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How Important Is Afterplay?

HelloFlo is a womens health company committed to normalizing the conversations we have about womens bodies so that we can all live healthier lives.

We tend to focus on what happens before sex — but after can be pretty great too

We are all familiar with foreplay, the moments before intercourse that can last for a few minutes or a few hours. But what about postcoital play?

The best part of sex may also be the most overlooked: the neglected sensation of afterplay. When sensitivity is high and physical intimacy is emboldened, the incorporation of afterplay can correlate to your overall satisfaction.

Afterplay can help with 1) cooling down, 2) more enjoyable sex, 3) a stronger bond, 4) a healthy relationship and 5) more sex.

More: The Scientific Reason You and Your Partner Should Do More Cuddling

Why aren’t more couples engaging in afterplay?

Two key components: fatigue and lack of understanding. In 1979, James Halpern and Mark A. Sherman wrote Afterplay: The Key to Intimacy in which they looked at 264 American men and women. A majority fell asleep within an hour of having sex and the rest were unsatisfied with their afterplay experiences. However, the participants who did enjoy afterplay with their partners agreed that it correlated directly to the happiness in their relationship.

“Couples should always practice afterplay. It’s not the place to skimp out,” says Gigi Engle, a writer and sex educator. “I know it may not be the most white-hot part of a role play or bondage scene, but it’s incredibly important. Afterplay is an essential part of sexual experience, especially when that experience is new, kinky or in any way outside of one or more person’s comfort zone.”

We can’t be angry if our significant other falls asleep. They can’t help it due to a parasympathetic nervous response that an orgasm can cause. Sleep is a natural result because of our feelings of deep relaxation. However, there is a gap between men and women in terms of relaxation and falling asleep.

Men release several brain chemicals — norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, nitric oxide and the hormone prolactin — after ejaculation. Prolactin, oxytocin and vasopressin are to blame for levels of higher drowsiness, which is why after men orgasm, they fall asleep. While men’s breathing and heart rate return to normal after an orgasm, a woman’s body remains active for much longer after an orgasm. Because of this, a woman may lie awake.

What does afterplay entail?

It doesn’t always have to be more sex. Afterplay can come in the form of snuggling, taking a bath together, cuddling, kissing or simply touching. Yes, more fondling and more intercourse is always an option, but it doesn’t have to be. The moments after sex are moments of vulnerability. Postcoital depression is when a partner feels empty or unhappy after intercourse. Afterplay is important in situations like this, as it can reassure the partner through touch and intimacy.

“Be sure to set aside specific time after every single scene to devote to aftercare,” advises Engle. “Even if it’s just five minutes. Cuddle each other, kiss and talk. Take a moment to reconnect.”

Why is afterplay important for couples?

Afterplay creates a strong bond between couples. Since men are prone to fall asleep quickly after intercourse, their desire to create an emotional bond — and stay alert for their partner — will ensure a healthy physical bond.

“Afterplay (or aftercare) can definitely increase a couple’s intimacy in that it allows both partners to reconnect after what can often be an emotionally trying (but fun!) sexual adventure," Engle says.

More: Pre- and post-sex rituals to practice

Not only that, but a 2014 study found that couples who participate in postcoital affection report “greater sexual satisfaction.”

“Trying new erotic things takes trust, and establishing and maintaining that trust is critical. Aftercare allows you to step away from whatever fantasy or games you were engaging in to remind your partner that you’re there for them,” says Engle.

Just like foreplay is an important if not a necessary aspect to having intercourse, afterplay should be similarly imperative. Try to avoid “washing off” or dozing off and enjoy the moments after — consider it dessert.

By S. Nicole Lane

Originally published on HelloFlo.

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