Aftercare and Compulsory Compassion

The Cure for “Post-Nut Clarity”

by Mx. Chelsey Morgan

I’ve been told my entire life not to “ride my highs too high or my lows too low”. I’ve been warned against the emotional valleys that would overshadow my peaks and was cautioned that the come down would never be worth the high. However, no matter how many people volunteered to show me the obligatory darkness that inevitably followed light, I was never shown how to walk through it. I never learned how to dry my tears or to nurse my hangover. Instead, I was told I deserved it for drinking too much in the first place. I was told that my sexuality was sacred and that my tears were the price to pay for giving it up. That’s how it has always been and so that’s how it will always be. 

My response? Fuck that.

I refuse to accept that there is no solution. I refuse to accept a life where all of my highs are overshadowed by my lows, where shame is the price to pay for self-expression and where joy cannot exist without despair. 

Now, I know that all sounds a bit intense. I have a love for the dramatic. But the point of the matter is this. If you’ve ever experienced “post-nut clarity”, depressive episodes or guilt immediately following sex or masturbation, or any other extreme drops after moments that should have brought you extreme joy, I’m talking to you.

The Science of “Post-Nut Clarity”

Human beings are hard-wired for equilibrium. We’re created to maintain our physical health and our bodies naturally release chemical rewards each time we perform an action that serves that purpose. Using sex as an example, when building up to a state of arousal, our body releases a chemical called norepinephrine, which encourages full arousal and elevates our mood. In simplest terms, it “warms us up” to what’s to come and then continues to build up as we reach our climax. Then, as a response to sexual stimulation, our body begins to release dopamine, which causes pleasure, desire and the motivation to continue.As dopamine and norepinephrine build up and mix with a long list of our other pleasure chemicals, we begin to reach peak sexual pleasure. At this point, our bodies release oxytocin, a bonding chemical that can make orgasm feel like a truly addicting experience. 

Then, as magically and dramatically as they rose, they fall… and our bodies begin to return to their natural state. Some people don’t feel this drop at all. They ride their high until it ends and happily drift into their equilibrium. However, for so many others, this drop can be devastating. 

There are a million words that a million communities have coined to explain the emotional hangovers that can follow experiences of ecstasy. “Post-Nut Clarity” is just one of many and refers to the “clear-headedness” that people may experience after orgasm during which their partner becomes “undesirable” or the porn they were watching becomes “repulsive” and, in some cases, the moment where your own body may become the object of your disgust. In the Kink and BDSM community, often people will use the terms “sub-drop” or “top-drop” to describe the emotional dip felt as the levels of those “feel good” chemicals your brain just released return to equilibrium. 

So, what do we do about it? How do we fight our chemistry and counter those lows? 

In a word, Aftercare.

What is Aftercare?

Aftercare is a term that has been adopted by the Kink and BDSM communities. Once referring to the care of a patient after their release from the hospital, the term is now used to refer to the practice of giving time and attention to the individual needs of each partner after a scene in an effort to consider the physical and emotional wellbeing of each person. [ A “scene” is the term used by the community to refer to any BDSM encounter, whether that be sexual or non-sexual in nature. ] Just as scenes are pre-negotiated to ensure that both the dominant and submissive partners have their needs met, aftercare must also be pre-negotiated. Some may even choose to include the use of safe words in their aftercare as well to ensure comfort, effective communication and compassion after what may have been an intense scene.

For the BDSM community, aftercare can look very different depending on each person’s individual needs and the nature of their dynamic. In a scene of particularly intense impact play or bondage, aftercare may look like stretching together, tending to any wounds or marks made on the body, or simply taking a moment to lie still and to ground yourself in the room. For others, it is much more of an emotional experience than a physical one. Whether that be cuddling closely to your partner, taking some time to decompress on your own, or even something as simple as grabbing your favorite snack and watching a tv show that makes you laugh, aftercare is an essential part of any experience in the kink community. 

What does that have to do with me?

In short, everything. Aftercare is the BDSM community’s response to the emotional lows that can come after the energizing rush of dopamine and oxytocin that flood your body during a scene. It’s the same rush that floods the brains of people after they give birth. The same rush that invigorates your body when you get that major promotion or when your crush holds your hand. It’s the same rush that can make a person feel like an addiction and, unfortunately, it’s followed by the same crash. The same crash that causes postpartum depression in new parents. The same crash that makes you feel directionless after getting a new job. The same crash that makes you feel disgusting or ashamed for watching porn or that makes your partner immediately undesirable after sex. 

We all need aftercare. We all need to prioritize providing ourselves with time and space to give our undivided attention to meeting our needs. We need to stop accepting lows as just a part of life and start considering what our bodies are trying to communicate to us, whether that’s a need for physical touch, comfort food, and time with people we love, or a need to take time to ourselves to heal from burnout, sensory overload or overstimulation. We need to make space for self-compassion and compassion for others, but more than that, we need to maintain that space in every part of our lives. In the BDSM community, aftercare is compulsory. Just like negotiations and consent, it is an essential part of any dynamic. 

It’s time we take a page from that book and make compassion compulsory. Self-care shouldn’t be an optional action reserved for the spiritually “awake” or those who have the time and money to invest in themselves. Self-care and empathy for others should be ingrained in what it means to be human. So I’ll ride my highs as high as I want to and I refuse to crash on the way down.  

When it’s time to face reality, I intend to give myself the time and space that I need to find my balance, and I challenge you to do the same.

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