The above image — a postcard, showing a pinup-style girl with the text “I gained 30 pounds … & sex has never been better!” — is courtesy of PostSecret, the community art project to which people mail in postcards featuring secrets they’ve never told anyone before.

I often think that good physical health is a widely-ignored element of good sex. I am obviously not saying that people in poor health can’t have good sex (and in fact, I certainly hope they do — more power to ’em). But it consistently amazes me how much my physical health factors into my sexuality, especially S&M. I am by no means an expert on this topic, but here are some examples:

* Food. I am both less interested in sex and in S&M when I’m hungry; ensuring that I’ve eaten well before I take some punishment is especially crucial. I try to eat well in general, but if I’m planning to have a heavy S&M encounter, I don’t cut myself any slack. I try to specifically ensure that I eat enough protein before the date and I try to include some vitamin-heavy foods like beets, leafy green vegetables, etc. Eggs are a good source of protein; nuts, beans and tofu are my primary protein sources. (I was wrong about a previous statistic on eggs that I included here; see comments.) If I don’t have enough protein available for whatever reason, I at least eat enough food that I won’t be hungry when I see my partner.

Part of the reason I’m writing this right now is that I’ve had trouble finding useful resources on the Internet for what people recommend as good pre- or post-S&M food, especially during aftercare. “Aftercare” is an S&M term for how people end their S&M encounters. This excellent page on aftercare describes it thusly (note: “top” is a blanket term for a dominant and/or sadist, and “bottom” is a blanket term for submissive and/or masochist):

Aftercare is the last act of the SM drama. It is the culmination, the pulling together of all loose ends, the finishing touches, the final communion between sharers of the SM ritual, the phase where the participants (usually the tops) formally give the fantasy scene a context in everyday reality. Its technical purpose is to transition both players from the elevated states created in a scene [i.e., an S&M encounter] back into normalcy, returning to the motor control and awareness they will need to drive home once the scene is over. But as any good SM practitioner will tell you, it’s much more than that. It is the time after the action when the participants come together in mutual affirmation that something special was created and shared. It is when affection and closeness is offered and sought. It is, at very least, the proper time to express thanks to the person who has shared this tiny segment of your life with you. It can be, and often is, the most beautiful part of a scene, and it is part of the scene. To skip it altogether is as rude as having dinner at a friend’s house and then bolting once you’ve eaten your fill.

A lot of tops keep food and water on hand to give bottoms at the end of a scene, which I think is probably a good idea. (Eating post-scene doesn’t feel necessary for me as a bottom, but it might if I weren’t so careful about what I eat beforehand.) Some people say that fruit or fruit juice is the way to go — and indeed, it will give the bottom’s system a sugar boost and may make them feel better for that reason — but I would personally rather eat a protein bar, and I have some friends who feel the same way. Dungeons usually serve snacks, although the snacks aren’t always very healthy.

A final note on food: I know there are people who specifically include food deprivation as part of their S&M. Obviously, this is totally fine by me as long as it is consensual, but I’d encourage people not to expect themselves — or their partners — to react the way they usually do to S&M, as long as they’re hungry.

* Weight. I used to be much scrawnier than I am now, and as my health has improved, I’ve gained weight. Sometimes this freaks me out (it’s impossible to be female in our society and not daydream about having cheekbones that can stab people), but it has been worth it. One time, after I’d been having a lot of anxiety about weight gain, my then-boyfriend emailed me the above PostSecret postcard and perceptively wrote: “Maybe that’s why it’s easier for you to have orgasms now? I think you should investigate this if you try to lose weight.”

I am not in a position to comment about whether being overweight affects sex. But I can definitely assure you that being underweight is not good for your sexual well-being.

* Sleep. I much prefer to have S&M encounters on days when I’ve gotten a lot of sleep the night before; this is at least as crucial as eating well before an encounter. There are approximately a billion studies that show the far-reaching effects that getting enough sleep can have on our health, and they seem to usually recommend around 7-8 hours as a good amount per night (more for teenagers).

As with food, I know there are people who include sleep deprivation as part of their S&M encounters. Again, this is obviously fine by me as long as it is consensual, but I’d encourage people not to expect themselves — or their partners — to react the way they usually do to S&M, as long as they’re tired. I don’t know about you, but exhaustion certainly makes me erratic and overly emotional. If you’re going to be doing something like S&M that can specifically create an erratic and overly emotional state … well, when overlapping that with exhaustion, it just seems like a good idea to be careful.

* Alcohol. Alcohol definitely decreases my pain tolerance (quite dramatically in fact), and it definitely makes it harder for me to get turned on. There is only one bonus to alcohol, and that’s the famous “social lubricant” effect. I personally prefer to limit myself to one glass of wine, maaaaybe two, if I’m planning to hook up with someone; in general, stone-cold sobriety is my preferred state to go into S&M. Good S&M makes me high enough on its own.

I get the impression that some people get drunk before they do S&M because otherwise they feel too anxious to do S&M. As always, I’m not going to tell other people that they shouldn’t do consensual things … but drunkenness frequently makes it hard to communicate and hard to know what’s going on in your head, which means that drunkenness makes consent hard. Not impossible, just hard. Be careful.

A lot of people say that mixing substances and BDSM is always bad. Personally, I figure that if a person has a lot of experience with a given substance, and a lot of experience with a given BDSM act, and a lot of experience with their partner … then I kind of doubt they’re taking a huge risk by doing a familiar BDSM act with a familiar partner in a familiar state of mind. It’s a lot to deal with at once, and again, it’s worth being careful. And of course, substance abuse problems are a whole nother ballgame. But if a person has been drinking a glass of wine with dinner every night for 10 years, then I’m not going to tell her that I consider her incapable of doing BDSM after dinner.

I am not qualified to comment on non-alcohol drugs because I, of course, never do anything illegal. But for all your drug-related questions, the website Erowid.org is often very useful.

* Illness. I don’t have any particular observations about how being sick changes my experience of S&M, but it definitely does. When I get sick and I have the option to reschedule a date, I always do.

* Menstrual cycle. I haven’t tracked my cycle with enough care to know exactly how it affects me S&M-wise, but I’m pretty sure it does. As one of the good people at EduKink once observed, “The great part about playing with a woman is that you have 28 different partners, one for each day of the month!”

I don’t usually write entries like this, so hey, readers: if this was helpful for you, let me know. And, as always, other perspectives and opinions are welcome!

This is another PostSecret postcard, and features a woman running with the text “I run best when I orgasm first”.

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This piece is included in my awesome collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn. You can buy The S&M Feminist for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

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