That was your hottest scene yet, and as you and your lover collapse together in a pile of sweaty skin and smiles, everything seems right in the world. Fast forward a few hours or days, and now there is this sense of general unease or unhappiness which you can’t quite explain. Perhaps you feel exhausted, irritable, melancholy, or just generally “off”. You may be experiencing a phenomenon known as “Drop,” which can loosely be defined as a cascade of negative physical and emotional reactions following play, which range from mild to severe.
Based on anecdotal reports, it seems that drop for the bottom may occur more frequently or with greater severity. I speculate that in many cases, tops are simply too stubborn to admit it is happening to them. I have been guilty of being one of those stubborn tops. For bottoms that engage in highly physical play (rough body play, impact, etc), the trauma to the tissue and subsequent effort required by the body to heal may account for some of the symptoms that bottoms experience which tops do not.
Based on my own experiences and insight gleaned from medical resources, I believe there may be three factors which combine in varying degrees to produce the symptoms described as top drop (some of which may hold true for bottom drop as well):
- Chemical changes in the body
- Returning to vanilla life
- Negative emotional responses
Your mileage may vary. Everyone’s body is a little different, and therefore, people will experience these things differently. Some causes may be affected by other internal variables, which change day to day, such as how well rested or hydrated you are.
BDSM is largely uncharted territory scientifically speaking, especially the direct physical effects on the body. There are some parallels to the conclusions of research about the changes within the body regarding exercise. Research has yielded information about the processes of sexual arousal and climax, which are chemically separate but interconnected, and may parallel some of the responses within the body to play in BDSM.
The physicality of a scene may impact how we feel the effects after. The body uses sugar for energy throughout the body, including in the muscles. We use more sugar than normal when we exert ourselves due to increased demands on our muscles. This takes place through a number of processes, some of which are poorly understood. In some cases, individuals who do not usually have trouble regulating their blood sugar will experience a lower than normal blood sugar level. Reduced blood sugar affects people differently, but common symptoms include fatigue, weakness, irritability, headaches, and feeling shaky. One study found that individuals can be at risk of lowered blood sugar levels for 16-48 hours following exercise, which is the timeframe some report their top drop symptoms persisting. Perhaps most interestingly, another study found that exercise at midnight is 50% more likely to produce low blood sugar levels than exercise at any other time during the day. This assumes a normal circadian rhythm, where the body expects to be asleep at midnight and not exerting itself, so it isn’t producing the same amount of chemicals needed to regulate blood sugar. I theorize that slightly lower than normal blood sugar levels may account for some of the symptoms some people describe associated with drop. It is well established that exercise improves short term and long term physical and mental health, so I’m not advocating against exercise or physically demanding play. Rather, I am pointing out a possible cause for the way some individuals feel, which may allow them to correct that cause.
Sexual encounters often include intense physical sensations, strong emotional connections, arousal, and possibly orgasm. All of those experiences have a chemical component which has been studied to some degree. BDSM play may parallel some or all of the aforementioned components for sexual encounters, so until there is research specifically about BDSM play, looking at research about sex may yield valuable information.
For some, orgasm may occur as part of play. Orgasm is the third phase of the four-step sexual response cycle, which starts with desire and progresses to sexual arousal, orgasm, and resolution. Each part of the response involves hormones, which impact multiple parts of the body. The full effect of each hormone is not well understood, but one study showed hormonal changes following male orgasm up to 7 days after climax. I haven’t found any studies regarding chemical changes following female orgasm or for those taking hormones or for those who identify is something beyond the gender binary. This field of research is in its infancy and very few studies have been conducted. The overall implications of these findings are not clear, but I think they are a starting place for discussion and self-reflection.
Some individuals report depression or sadness following sex, even sex they would characterize as good. This is referred to as “post coital tristesse” (PCT) or “after sex blues,” and the exact mechanism by which it occurs is still largely unknown. It is known that during sex, the part of the brain which deals with fearful stimuli, the amygdala, sees a sharp decrease in activity, and some researchers theorize that individuals experiencing PCT may have a strong rebound of the amygdala, triggering those bad feelings. At least one psychiatrist has successfully treated patients with PCT using antidepressants in the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) family. A typically undesired side effect of SSRIs is decreased sex drive, but when used to treat PCT, individuals report slightly less intense sex but no drop after. There have been no large scale studies on the treatment of PCT with SSRIs or any other medication. I am, obviously, not advocating anyone who has top drop run out and pick up a prescription antidepressant. The purpose of talking about PCT and SSRIs here is to highlight another chemical process in the body which may be contributing to top drop.
While PCT may be the result of experiencing pleasure, another process could be at work, which comes from experiencing stress and fear. For some, play involves pain and/or fear, either of which could cause the body to think it is under attack triggering the “fight or flight” response. The chemicals released during the fight or flight response can take minutes to hours to resolve. Should the scene be relived as a memory, that may produce a similar but less intense chemical release. Discussing the fight or flight response as it relates to BDSM can be it’s own article, series, or book, and I can’t do it justice here. Suffice it to say, the more frightening your play is, the greater the chance the drop will be more intense.
