It’s a phrase that never fails to make me cringe. However, judging by the sheer amount of content on the subject, people really do have a thirst for knowing how to “spice things up” in the bedroom. (Full disclosure: I, myself, have added to the wealth of articles that list the types of sex games that are sure to take your love life to a “whole new level.”)
But while the internet positively bristles with game-based tactics for revamping people’s sex lives, there isn’t a lot of explanation for how the gamification of sex can unlock new, exciting, and satisfying aspects of it.
New York-based psychotherapist Dulcinea Pitagora, known in some circles as “The Kink Doctor,” tells me that ideally, sex games should increase communication between partners, as they typically have agreed upon rules and/or parameters that all parties need to understand to play successfully. “Included in that communication are negotiation, explicit and enthusiastic consent, and aftercare that includes a return to baseline and processing of what worked and what didn’t work about the sex game,” she says, adding that a "baseline" indicates a person's typical physical, cognitive, and emotional state.
“When playing sex games, your body, mind, and emotions can become heightened or subdued, depending on the type of game or scene it is. The process of aftercare is meant to bring a person back to “reality” and to instill a sense of stability so that what happened during the game or scene can be processed, appreciated, and integrated.”
With the goal of of helping people home in on the types of play that might enhance their sex lives, Pitagora breaks sex games into four main categories that can help us figure out the kinds that could increase sexual satisfaction.
Novelty games, Pitagora explains, are those that encourage exploration of desires that have remained fantasies or curiosities. An example of this type of game would be for partners to make lists of things they haven’t tried but want to, see where their lists overlap, and cut the lists into pieces of paper that can be drawn from a hat.
Pitagora cautions that even things that have been consented to at the beginning of the interaction should be re-consented to in the moment, because it’s totally possible to be curious about something one minute and decide you’re not ready for it in the next minute, especially if there has been other play already happening.
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“One re-checks by literally asking, and/or using an agreed upon safeword, phrase, or gesture,” she says. Re-checking should take place anytime that feels right, she says, and the language used can be incorporated into the game or scene, but has to be recognizable by both parties. “There should be a conversation before the game or scene starts about what re-checking will sound like in that particular game or scene, and possible responses and reactions.”
Creating new sexual experiences can be particularly bonding and can reinvigorate the sex lives of partners who have been together for a while, and are finding that their sexual interactions are becoming too predictable, she tells me. “This can also be fulfilling on a personal level, in that people can learn new things about their sexual desires and identity."
Pitagora explains that this category has several subcategories including dominant/submissive power exchange, cosplay, Live Action Role Playing (a.k.a. LARPing), and that each of those subcategories can have sub-subcategories.
“In the context of a roleplay, you can inhabit different sexual identities within or across scenes, mocking the idea of an expected and fixed identities,” she says, explaining that role playing can liberate an individual from the confines of expectation, and lead to an expansion of erotic desire, fantasy, and self-identification.
The vast array of scenarios and activities that fall within the realm of roleplay can encourage people to become creative in seeking an evolution of their sexuality and definition of self. Also, the trajectory of negotiating and consenting to a roleplay, engaging in the roleplay, then engaging in aftercare and returning to baseline afterwards can increase intimacy and partner bonding.
Virtual reality games
Given that the future is now, VR sex games are also clearly a thing. “I will say less on this front as I like to encourage people to interact with each other without a technological firewall,” Pitagora says. “Having said that, virtual sex games overlap the the two categories above, and can provide a way to create novel experiences and roleplay that cannot be done any other way due to logistical constraints.” The benefit of virtual sex games, she says, is that they can help unstick people who feel stuck in their sexual identities or bodies, and help to engage the imagination.
If, for example, perhaps you’ve always dreamed of being a dragon who has sex with an alien, virtual sex games can allow you to scratch that itch—and as VR technology improves, you’ll be able to scratch it in an ever more convincing manner. Pitagora says that for those who don’t have an inherent tendency to isolate themselves, virtual reality sex can be a bridge to exploring their sexual identity or body in a way that currently isn’t possible, ultimately leading to in-person explorations of their sexuality. “However, for those who do have an inherent tendency to isolate, virtual reality sex can reinforce that tendency,” she says.
This is often the first thing we think of when we think of games, but within a sex context, competitive games can be a problematic category, Pitagora tells me. She describes competitive games as ones that involve comparisons of how long or how well somebody can do something. “Doing something longer isn’t always better, and measuring how well is subjective.” One reason Pitagora doesn’t recommend competitive sex games—with the exception of naked Twister with with pre negotiated agreements on touching—is that it can create an atmosphere where there might be a winner and loser. “There should never be a loser in sex, the exception being if the competitive game also falls under the category of roleplay, where the winning and losing roles are negotiated and consented to in advance,” she says.
The other problematic aspect of competitive sex games is that, even in the situation of a negotiated and consented to roleplay, someone might be a very competitive person and cross their own boundaries, and do something they might regret later. Finally, another reason competition is problematic is that it can encourage comparison and judgement, and a reinforcement of social stigma. “We get enough of this on a daily basis, and comparison-making is an extremely good thing to avoid in sex games,” she says.
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