I’m a former theater kid who grew up to be a pervy dyke sex writer, so my personal interest in role play surprises exactly no one. Even if you haven’t tried it yet, you’re probably familiar with some role play tropes: the pizza delivery guy and horny housewife, the sexy nurse and submissive patient, the stern teacher and naughty student. These fantasies are enduring for a reason: It’s hot to get out of your own head and into a whole new persona. (Especially ones that draw on power differentials—but we’ll get to that a little later.)
Advice on the finer points of having great sex.
Let’s start with the basics: What exactly is role play? The author and sex educator Midori told VICE she defines it as “make-believe, private games for creative adults for the purpose of intimacy, pleasure, joy, and sometimes—but not always—hot sex.”
While role play can involve fucking, sucking, and orgasms, it might also look like pretending to be a strapping masseur while you give your partner a thorough rub-down, wearing cat ears while your partner dangles some yarn for you to chase, or spanking your subordinate sweetheart in an Oliva Pope–inspired power suit.
According to Tina Horn, author and creator of the podcast Why Are People Into That?!, role play can help us push past our inhibitions. “You can embody character traits [that are different from your usual ones], build suspense, and liberate yourself from the confines of who you think you’re ‘supposed’ to be and what you think you’re ‘supposed’ to do sexually,” Horn said. Basically, role play allows you to access areas of yourself that aren’t as readily a part of your regular life.In my case, role play is about way more than letting my shameless imagination run wild—it also helps me stay present during sex. If you struggle with negative body image, gender dysphoria, PTSD, ADHD, or anything else that affects your ability to stay grounded in your body during hookups, you might benefit from having a character and a scene to focus on. It’s hard to spiral or get distracted when you’re wearing a cowboy hat and delivering your best fake Southern accent.
There’s a lot to like about stepping into a new persona and doing your best to play the part. But how do you actually do it? What do you even say? Don’t worry—whether you’re into playacting as a stripper, a plumber, or somebody’s cousin, there’s plenty you can do to sell yourself and your partner(s) on the fantasy.
Once you and a partner or partners have established that you want to try role play, come up with the personas you’ll each act out. If you’re not sure where to start, think about situations where one person has some kind of authority over others: A manager at Best Buy and his new employees. A doctor and her patient. An alien abductor and their human abductee.
How to pick a role play scene and character
It’s helpful to start with a power differential because imbalanced power dynamics are hot: They allow us to take on power we can’t access in our daily lives, or relinquish control when we need a break from the daily grind. If you take on a lot of responsibility as a leader in your workplace, you might love following your partner’s directions as their obedient apprentice.Working from a familiar power dynamic also creates a “follow the leader” game, so if one or more participants are feeling shy, they can hand over authority to the more confident person and let them be the teacher/boss/evil stepmother. Even tops can get shy, of course! But, generally, the less self-conscious person might want to take on a dominant role that involves more talking to help ease everyone into things.
Your role play scene doesn’t have to involve a specific power dynamic—maybe there are certain settings, scenarios, or characters that turn you on: Park rangers getting it on behind a tree. Sex on a plane. A League of Their Own. You can be any age or gender, and you can go anywhere in space or time.You can also be yourself. Maybe you want to role play as a version of yourself who’s “losing your virginity,” or maybe you want to pretend that you and your long-term partner have never met before and are having a one-night stand. While you brainstorm, remember that your lived experience is going to impact what’s hot to you and what’s not, and that’s true for your partner(s), too. As Midori said, “One person’s ‘sexy taboo’ may be another person’s trauma trigger.” For instance: “One person might find the driver and highway police in a speeding stop scenario sexy. It might be upsetting for someone who lives in the reality of police violence,” as Midori explained.
Negotiate every role play scene before it begins, especially if your scene could bring up tough emotions. For example, if you’re interested in consensual non-consent—aka, any form of role play that involves forced domination, including rape fantasies—you have to set clear boundaries and establish a safe word ahead of time. “Consensual non-consent play is very common and perfectly healthy, but if you’re a man with a fantasy of ravishing your female partner, you have to be patient and put a lot of the power in her court,” Horn said.
