Role play as a part of sex is a way of play in which one or all partners assumes a role or character to act out a specific fantasy or erotic experience. It allows people to get creative, cultivate erotic experiences, access different parts of their personalities, or try on different personas that they may not have access to in their real lives.
Sex is a form of play. Role play is literally play. People who love it love it because it can be creative, expressive, and bring new or different forms of eroticism to their experience. It can also be an escape from the doldrums of everyday life.
That said, role play is not for everyone, so if it does not sound interesting to you, it may not be a good fit. But if you’ve ever wanted to play with power dynamics or to play with your partner from a different perspective or walk of life, role play could bring a fun and dimensional element to your sex life. Role play is best for people who enjoy the surreal and who want to suspend reality for a while, immerse themselves in a fantasy, and play out something new.
If you’re not sure if it’s something you’d like, perhaps explore some literature or erotica or ethically produced porn to tap into some ideas and see if anything seems appealing to you. Remember, the kinds of fantasies you have does not mean anything about your character. The storyline throughout a fantasy often serves to evoke an emotion, which can create arousal in the body. So don’t judge yourself (or others) for their fantasies!
If you’re trying out role play for the first time, it can be helpful to go slow. Pick out a theme, discuss it with your partner, and outline any limits, boundaries, and hopes you have for the experience. Set a safe word or gesture, so you and your partner know when to stop if either of you feels uncomfortable. You might feel a little silly at first, but it can help to practice some active relaxation exercises before you play so you can own the role! You may be playing a part, but underneath, you and your partner are still you and your partner.
It can be helpful to designate some intentional aftercare and debriefing time after your role play. Aftercare is a commitment to nurturing each other after the scene has ended, especially if one partner has been in a subservient role or if you’ve played with new power or humiliation dynamics. An aftercare period can last a few hours or a few days or weeks, even, depending on the intensity of the scene you played out. It can be a transition period to help each other gently ease back into your typical lives and to honor any big feelings that may come about. Playing a role can feel vulnerable, and you may feel tender afterward. Debriefing can happen right after a scene, and it’s encouraged to debrief multiple times, as you continue to digest and process how you feel as often as you need in the days and weeks that follow.
It’s OK to lean into the vulnerability that comes with trying something new. Even if you decide it’s not for you, doing something new together can increase intimacy and trust and pave the way for a new experience that does align.
Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, certified sex addiction therapist, PACT therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy, a group practice in Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. Listen to her podcast, Modern Intimacy, and follow her on IG @drkatebalestrieri.
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