When A BDSM Scene Ends Abruptly

I had to end something abruptly yesterday. It happens, and much more frequently for me as I become increasingly disabled, especially from chronic illness. In this particular case, I had to leave a conference because I was too sick to be there.

Abrupt endings are hard. Hell, endings are hard. But abrupt endings are particularly difficult. And they happen, frequently. In all arenas of life, including kink.

One of the things I try to do is make connections, and approach life events with an assumption that I have skills, resources and experience that I can bring to bear on this situation (even though it feels rather new and unique). So I began to consider: what do I know about abrupt endings that I can use to take care of myself today?

I have experience with BDSM play ending abruptly. I’ve experienced it as a top and a bottom. And I’ve even taught classes on ending scenes, and taking care of yourself and each other after scenes end, including when they end abruptly.

So, what do I know that can be of use to me today? What do I know that may be helpful to you when you are grappling with abrupt endings?

One of the main things I know is something I’ve already mentioned: abrupt endings are jarring and difficult for many people. Another thing I know is that people may have more or different needs around anything that ends this way. I built that concept into the framework of my classes on ending scenes, and it’s one of the first things I say when I teach.

On abrupt endings and why they’re hard:

Here’s the thing: we want people to call scenes that need to be called. We want to know if someone is sick or injured, or needs to safe word for the sake of their psychological or physical well-being, or just wants to stop playing for whatever other reason. We care about consent and the well-being of our partners and we want play to stop when it needs to stop. (I personally care tremendously about being able to trust my partners to call the scene when they need to. It’s one of my bottom lines.)

And, here’s another connected thing: stopping a scene abruptly is often hard on all parties. That’s just the reality. That shouldn’t stop us from ending scenes when that needs to be done, but I wouldn’t recommend ignoring the reality about what it’s like to end them abruptly.

Why are abrupt endings often hard on folks? I want to name four common strands of this that I think are pretty common.

  1. For many people, surprises can be jarring. This is particularly true for folks who find predictability and routine important and a source of comfort or safety. It is also especially true for folks who find control very important and struggle when they feel out of control. (That sound like any kinky folks you know?)
  2. For many folks, sex and play can get wrapped up in our sense of ourselves and our sense of our own worth, and we may perceive an abrupt ending as being a personal failure. This framework for understanding what has occurred can cause a lot of pain, and shame. (When illness, injury, or psychological difficulty are involved, this can also twist into our internalized ableism.)
  3. For many people, play is about building intimacy and connection, and an abrupt ending to connection can leave folks feeling rejected, bereft and alone.
  4. For many folks, we have been building energy in the scene (and often before the scene, in anticipation), and an abrupt ending can leave the energy stuck with no release. (A sort of energetic blue balls, if you will. Sometimes accompanied by actual blue balls, as well.)

Context is important:

So these four things are common reasons abruptly ending a scene can be hard on all parties. There is another piece to consider, and that’s the specific context: how was the scene ended abruptly, and why?

If you had to call a scene because there was a fire, that’s a different situation than because the baby woke up and needed parental attention or because the cops were called by a neighbor or because a dungeon monitor told you that you had to stop. Each of those scenarios jolt you out of scene in a different way, psychologically and physically, and they are all external interruptions.

Let’s consider an ending that comes from the parties involved in the scene. What if someone got triggered and needed to call the scene because they were having a flashback? What if someone safeworded because sensations were more than they were up for right then? What if a scene resulted in a sprained wrist that needed medical attention? What if someone passes out in the middle? What if someone called the scene because it just wasn’t working, it wasn’t hot or they figured out they weren’t in the mood? What if someone ended the scene because they were too ill to continue? These are all different ways a scene can end, and they have different emotional valences, need different care after the scene is over.

Then there are the other ways that scenes end abruptly. When someone breaks trust in a way that feels irreparable. When one party just walks away in the middle of the scene without explanation or conversation. When something goes badly wrong and all the players separate quickly and do not want to or feel able to care for each other in the aftermath. When someone storms out angry or in tears. These are a very different kind of thing, that often result in each party caring for themselves (or seeking care from other folks not involved) afterwards.

This kind of context doesn’t only affect how and why an abrupt ending to a scene can be hard, but also what we might need after the scene has ended.

What we need after a scene ends abruptly:

There are no universal answers for this kind of thing. Even with scenes that do not end abruptly, folks have widely varying aftercare needs. An abrupt ending is likely to both magnify and change those needs. How it ended, and why, plays a big part as well.

