What does “the afterglow” mean? My mom and I discovered we had very different definitions.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love Taylor Swift. Like, a lot. When her album Lover came out I excitedly listened to every song. Driving around with my mom later that week, I asked her if I could play her one of my favorites from the album. “It’s called afterglow!”. My mom gave me a very strange look, “Manda. Afterglow means sex!” Now it was my turn to look shaken. “What?! Afterglow means sex?!” We discovered that day that the term afterglow can apply to many different scenarios.
What Does the Afterglow Mean?
Generally, “afterglow” means the “good feelings remaining after a pleasurable or successful experience” as explained in the Oxford dictionary. The word also refers to the “light or radiance remaining in the sky after the sun has set.” Many poets and lyricists have used the two definitions of the word to add analogy, romance, and even nostalgia to their writing. If you don’t believe me, here are a few afterglow poems to consider. Miss Taylor Swift used the term afterglow to beg her partner to forgive her after a fight and come back to the good feelings as the sun is going down.
Perhaps because of all these poets and lyricists, the time right after having sex has been called the afterglow. It is associated with the ecstasy and bliss that follow orgasm and ejaculation. “Afterglow” can also refer to the feelings of elation or the physical flushed look of the skin after sex. In this blog post, we are going to use the word to encompass everything that goes on in your body and relationship right after having sex.
What Does Science Say?
Is the afterglow an actual phenomena, or is it solely the creation of poets? Scientists have found clear evidence of the afterglow, both as an increase in self-reported positive emotions and the increased activation of dopamine and oxytocin receptors. This afterglow, or the enhanced satisfaction that lingers following sexual activity, has been found to promote bonding between partners. In fact, in a recent study researchers discovered that the feelings of the afterglow can linger for up to 48 hours after sex. This study also found a correlation between how long the afterglow lasts for a couple and reported marital satisfaction over time.
How to Revel in the Afterglow
I absolutely LOVE the afterglow. I am a very snuggly person and so I am almost never the one who says, “alright, let’s get moving” after sex. As much as I love sex, I almost like the afterglow more.
So if the afterglow is so great, how do we make it last longer? And how do we utilize that high? The authors of the above article proposed further research into how to create and use that afterglow feeling. Unfortunately, there are no published studies done on the subject yet. However, I can offer you the benefit of my experience both as a wife and what I have learned while working with Get Your Marriage On!
The moments after sex are special. Our dopamine and oxytocin are high, we feel close to our spouse, and usually satisfied. Here are some tips I brainstormed with my husband to help you use these special moments to bond even closer together with your spouse and ride that afterglow as long as possible.
I get it, life gets busy. Ideally we would spend all day in bed together, but that is often not practical. However, we also lose out on a lot of the positive side effects of sex on our relationship if we do the deed and then immediately jump back into our individual to-do lists and responsibilities. Therefore, whenever possible, leave time for the afterglow. It doesn’t have to take long, but even 10 minutes of snuggling after intercourse can allow those positive emotions to settle in and bond you to your spouse.
Keep up the Touch
There are many ways to keep the physical connection to continue the afterglow. Here are some of my favorites.
- Stay close together (if possible, stay physically connected after intercourse by keeping the penis in the vagina until it falls out on its own).
- Offer a massage. If you are both feeling very low energy, simply stroke each other. Touch the parts of them you love. Some partners may really like being scratched.
- Snuggle: Snuggling on its own does great things for connection, positive emotion, and happy hormones. Snuggling during the afterglow can multiply all of those benefits!
- Skin on Skin: Along with snuggling, skin on skin touch has proven benefits on positive brian chemistry and connection. So stay naked together. [I know this can be hard for people who have a hard time loving their naked bodies. I would encourage you to tell your spouse your insecurities in this safe moment and ask how they feel about your body. If you struggle with body image, or just getting cold, I would recommend having a soft blanket on hand to snuggle under.]
- Intimate Clean Up: I know my husband loves it when I clean him up after ejaculation. He has never asked me to do it, but when I do he has expressed that it makes him feel so loved and cared for. He feels like I care about HIM even after the sex when he is worn out and has given all he can give in that moment. It’s a really special moment between us (that I share with his permission).
- Shower Together: Sex can get messy! Keep up the afterglow by showering together and washing each other. This keeps up the connection and positive emotions while you start to transition to the practicalities of life.
Maintain Emotional Intimacy
- Eye Gazing: Again, there is great connection potential here! Even if it feels silly, look into your spouse’s eyes. Consider their soul and all the things you love about who they are. Tell them what you see or what you are thinking about.
- Talk: The afterglow is a great time to talk about sweet nothings. This is not the time to start making lists or trying to be efficient. Instead, talk about what you love about your spouse, your relationship, and your lives together. Share what you particularly liked about the sexual experience you just had. Share fears or insecurities that you may feel uncomfortable sharing in a less secure place. Take this time to keep getting to know your spouse.
- Be Yourself: This is not the time to “act” like movies, like what you expect should happen, or even like me! If you don’t like my suggestions, find what feels right for you! Be silly if that’s who you are! Crack jokes, take a nap, whisper sweet nothings, whatever feels natural to you.
- Phones: the preference of phones in bed really is up to personal taste. Some couples feel like phones pull attention away from the experience. On the other hand, my husband and I like to scroll through funny videos and memes together. We love to laugh together, so that’s what works for us.You could also use resources like the Intimately Us app to pull up questions to ask each other if you have more time to enjoy the afterglow. However you feel about phones, make sure you use your technology intentionally for connection with your spouse, not a distraction from them.
I absolutely love the afterglow and the experience of connecting to my wonderful husband. I am so grateful for his help writing this article. I want to take this opportunity to let you readers know that even though I am the writer and the one studying relationships, I could not do any of this without my wonderful partner in life. Thank you for reading!
Written by Amanda Severson with Get Your Marriage On!
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