Aftercare is the return to the conventional, to the equal, to the status quo. It is commonly said that the submissive is the one in need of aftercare from the dominant, but I disagree and let me explain why.
During the reflective process of aftercare, an objective viewpoint would definitely situate me as the perpetrator and them as the victim. I was the one restricting and making them surrender to pain and shame, after all. Yes, it was all consensual and done with love, but that’s an intellectual understanding, one which caters little to the whispers of my body which tell me that I’m the bad boy in this tale. Society agrees. If anyone is getting thrown into jail, then it will be me. My role in the story often represents the thing I want to avoid associating myself with in everyday life, and I need reassurance that I’m not that, that whatever happened during our session was the right decision for everyone involved.
The darker and more disturbed our play has been, the more intense the emotions I have been holding space for, the more I need such reassurance. Fear and suffering are obviously more taxing than joy and pleasure. But there is a deeper aspect to this. It is about turning the spotlight on my vulnerability and giving me a chance to hand over control and power for a while. That brings balance back into the relationship and is the magic key which allows me to enjoy magnificent power, a power given to me in the form of another’s submission, suffering, and surrender. In return, I take them on a journey they could never venture into alone. For this balance to be achieved, one of the needed ingredients is aftercare for the dominant. This need not look traditionally nurturing or caring, it need not be in the form of long, verbal reassurance. But when the submissive for example embraces or caresses their dominant after a session, when they smile and thank them, when they offer a clear sign that what happened was positive for them, this can assuage and empower their partner and set a course for possible future interactions.
The submissive of course also requires aftercare; luckily this is not a zero-sum game. But when I see ‘a daddy dom’ tucking their ‘little girl’ in a blanket while feeding them ice cream and wiping their tears, I don’t see aftercare but a prolongation of the power dynamic of their scene. Maybe, daddy dom bringing the ice cream is partially consciously trying to reassure himself that he isn’t that bad guy. Or, perhaps he keeps being dominant to avoid being vulnerable. In either case, greater clarity and directness in acknowledging the other’s roles, actions, and potential vulnerabilities goes a great length in assuring a successful sadomasochistic relationship.