexual boundaries or identify their post-encounter needs.

DeJong found that when people’s motives for casual sex or hooking up were clear, conscious, and congruent, there were lower levels of sexual regret and decreased dissatisfaction following a sexual encounter.6 In other words, both partners were clear with themselves and each other about what they were looking for, during and after the experience, they were less likely to regret the experience. How could such congruence be achieved? Through a thoughtful discussion about motives and needs, prior to the experience, and with attention to those needs following the sexual encounter. In other words, through discussion of aftercare.

In the forensic world, I’ve been an expert witness on a number of cases involving one-night sexual encounters that were later reported as nonconsensual sexual assault. These cases are often complex, where one partner reports believing the encounter was consensual, while the other partner later describes that they felt pressured, used or exploited. The celebrity Aziz Ansari's case is unfortunately a good example of this.

Applying the construct of aftercare to casual sex/hooking-up may reduce such differences of opinion, by ensuring greater levels of agreement about needs before, during and after the sex. A person is far less likely to feel likely to feel exploited or that their consent was violated when a partner discusses their needs and follows through after the experience in a way that demonstrates care and regard for their well-being.

In other words, let’s make aftercare a part of every intimate encounter, kinky or not, sexual or not, casual or not. It shows our caring for the needs of our partners, which just makes good sense, and even better sex.


1. eg. Wright S, Bowling J, McCabe S, Benson JK, Stambaugh R, Cramer RJ. Sexual Violence and Nonconsensual Experiences Among Alt-Sex Communities' Members. J Interpers Violence. 2022 Dec;37(23-24):NP21800-NP21825. doi: 10.1177/08862605211062999. Epub 2022 Jan 6. PMID: 34990568.; Haviv, N. (2016). Reporting Sexual Assaults to the Police: the Israeli BDSM Community. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 13(3), 276–287. doi:10.1007/s13178-016-0222-4

2. Pitagora, D. (2013). Consent vs. Coercion: BDSM Interactions Highlight a Fine but Immutable Line. The New School Psychology Bulletin, 10, 27–36.

3. Oswalt, S. B., Cameron, K. A., & Koob, J. J. (2005). Sexual Regret in College Students. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34(6), 663–669. doi:10.1007/s10508-005-7920-y

4. Brady, A., Baker, L. R., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Gratitude Increases the Motivation to Fulfill a Partner’s Sexual Needs. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 12(2), 273–281.

5. Campbell A. The Morning after the Night Before: Affective Reactions to One-Night Stands among Mated and Unmated Women and Men. Hum Nat. 2008 Jun;19(2):157–173. doi: 10.1007/s12110-008-9036-2. Epub 2008 Apr 19. PMID: 26181462.

6. de Jong, D. C., Adams, K. N., & Reis, H. T. (2018). Predicting women’s emotional responses to hooking up: Do motives matter? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 532–556.

Peter Martinez. Aziz Ansari responds to woman's claim of sexual misconduct. CBS News. 2018.

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