How negotiation and aftercare can help when sex hurts

How negotiation and aftercare can help when sex hurts

How negotiation and aftercare can help when sex hurts

By Nicole Guappone

Negotiation and aftercare are two principles that you may never have heard of but can be super helpful in taking your sex life to the next level—especially if sex hurts or you have chronic pelvic pain. Pain at the site of expected pleasure can feel tricky to navigate. We associate genitals and the pelvic area with sex; so when we’re experiencing a health challenge that affects our sexuality or ability to be sexual (with ourselves or others), it can affect us physically and emotionally. 

Here, we share some tools and tips for creating a space before and after intimacy to express thoughts, feelings, and concerns with your partner.

What are negotiation and aftercare?


In an essay by sex educator Tristan Taormino, she explains that “negotiation creates a space for everyone to talk about their needs, wants, limits, fantasies, and fears before they play.”

For some folks, negotiation is a big part of foreplay! Others may prefer to negotiate before sexy time starts, which can allow for a clear head and a different kind of intimacy ahead of time. 

Sex therapist Leighanna Nordstrom explains that negotiation can help “reduce the likelihood of causing/exacerbating pain.” It’s the time when you bring the thoughts and feelings that are at the forefront of your mind to the conversation. We all feel different from day to day so what might have worked for you last week won’t work for you today. 

If you have pelvic pain, tell your partner

  • What your pain level is today or how your pain feels
  • If you are excited for sex or anxious about the potential for pain (and discuss how you can ease that now and/or navigate it during sex) 
  • If there are any places or spots you would prefer your partner didn’t touch this time
  • If there are any acts you would prefer to not engage in this time (like PIV or skin to skin contact—gloves can be sexy!)
  • If you'd like to use a particular tool or toy—like Kiwi or Ohnut

By discussing pelvic pain together, Nordstrom shares, “both partners are able to work to [ease] it” rather than the burden just falling on the person who experiences it.

If your partner has pelvic pain, you can ask

  • What is your pain level right now? Can you tell me where it is on your body? 
  • If you’re anxious or scared, is there anything I can do to make you feel better?
  • What kind of touch or sex are you craving? 
  • If it hurts, can I trust that you’ll tell me to stop so we can regroup?
  • Do you want more lube?/Let's use more lube!

Some of these statements and questions may seem scary, especially if communication is required after sex already starts. You may feel uncomfortable stopping or asking to change something, especially if it’s something you've liked before. But if you acknowledge these fears and any discomfort ahead of time, that can make it feel safer and more natural in the moment. 

And remember—sex doesn’t automatically equal penetration (check out these non-penetrative sex ideas!). It doesn’t even necessarily equal naked bodies! For example, if you’re feeling especially sensitive to touch down there, but you still want to get intimate, keep your underwear on and just use toys (or hands) over the fabric. Or get naked and just cuddle! Mutually masturbate. The possibilities are truly endless. 

The way we’ve laid out these suggestions is just one way of doing things. There should be room for anyone to express anxiety or concern (not just folks who have pain!).

It’s also important to not focus only on your pain or the things you can’t do. Use negotiation time to flesh out your fantasies, too: what’s turning you on right now? What kind of toys do you want to use (if any)? How do you want to feel during sex? What is it that you can’t wait to do to your partner? Desire can be found in the details. 


What happens after sex is just as important as what goes on during it (or right before it)! You’ve just had an intimate experience with someone, so check in with them. Make sure they are alright physically and mentally. Whether you’ve done the same things you’ve done in the past or are trying new things, it’s wise to check in with each other. Nordstrom defines aftercare as “the act of grounding, reconnecting, and co-regulating after a sexual experience.”

A lot of emotions can come up (sometimes unexpectedly) when you or your partner experience pelvic pain. There can be frustration, sadness, a feeling of betrayal (of your body). If things go smoother than expected there can be excitement and elation or even tears of joy. How will you respond if your partner starts crying?

By participating in aftercare, you can create a feeling of calm and relaxation after sex, and embody safety. Make sure your body knows that no matter what happens during sex—even if something hurts and it frustrates you—it’s safe and appreciated. Create a sense of comfort and nurturing during your post-sex cuddle, too.

Furthermore, aftercare can de-emphasize orgasms as the “end” of sex. You know that we like to challenge common sexual scripts and routine when it comes to sex. Sex should be a choose your own adventure, not a way of going from point A to point O (that was an orgasm joke) every single time with no detours or surprise stops along the way.

According to Nordstrom, “sex often activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is the system responsible for fight or flight behaviors (even if one is not feeling unsafe or at risk). Your body, therefore, may need help reducing survival symptoms like a racing heart, shallow breathing, or tense muscles.” 

Aftercare can be

  • Asking your partner how they are feeling
  • Asking if they need anything, like water or to use the bathroom
  • Cuddling under a favorite blanket
  • Looking into each other’s eyes to return to the present

“If you’re exploring how to define your aftercare routine,” Nordstrom says, “consider the things you do when you’re feeling particularly activated, stressed, or sleepy.”

How to talk about the sex you just had 

  • What was your favorite part?
  • Is there anything you didn’t love?
  • What felt really really good? 
  • Is there anything we can do to make next time even better? 

Be sure that aftercare conversation doesn’t turn into one person listing all the things that went “wrong” or that didn’t feel good. The goal is not to frame the whole experience as bad or make your partner feel bad, it’s to check in with each other physically and emotionally and, if you like, think about how next time can be even better. Even if the sex was amazing, there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it even more amazing next time. 

Negotiation and aftercare are both principles used by folks who practice BDSM and/or kinky sex. But honestly, these are great guiding principles for any type of sex. 

And like anything, if you practice negotiation and aftercare with a partner (especially the same partner), it will start to feel like second nature. You may start to almost create your own language or way of communicating about sex. What took ten minutes to negotiate the first time may take a minute or even less to negotiate in the future! When you learn what kind of aftercare you prefer, you or your partner can prepare ahead of time and anticipate each other’s needs. 


Pelvic pain can wreak havoc on a sex life. You may want to avoid sex altogether. It’s totally okay if you don’t want to have sex! But if you’re avoiding it because fear is standing in the way, there are ways to shift thought patterns and navigate intimacy in a way that feels safe.  

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