You may have heard of aftercare, the BDSM practice that has major vanilla crossover appeal. But there’s another crossover artist worthy of discussion, the Kacey Musgraves of BDSM if you will, and that’s pre-care.

In short, aftercare is the practice of creating a safe space after intimacy for any kind of feelings that might arise. It can look like a debriefing chat, cuddling, watching fun music videos, or even having a little dance party. Pre-care, then, is aftercare’s bookend, providing a specific container for the time before sex. Read on for more tips on making this a consciously cultivated moment.

Pre-care vs. foreplay

There is a lot of overlap between pre-care and foreplay, but their Venn diagram is not a circle. While foreplay is traditionally concerned with physically warming up for intimacy, pre-care is more about mentally and emotionally setting the stage for it. It’s the thing that bridges the gap between “I’m too busy” or “I’m too stressed” and actually helps you make the transition into relaxing in your body. Pre-care almost always leads into foreplay, but sometimes it’s impossible to launch straight into foreplay without a little pre-care.

What is pre-care?

So, if it’s not foreplay—what is it? Like most sexual practices, pre-care is highly customizable to the people involved and their exact needs on a given day. Whereas foreplay naturally escalates into “more” sensation and intimacy, pre-care is its own distinct container of time where things don’t need to escalate yet. It can look like a chat about what’s going to happen next. It could be partners checking in about their emotional states and desires/expectations for this encounter. It could be a time to slow down and practice some physical mindfulness through gentle touch. Whatever shape it takes, pre-care is meant to ease the transition from “real life” into foreplay.

Why pre-care?

Sometimes, you want to be physically intimate, but you’re just not all the way there. Whether it’s work stress, being a caregiver to small children, or living through a global pandemic, everyone has their moments of needing a way to connect to themselves or their partner, but being unable to access it. And sometimes if you rush yourself into that intimate moment without addressing the mental hurdles you had to jump to get there, you may find yourself more at risk for post-coital dysphoria. This also applies to situations where you’re stretching your limits a little—experimenting with something or someone new, for example. And while aftercare is always there for you as a way of handling those down moments when they pop up, pre-care is a good way to consciously head them off at the pass.

How to practice pre-care

Tell your partner how you’re feeling and what you might need before intimacy begins. Do you need to take a second to quiet your thoughts? Listen to some sexy music? Some audio erotica?

Breathe, do a body scan, or stretch. Tapping into mindfulness strategies can help you tune into your body and how you’re feeling, and help you realize what you’re craving physically and emotionally.

Plan a date to have a meal together without devices. Have a glass of wine. Flirt a little.

Set aside some time for physical touch that doesn’t escalate (yet). Hold each other. Give each other massages. Kiss. You can even set a timer for oral sex that isn’t expected to end in orgasm, but rather as a way to arrive in your body.

If you’re playing remotely, as so many of us are these days, pre-care can look like setting aside some time for yourself prior to the FaceTime, phone call, or sext session. Do a little self-care! Take a bath, get dressed up in some lingerie that makes you feel sensual, listen to mood music. Or turn off app notifications! We multitask so much on our phones that a sudden alert that mom liked your Instagram post could be a serious mood-killer when you’re trying to take the perfect nude.

Pre-care & responsive desire

As sexuality researchers come to understand human sexuality better, they have found that there are two primary modes of desire—spontaneous desire and responsive desire. Spontaneous desire, or just experiencing a need for sex out of the blue, is most common in men and has always been framed in mainstream culture as the only way desire shows up. Recently, though, researchers have come to understand that 85% of women do not experience spontaneous desire. But rather, their desire is responsive. Meaning that their desire responds to sexy stimuli, instead of just arriving out of the blue.

If you find that your desire is more responsive than spontaneous, pre-care can be an excellent way to set the mood. While some people with responsive desire can feel at times like sex is just another thing they have to check off their to-do list, they can proactively address this feeling by taking an intentional container of time and using it to ease into the moment however they need to, outside of the escalating pressure of foreplay.

If you’d like to start exploring pre-care, it’s as simple as asking yourself what you need before sex begins, then communicating that to your partner(s) as needed. And this isn’t about some magical sex move or a secret hack, it’s just about taking a moment to validate that your needs and desires are worthy and welcome in the sexual space.

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Lina Dune is a 24/7 collared submissive, passionate writer, kinky memestress, and, most importantly, a fairy submother to all who seek her advice. Her name is derived from two Anais Nin stories, “Lina” and “Woman On The Dunes.” She is based in Los Angeles and lives on Instagram.