If you’re worried that your fantasy is “too out there,” either because it involves consensual non-consent, is bound up in a taboo like incest, or features a niche fetish: Here’s your official permission slip to do whatever feels good. As long as you and your partner(s) are honest about your interests and respect each other’s boundaries, you are free to explore whatever scenarios get you off, no matter how twisted. The point of role play is very much that it’s not real. With that in mind, here’s how to put that pervy mind of yours to amazing use.
In addition to your usual chat with your partner (or partners) about STIs, pregnancy prevention (if relevant), and consent, Midori recommended asking one another these questions before you start an encounter:
How to set up boundaries before role-playing
– “When you’re having a good time playing [the role], what do you think you’ll look like and sound like?”– “If it’s bad or boring playing [the role], what will I see and hear?” That way, each partner will know when the scene—aka your characters’ pre-planned interaction—is working for the other people involved and when it’s time to redirect what’s happening.
Establish a general storyline for your scene before you begin (“I’m your babysitter, I catch you masturbating, and then I have to spank you”) so you and your partners know what to expect. Don’t forget to choose a safe word that can be used to end the scene immediately. Like many people who are into kink, I like using stoplight colors—“yellow” to indicate “slow down” and “red” to indicate “stop everything now.”
Role play can begin outside of the bedroom, and it doesn’t have to lead to sex. Maybe you plan to see a long-term partner at a bar, pretend it’s the first time you’re meeting, and end the night kissing on a rooftop, or maybe you begin your tutor/student scene with a “homework assignment” at your kitchen table.
How to role play
You can use costumes or toys to help you get into character. If you’re playing a nurse, the smell and feel of latex gloves can make you feel like you’re inside a real doctor’s office. Binders, bras, and strap-ons can help you embody any gender.Some forms of role play involve minimal speaking (for example, if you and your partner are pretending to be mating wolves), but most of the time, dialogue is what establishes your characters and carries a scene. Think about some go-to words or phrases your character might say (“Yes, Mistress,” “Good boy,” “Thank you, Daddy”), and use them liberally—they can also be really handy in moments when you’re maybe feeling a little tongue-tied. If you want some examples for your mental script, check out movies, TV shows, and books that feature the language and characters you’re going for.If you break character once you get going, that’s fine. “This isn’t professional theater,” Horn said. “Don’t put pressure on yourself to be fully immersed the first time you try role play.” And if you feel a little ridiculous? Good work, said Horn: “That means you’re doing it right—committing to the bit.”
When you’re worried about embarrassing yourself, it can be especially hard to take on a dominant role. When I’m feeling shy during a scene, I like to get behind my partner or blindfold them if it works for our storyline. If they can’t see me, then I don’t have to worry about looking silly.
Some role play scenes have a clear “end”—the doctor completes the rectal exam, the lesbian nuns finally confess their love. If yours doesn’t, use your safe word when you’re ready to re-enter the real world.
It can be hard to transition back into real life when you were just pretending to be a golden retriever. “It’s common to feel tired, irritable, or self-doubting after a hot scene,” Midori said. “If there’s any guilt or shame from role playing, even if the scene was great, it can be a bummer after.” That’s why it’s important to prioritize aftercare, a broad term for how partners support each other after an intense kink scene or sexual experience. Common aftercare practices include being physically affectionate, sharing water and snacks, offering affirming words, or even giving each other space, depending on what you and your partners are feeling. Make sure you debrief your scene at some point, even if that’s a few days later, so you can share what you liked or didn’t like before your next session.
How to do aftercare after a role play scene
Your early attempts at role play will probably feel at least a little awkward—that’s OK! If your first scene doesn’t soak your jeans, you can always try again with a new scene or a new scene partner. Maybe next time, you’ll try being the Best Buy manager.Follow Ro White on Twitter.