So, we might need more of what we usually need for aftercare, or need to change how we do aftercare. Or we might need something different, something that addresses either the reason for the abrupt ending or how the abruptness of it impacted us. For example, say the bottom in a scene between two long-time play partners safeworded because they got triggered. (If you want to get a sense of what I mean when I use the word triggered, this post on what happens when survivors get triggered may be a useful reference.)

Addressing the reason for the ending: The bottom might need specific things around managing being triggered. (One thing to remember is that even if someone hasn’t been triggered during play or sex before, they likely have been triggered before, and have strategies that work for them to manage that.) The top might be having a bunch of feelings around having triggered the bottom, and those might need tending to as well. The bottom may choose to take space from the top in order to tend to being triggered, and the top might have responses to that choice.

Addressing the abruptness of the ending: Both of them might also need to tend to the way ending the scene like this was jarring. They might need reassurance about their relationship. The top might need to hear from the bottom that they consented to the scene. The bottom might need to hear that the top is glad that they used their safeword. The top might feel all jangly from switching gears and reining in the energy they were building together and might need to do more grounding than usual to re-enter the real world and feel relatively ok doing that. The bottom might need more or less cuddles than usual. If sex is part of their usual aftercare they both might need to negotiate that further or choose something else this time. They both might need to do something that feels reparative to the ways they were abruptly yanked apart in the middle of connected play.

Addressing the reason for the ending is so individualized that I can’t say much more that is useful about it except that it may be important to attend to. Dealing with the ER after a scene that ended abruptly is really different from dealing with being left tied up as your top just walked away mid-scene and never returned. I will say that it’s ok to have needs around the way a scene ended and why it ended. It’s also ok to seek support from yourself, from partners (if it seems appropriate), from professionals (if that feels appropriate), and from other folks in your life.

Note: If you find yourself in a relationship where your scenes frequently end abruptly, for whatever reason (including interruption by others), this is a warning sign of a potentially abusive relationship. Why do I say that? A pattern of scenes that get cut off abruptly can be a signal that appropriate care is not being taken to protect scenes from interruptions, that folks involved are not wanting it to be clear when you are in scene or when you are not, or that folks involved are playing hard on the edges of consent in a way that is potentially not as careful as you may need. If this is happening to you, or has happened to you, I want you to know that you are not alone, and that you deserve partners who are careful with you and who work together with you to create to play where scenes do not end abruptly most of the time. I also want to say that recovering from a pattern of scenes ending abruptly may need a different set of tools than the ones I discuss below, but I do not think these tools will be harmful if you decide to try them.

Addressing the abruptness of the ending:

In addressing the abruptness of the ending, I want to circle back to those 4 common strands I mentioned earlier, and give specific ideas for each:

  1. Surprises are jarring

Folks who are jarred by surprises (often folks who value control and/or routine) have often developed strategies to cope with surprises that they can use in this instance as well. So it can be helpful to consider: what has worked before that could be useful in coping with this abrupt ending?

In addition, it can be helpful to think about what folks often need after a jarring experience. Things like comfort, reassurance, grounding, care, and connection can be helpful for some folks. Sometimes it can feel good to clean and care for toys, to arrange food for all involved elaborately on a plate, to get to pick the music or tv or movie you are going to engage in. (Little things that feel like you have some control can sometimes help.)

  1. A scene ending like this means I’m a failure

Because this is often tied to a deeply held framework for thinking about play, it is difficult to interrupt. You can offer or consider an alternate way of thinking about the events, and offer/ask for reassurance around this as well. That said, this way of thinking about the situation often lingers (because changing how we think requires substantial work). So it may also be useful to ask for reality checks from partners and trusted others in the days following the scene. I have personally found it to be useful to ask partners to tell me their story of play, in writing, as a way of discerning how my understanding of what happened may differ from theirs. This may be a tool to consider.

(Note: this can be particularly challenging to handle when someone has made a mistake or broken trust or in some other way caused harm and the scene ended as a result of that. To be clear, it is not my intention to suggest that it is helpful or appropriate to ask for reassurance that you didn’t do something that you actually did. One of the keys to attempting to repair these situations is owning your own behavior and taking responsibility for your actions and their impact.)

