This piece is part of my monthly series, The Spiritual Side of Sex. Read more like it here.
It’s a known, but often unsaid, thing: sex opens us up in a way that nothing else can.
Physically, emotionally, spiritually – we come open. Sometimes we are ripped open. Sometimes our shells are gently coaxed apart. Sometimes we fling ourselves like starfish onto the nearest rock. No matter how we open with sex, we open.
This can be said for sex that comes when partners understand the depths they will dive together as well as the kind that is about friction alone. No matter how you approach it, or what you expect, sex has this special power.
In light of this, I want to talk about Newton’s Third Law.
I know it seems like a complete diversion from the first few paragraphs, but bear with me, I know where I’m going.
Newton’s Third Law states the truth in physics that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. You toss a ball against a wall and it will return to you with equal force. You yell into an empty cave and your echo responds back.
Likely you’ve heard about this law or at least you’ve experienced it any time you’ve engaged in hitting something against something. But what you likely haven’t heard is the way it’s applicable to the energetic opening that sex creates.
The opposite and equal reaction for sex’s opening is that closing will follow.
Closed for Maintenance
It’s a universal truth that nothing can exist in an endless state of opening and expansion. Life precedes death. Closing follows opening. Since sex is a part of life, it cannot help but follow this truth.
The closing after the opening of sex looks like many things. At its worst, it looks like shame and self-disgust (I can’t believe I asked for that/I can’t believe I asked someone to do that). At its best, it is a gentle quieting, a gradual come down off the powerful hormonal drugs of the erotic. There are all sorts of middle spaces in between these extremes and each of them deserves its own form of nurturance.
Don’t Drop Me
In the world of BDSM, the concept of aftercare is well known (at least amongst those who practice it ethically). A submissive partner often releases into a state of openness and vulnerability that is unlike their experience in daily life, a place called subspace.
While everyone experiences subspace differently, it’s often described as a wordless, formless, blissful state of being where the veil of separation of one’s own desires from the desires of one’s partner disappears. (If this sounds like samadhi, or the blissful state of oneness that realized yogis describe, you’re paying attention.)
But there’s often a contraction after this expansion. A snapback to reality. A split between me and you. And sometimes it can hurt. Which is why aftercare is necessary.
What is Aftercare?
Aftercare can appear in many forms. Cuddles, gentle words, alone time, a bath, a meal, a conversation about what you liked or didn’t like. It’s basically anything that a partner needs to come down off the blissful high of sex and re-engage with the rest of life. Good aftercare is defined by the right level of nurturance for the individual. It’s specific and requires self-reflection. But when it’s right, it allows a person to integrate a sexual experience in order to stabilize, re-evaluate, and emerge into life again.
Aftercare is especially important after BDSM play because of the depth of opening and taboo-crossing that occurs. However, seeing the aftermath of sexual encounters in many of my clients and friends, I want to make the argument that aftercare is desperately needed in all erotic encounters.
Sex, even the type that doesn’t involve spanking, is a powerful drug. Under its influence, we experience a surge of hormones – oxytocin from skin-to-skin touch, dopamine from reaching a goal, the prolactin-inspired spooning after climax. These serve to open us to pleasure and the bliss of sex. But these temporary states of opening will be met with an opposite and equal reaction, just like our friend Newton promised.
This opening aspect of sex mirrors a problem that all humans face: we want the up but not the down that follows. Yet when we begin to recognize that life is a pivot point between states of expansion and contraction, we can experience pleasure in both orgasm and in cleaning up the messes we’ve made in the process.
Yes, there’s pleasure in aftercare. Holding someone – or letting yourself be held – is an act of relaxing into that openness the partners created. It closes the circle that was opened and allows each person to move into the world more secure in their trust in themselves and their partner.
This doesn’t need to be complicated. Good aftercare is just a matter of seeing our sexual partners as people, a whole greater than the sum of our pleasure parts. It asks us to have conversations and to acknowledge the emotions that sexual openness can bring up. It is a way to gently close the door on the phase of expansion and allow for your partner to ease their way back into the other parts of life.
If you’ve got questions, you’re on the right track. Allow me to clarify a bit of common concerns and then, ultimately, point you to your inner guidance to clear the rest of the way.
First, aftercare isn’t a replacement for a lack of attunement. In fact, a lot of the so-called neediness that some people run from in their partners is a result of the lack of proper attention in bed and after. So if you’re chasing someone or someone is chasing you, consider the unmet needs that are present behind the behavior.
Second, since your primary sexual partner is yourself, aftercare also applies to self-pleasure. This could look like a few minutes of savoring the experience at its culmination or a few statements of gratitude directed at your body and your genitals (genital gazing is a wonderful practice for the latter).
Finally, aftercare takes communication, both with oneself and a partner. This is what makes the practice of aftercare a spiritual experience — just like in meditation, we can go within and listen to the inner voice that guides us to what we want and what we can genuinely offer. If a partner seems resistant to doing self-exploration, it’s easy to slap the “toxic” label on them. Some lovers might deserve to have their numbers deleted, but others might just be unable to read your mind. Ask for what you need and be honest about what you can give. Then make the call about how much access you give this person.
Aftercare for reading this piece
No matter what kind of sex you’re having, aftercare can create a much more meaningful experience. By tending to someone else’s needs or allowing yourself to be tended to, you will invite the possibility of wise vulnerability that will allow us to reach across the divide for the divine that lives within all of us.
No matter how you have sex or with whom, you will open, then close. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lifelong partnership or a fling — if a person is worth having sex with, they’re worth the aftercare.
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