Imagine your partner could transform into anyone for the night: with any personality, from any time, and who you can do anything you want with. Imagine you could be anyone, do anything your heart desired within that identity. Where would your fantasy take you? This is the promise of sexual roleplay; it allows us to show up to sex as a more vivid, maybe more daring version of ourselves — or fulfill fantasies we see as separate from our real life. But where do you start if you’re interested in roleplay, but haven’t tried it before? Here’s one place to begin.
There are a lot of reasons why someone might be interested in roleplaying with their partner – or even why someone who doesn’t think of themselves as “into it” might get something out of roleplaying in a sexual context. First, and not to be discounted: playing pretend is fun! Trying new things, finding a spirit of play, and engaging in mediated vulnerability are all things that make relationships stronger, and roleplay delivers on all of them.
One thing often cited by couples who feel a need to “spice things up” is the desire to bring some novelty back to their relationship — as relationship expert Esther Perel has pointed out, the stability of long-term relationships offers security, but loses some of the adventure and excitement we associate with new relationships or casual sex. Roleplay is a great way to recapture some of that novelty — both because you’re trying something new, but because you and your partner are both offered the chance to be new people in completely new dynamics each time you try a new scenario.
Roleplaying can even be a way to ease into other forms of sexual play you’re interested in but feel intimidating. It can feel challenging to tell your partner you’re interested in BDSM, for instance, but can feel lower-stakes (and exciting for both of you) to just try out a roleplaying scene where you’ve been bad and need to be spanked.
How do I get started?
If you feel intimidated or even embarrassed by the idea of approaching your partner wearing a full costume, or thinking about using a different voice during sex tonight, you aren’t crazy. That would feel tough to get into the spirit of — but luckily, you don’t have to.
Like most things in life, it’s easiest to get into roleplay if you start small and take things slowly. “Pretending” or playing a role face to face is maybe the most self-conscious part of this type of game, so you don’t need to start there. Consider starting to explore roleplay through sexting: if you’re flirting with your partner during the day while you’re both at work, you can try out integrating some specific fantasies: “The UPS gal just came through to drop off the new inventory – you’d look good in that uniform. Daydreaming about meeting you in the mailroom for a 15 minute quickie 😘”
Similarly, once you feel comfortable sexting some potential roleplay fantasies, you don’t need to move things to the bedroom all in one fell swoop. Try integrating some light fantasizing or suggestions into your dirty talk; if you like feeling delicate or fragile in the hands of a big, strong dominant person, you can play with building on that during sex without committing to a full roleplay scenario. “I love when you toss me around the bed like that; it makes me feel like a helpless maiden being rescued!”
If you do want to try a full-on planned roleplay scene, it can be easier to start with something that’s really just a light riff on your real life and relationship. A favorite scenario for many couples can be pretending to be themselves, but strangers: planning a date to “meet” for the first time at a bar or party and then leave together for a faux one night stand. Even just getting a hotel room for the night can provide the circumstances to make an encounter feel new and exciting — and let you both begin to experiment with a new identity for the night if you feel like it.
But I’m worried I’ll feel silly.
It’s completely normal to feel a little vulnerable when doing anything new in bed — and roleplay can feel like both exposing our most personal fantasies to our partner and trying to do improv at the same time.
But a solid foundation of communication and building a bedrock of emotional safety with your partner can make these vulnerabilities feel less risky. You don’t need to choreograph every roleplay scenario you could possibly want to explore — if anything, feeling like you’re reading lines from a script might make the scene more difficult. But understanding why you and your partner are both into what you’re into and why these particular scenes are something you’re into can make everything much more intuitive. Many popular roleplay scenarios — cops, student/teacher, maid/boss — are based around power dynamics; is that something that appeals? Is there a particular way you want to feel during sex that roleplays could help you access? Getting to the why can help you feel less like you’re stumbling around making guesses.
And most importantly, remember this is something you’re trying together, as a way to better connect. You aren’t performing for a judgmental crowd; you’re playing a game with your partner, who already finds you lovable and attractive, and who is willing to take the same risks of vulnerability you are. You don’t need to worry about doing something wrong; you can focus on having fun (and great sex).