  1. Cutting cords of connection

BDSM is often a project of connection. Disentanglement may not have been a goal for the end of a scene. Cutting threads of connection, like when we end a scene abruptly, can create intense feelings of disconnection between partners, especially when the purpose of play was to intensify connection, and there was an intent to continue that connection from the scene. Even when the intention was to disentangle the threads of connection at the end of the scene, it can feel jarring and disturbing to cut them abruptly. It can feel like damage was done to the relationship. It can also create feelings of rejection, abandonment, isolation, and deep sadness.

Given that, it can be important to tend to all parties emotional needs around connection, and also to tend to the relationship itself, which may need repair as well. This can look many different ways, depending on the dynamic between the folks who are playing and how the scene ended.

This is an area where reassurance might be useful: you may need to hear that your partner is glad you called the scene, that your partners want to make another date, that your partners care about you and value your presence in their lives, that your partner thinks you are an awesome top. For some folks actions are more effective than words: they may want to get cuddles or pets, or have their D/s role affirmed by offering or receiving service, or show off marks to others, or do a closing ritual for the scene, or sit and watch tv and eat food together. It may also be helpful to seek support from others if connection with the folks you were playing with is not possible or desired.

  1. Built up energy with no release

I have found that grounding can be really helpful, including literally lying on the ground, especially if it is cool. It can also be helpful to intentionally release the energy that you built together, either together or individually, perhaps in some kind of ritual if that feels appropriate. Orgasm may also be helpful (after all it is a rather classic form of release). Physical activity can help, as can letting your body shake or tremble (those are also classic forms of release).

What if I still feel awful afterwards?

I have found that drop is common even after scenes that do not end abruptly, and that abrupt endings generally make drop more intense. A fair amount of feeling bad should be expected, and what you do for scene drop in general may help. I have found balancing my biochemistry to be one of the most helpful things (which for me looks like getting enough sleep, drinking a lot of water, eating chocolate and/or fried things to boost my serotonin, eating more fruits and veggies than usual, eating a lot of protein, and seeking out touch, which boosts my oxytocin).

Other things that can be helpful:

  • remind yourself that drop is part of play, and what you’re feeling is common and expected
  • reconnect with play partner/connect with others
  • be compassionate with yourself, do things that make you feel better emotionally
  • sensory indulgence (eat things that taste good, move your body in ways that feel good, wake up your senses)
  • spend time outdoors, in the sunshine

And while I’m at it, I will offer a list of things that often seem like effective strategies for addressing scene drop but rarely are in the long term (in my biased opinion):

  • pretending nothing’s wrong
  • sucking it up
  • waiting it out and not doing anything
  • drugs or alcohol
  • bringing your drop/closure/ aftercare needs to your next scene/fuck
  • seeking out another scene/fuck as a way to avoid drop
  • assuming that your primary partner will take care of you without negotiating that
  • venting publicly

I do also want to offer a few strategies for dealing with a higher level of feeling awful. (I have found that these can be particularly helpful when I’m dealing with the aftermath of scenes that end abruptly where there is little to no aftercare possible from the other parties involved.)

If you did not get your aftercare needs met:

  • Do it yourself: give yourself the aftercare you needed, nurturing, compassion, orgasm, energetic release
  • Say it to yourself: say what you need to hear, reassure yourself, praise yourself, remind yourself your needs are valid, remind yourself your reaction is expected and makes sense
  • Make a plan: creating a plan to get your needs met next time might help you be less anxious
  • Express how you feel about not getting your needs met (this doesn’t necessarily mean sharing that with your play partners, but it can, depending on the situation)

If you feel stuck in sub/bottomspace, topspace, ageplay headspace, gender play headspace, or are dealing with intense psychological aftermath:

  • Talk to your play partner(s) about it (if appropriate) and/or talk to peers/mentors about it, especially people who do the kind of play you do
  • Give yourself aftercare
  • Do things that make you feel closer to baseline
  • Walk yourself back to baseline in some kind of planned ritual
  • Try the strategies listed on my Emergency Emotional Safety Plan handout
  • Seek psychological help if that feels appropriate

One of the things I find difficult to remember when trying to figure out how to cope with something difficult is that I probably already have strategies that have worked, that I could apply to this situation. It has really helped me to reflect on what has worked not just in the problem solving moment, but in a moment when I am calm and not in crisis.

So if I could leave you with one question to consider, it would be this:

What has worked before when you have coped with abrupt endings?

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