I've been deep in Chanel Contos' debut book, Consent Laid Bare, and there's this particular theme that rings present throughout it. That if we all begin all of our interactions and sexual experiences with care and empathy front of mind, that we wouldn't have such grey areas of sexual violence and assault in our society. That if we were taught, modelled and showed empathy towards our sexual partners, we would notice when they were uncomfortable for whatever reason and take active steps to do better. More of my thoughts on this book and Contos' wonderful ideas to come, but it got me thinking about the ways we show up for ourselves and our partners in sex and dating.
In the era of casual situationships and hookup culture, showing care throughout a sexual experience has become conflated with being 'too much', 'too needy' or 'too emotional'. I've seen this effect across different genders and that we've come to feel like we can't expect too much from a one-night-stand or a friends-with-benefits because we think care = feelings.
At Chanel Contos' book launch event in Sydney, she made a reference to an early Sex and the City episode where one of the main characters, Carrie Bradshaw attempts to 'have sex like a man', meaning without any meaning or emotional attachment. Contos raised the question: Why do we want this for ourselves? Is it even possible without a whole lot of dissociation, disconnection and repression?
So I invite this question for you to chew on the next time you play: How can we show care for each other and ourselves throughout this experience? Care not as in vanilla, fluffy, missionary sex (though that's good sometimes), and care not as in falling in love and riding off into the sunset together, but care as in treating each other as human beings opening ourselves up to a raw experience because that's what we're doing. Care should be the bare minimum. Even if you love a little or a lot of degradation, power play and everything in between, care remains key to a fulfilling sexual experience for all involved.
The concepts of pre-care, during-care and after-care provides a great structure and language to understand and ask for your needs, and for you to meet your partners. Pre-care refers to how you and your partners support each other before and leading up to a sexual experience. Pre-care can overlap with what we might consider foreplay, but it's not a complete circle. Pre-care is more about setting the scene emotionally and mentally rather than just physically. During-care refers to how you support each other during, and after-care refers to how you support each other after. Each stage gives everyone an opportunity to set up the sexual experience in the ways they need it in order to feel safe, respected and/or intimate. This can include conversations about boundaries and sexual health, a cuddle, drink breaks or a shower. Care is important regardless of your relationship status or the type of sexual play you're engaging in. It also doesn't have to be the same every time, and there are forms of care that can be done either alone or with partners.
It’s also particularly important for those of us who struggle being present throughout sex due to trauma, shame, insecurities or anything in between, to have a good routine of pre-, during- and after-care. As sex requires a lot more physical and emotional effort to partake in, these different types of care help provide a buffer so that we don't go into complete overwhelm or crash right after it's over. Even if it's your kink during play, sex should leave you feeling more full and more human. Not less.
Below you'll find common examples of pre-, during- and after-care suggestions to get your brain churning and your conversations flowing. You'll see overlap across the board as care feels and looks different for everyone.
Sharing how we're feeling
Discussing boundaries and expectations
Talking about sexual health
Snack and drink breaks
Listening to music
A sweet little cuddle Your snack/drink of choice A massage Breathing together Watching a show Listening to music Talking about what you enjoyed A shower/bath
Planning your next session