Chemical changes account for some amount of the symptoms we attribute to drop. Exactly why this is, what percentage of symptoms it accounts for, and how to prevent or treat drop more effectively is still not clear and may vary day to day for the same person. The takeaway message here is that part of drop may be involuntary, so accepting it and not beating yourself up over it is a lot more useful than blaming yourself for feeling a given way.
Let’s move from a chemical variable to a more social one. When we connect with people like us, we experience a sense of belonging that we may not feel at other times during our life. For example, since I’m not out at work or with my vanilla friends and family, I often find myself not sharing some of the things I’m most proud of with them. The disconnect between feeling accepted and welcomed in one setting and then having to censor myself in another can be jarring. How do you explain to someone in the vanilla world that you had an absolutely incredible rope scene with a bottom you met at an event?
“Rope scene”… It’s bondage with rope, but more complicated. And there’s energy stuff…
It was very sexual, but no we didn’t have sex.
We cuddled and chatted after the scene then she went back to her husband.
Yes, her husband. He’s cool with it. No, we aren’t swingers.
I’ll chat with her a few times of the next few days and weeks, but I probably won’t see her again until I’m at that event next year.
That’s a complicated conversation at best. It’s a conversation many may choose not to have, leading to a bland summary of the weekend as “Good.” More than being an item of conversation, some find themselves unable to talk about many of the things they are most passionate about, which can feel a bit disingenuous.
The final thing I see as part of the top drop trifecta is a combination of overthinking and attempting to overcome social programming. For example, I’m a sadist. My play is all consensual, and I carefully negotiate in an attempt to prevent mismatched expectations. At the end of the day, I still end up saying and doing some pretty mean things to very nice women. Some scenes are more mentally demanding or cruel than others, and sometimes, I’ve felt bad after the fact. Logically, I know that she enjoyed it and will likely return for more, but there is still a little voice that says, “What sort of person says things like that to someone they care about?” When I was trying to accept that being a sadist was ok, I experienced some pretty negative self-talk and doubt. Other sadists and tops have expressed similar issues regarding accepting themselves and their social programming challenging the activities they enjoy. Depending on the culture in which one was raised, these clashes may be quite strong. For some, simply enjoying consensual sex is contrary to what they were raised believing was acceptable. For others, like myself, I was raised to never strike a woman and to find those that do loathsome. I’m at a point now where I still hold those beliefs about non-consensual activities and have no issue putting myself in harm’s way to stop that from occurring, but I can see the difference between that and the things my bottoms enjoy.
Many tops desire a high degree of control over their scenes, not necessarily in terms of power exchange but rather, in that they want their actions to play out as they intended, i.e. a cane stroke went off course. When a scene doesn’t go as planned, many tops blame themselves. Sometimes the deviation from the plan means the bottom was harmed. In those instances most tops will be harder on themselves than the bottom is.
Ultimately, knowing the underlying processes is good, but actionable information to improve your experience may be more useful. Identifying problems is often easier than solving them, but let me propose some possible suggestions. I’m basing these on the research I’ve been able to find that seems to be relevant to possible causes of top drop, in addition to my own experience. Your mileage may vary. Don’t make major life changes based on something you read on the internet. When considering treating a problem or making changes that impact your health, consider consulting your healthcare provider first.
Regular exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on many aspects of people’s lives, including the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Regular exercise also means that the exertion of a scene won’t be as difficult for the body to manage. Having a light meal, featuring lean proteins and whole grains, an hour or so before play may help as well. Going into a scene well hydrated is never a bad idea, especially if you’ll be doing water sports. Most people are chronically dehydrated, which doesn’t help any part of the body. Being well rested before and after a scene may be beneficial as well. I’ve found going to bed with my partner to be very helpful. Cuddling has both chemical and mental benefits, plus the sleeping allows the body to begin to recover. When I’ve felt guilty about a scene, talking to my bottom about the things they enjoyed or took away from the scene can help reassure me that things did, in fact, go well.
To summarize, drop is a normal and not uncommon occurrence. Tops are people too and may experience a form of drop after a scene or an event. The cause of the drop may be a combination of chemical changes and emotional/mental responses, and those experiencing drop may benefit from rest, exercise, and open dialogue with those close to them. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to feel in any of these situations, but being aware of why we feel a certain way may help us process those thoughts and emotions.
Many thanks to Ella_Notte for assistance with editing, proof reading, and challenging my desire to make this article highly technical and likely quite boring. Thanks go to Shay Blondie as well, for technical consultation and continually showing me how high the bar is set for quality, science based, kink articles.
About the Author:
Frozen Meursault is a paramedic and educator by day, dominant sadist and educator by night. He loves to make pretty women cry and teach others how to safely do the same. His writing and classes are informed heavily based on his emergency medicine experience and his successes and failures in kink.
Frozen Meursault has presented nationally at Bound in Boston, The Floating World, The Geeky Kink Event, FetFest Con, and for a number of regional groups such as the Rochester Kink Society, Syracuse D/s Society, Kingston Ontario Kinksters, and The Center in Montreal. He routinely travels throughout the North Eastern United States and Eastern Canada to present but is available for engagements elsewhere as well. Connect with Frozen Meursault through FrozenMeursault.com, on Twitter via @FrozenMeursault, or through e-mail via FM@FrozenMeursault.com. Comments, questions, concerns, criticisms, and apple rhubarb pie recipes are always welcome. A complete course list, resume, and references are available on his website.
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