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Aftercare Should Be A Thing Both Inside & Outside The Bedroom

Turns out, it isn't limited to the BDSM community.

Love & Relationships

If you're on the spectrum of kink or maybe you went down a Google rabbit hole at some point throughout the 50 Shades of Gray craze, you probably already have an inkling of what aftercare is. The best way I can describe what aftercare is, is an intimate check-in that occurs after any level of BDSM interaction has occurred. For every couple, it looks different, ranging from actions like washing one another or a sultry massage/rub down or even cuddling. It can even be verbally communicative, providing positive reinforcement and sharing how the interaction made you feel. In the kink community, aftercare is absolute and understandably so!

However, it never occurred to me that this practice should be normalized in a handful of potentially traumatic interactions that might take place in our romantic relationships. Well, until I saw a tweet that suggested it, that is! The tweet read:

"Aftercare in relationships, in general, isn't discussed enough. If we get into a huge fight, there needs to be aftercare. If we have some wild ass sex, there needs to be aftercare. If we have a series of super deep discussions, there needs to be aftercare."

I was immediately all snaps for this concept. Because, yes, arguments can absolutely be traumatic. Anything can become a traumatic experience if we don't take care.

What Is Aftercare?

In the same way that Black parents refer to their children's romantic partners as "little friends," you may have already been practicing aftercare without labeling it. Immediately, the "never go to bed angry" philosophy comes to mind and it's absolutely rooted in aftercare principles. The wise old adage acknowledges that while couples may not come to a consensus on whatever it is that has created a divide or tension, this disagreement doesn't mean that I'm loving or caring for you less. And it is often followed by a gesture that makes the sentiment actionable. Couples may kiss it out, hug it out, or even sex it out. They may simply say, "I love you." But, I wouldn't be opposed to us being more intentional about aftercare---calling a spade a spade and putting it into practice for better or worse. It would be a game-changer for intimacy in so many capacities but especially in strengthening nonsexual intimacy through facets such as communication. It provides a lofty opportunity to explore one another's love languages.

I say this given the rawness and vulnerability that likely follow acts like rough sex or a bad argument---acts that need to be validated---and the best way to validate a partner is caring for them through their love language. I've had plenty of disheartening arguments that left me wide-eyed, awake, and angry, perhaps even feeling like unwanted goods. And I've definitely felt like unwanted goods after having what I perceive as wild sex and not being properly cared for afterward---especially where hook-ups are concerned! A nigga just fucked me doggy style and the first thing they do is sit up, wipe their dick off with a worn shirt, and then throw their Timbs on? Oh, I'm for sure feeling some type of way.

And, therein lies the other piece of what aftercare in the kink scene gets right: it does not discriminate based on relationship status. Everyone gets aftercare, to not leave the experience feeling used and abused. It doesn't matter if you're romantically involved or solely sexual.

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The Importance Of Incorporating Aftercare Into Your Relationships

Put into practice, aftercare provides a safe space to speak on things that perhaps you all failed to communicate prior to sex. For example, if something during sex triggered you because you're coming from an abusive past and your partner touched you in a way that reminded you of said abuse, it opens the floor to speak on those things when the two of you come together for a moment afterward to check-in. While this may seem unlikely, especially when considering this is an actual scenario that might take place in a romantic relationship — unfortunately, the reality is that many couples struggle with communication and vulnerability in relationships — thus it wouldn't be far-fetched for either party to be triggered by rough sex or even regular sex where one touch threw the mood.

Whether we care to admit it or not, trauma is a subjective experience and maybe it's my own trauma speaking but it's pretty impossible to go through life never incurring any of the baggage that comes along with it. Sometimes we can prevent the creation of more or rehashing of old, unhealed trauma.

Introducing Aftercare To Your Partner

If you're interested in introducing aftercare to your partner, it's always suggested that you discuss it with them so that they are aware of the expectation that they will hopefully participate and reciprocate. But I also think it would be safe to introduce them to aftercare by simply doing a show-and-tell setup, if you will. If you know your partner's love language, try to tap into that when providing them with aftercare post-whatever — sex, deep dialogues, arguments — literally what.ever. This is especially encouraged if your partner's love language is anything other than "gift giving" and I only say that to acknowledge the others will be easier to integrate into aftercare since they don't require much premeditation.

If quality time is their love language, sit and play a game with them after a bad argument. Physical touch can be as simple as holding their hand, caressing their face, or giving them a long hug. Try words of affirmation like, "I appreciate that you were willing to share the deeper, more intimate parts of yourself with me tonight. It says so much about the man you are." (Hell, I'm convinced the way the male ego is set up, they all might be equipped with physical touch and words of affirmation as love languages.) And if your partner's love language is gift-giving, get creatively corny. Seriously, when has giving someone a key to your heart ever gone wrong?

Aftercare doesn't have to be over-thought nor difficult. It's actually just an extension of the things we already knew but with intention.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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