How to Role Play in Bed Without Feeling Stupid
DEAR DR. JENN,
I want to try role play... but I’ve never had the guts to actually suggest it. How do I bring it up with my boyfriend ... and carry it out without feeling awkward and embarrassed? —Timid
Role play gives you the opportunity to engage in a game of seduction, starring you and your partner enacting different characters. This can mean anything from channeling your inner badass in bed to putting on an elaborate act — dressing up and even taking the show on the road, so to speak.
One of the reasons people like playing a character in a sexual context is that it can help us overcome inhibitions. We can test out things we're too anxious or embarrassed to try ourselves, but that feel totally natural to a different character. If things get a little too kinky for comfort when you’re acting out your French maid persona for example, it’s easy to slip out of your costume and back into your own skin. The role creates a divide. That was her; this is you.
All too many people are intrigued by role play but never try it out because of the same concerns you have. They worry about being judged for their fantasies. Or they worry they'll feel silly acting them out — but not every fantasy needs to be set to cheesy jazz music and feature a pizza delivery man showing up at a motel.
Try these tips to get into character.
1. Find your segue
Figuring out how to broach the topic is usually the biggest hurdle for first-timers. If you’re feeling shy, my number-one tip is to build your fantasy on a real-world image you spot with your bae. It’s the perfect segue. After seeing a police officer in uniform, you might say, “A man in uniform is so sexy. You would look so hot in a costume like that. I'd love it if you would arrest me!” Or show him a picture of a French maid costume you saw and ask whether he'd like to see you in it.
Another common approach I like is the "dream I had." Tell him you had a dream about being his submissive, for example, and you liked it more than you expected to. What does he think? Would he give that a spin for a night? You could even send a screenshot of a look you'd like to try on or start hinting at the scenario you'd like to act out via text message. It's an easy way to test the waters.
2. Declare the bedroom a judgment-free zone
In order to have truly great sex, you must feel free to talk about your fantasies and desires without judgment. Before role playing, make a pact with your partner that you'll never laugh at each other‘s sexual performance, fantasies, or choices — and commit to keeping your sex life private. Don't share explicit details, even with your closest girlfriends. Sex is vulnerable, and in order to fully explore it freely, we have to know that others will not be told about our proclivities. Once you have that guarantee out of the way, both of you will feel more comfortable leaning into your kinky sides.
3. Accept that fantasies are not always politically correct
What we want in bed often contradicts our ideological beliefs and the way we see ourselves. In my decades of clinical work, I have heard all sorts of role playing fantasies that seem at odds with how people present themselves in the world: the feminist human rights activist who likes to play a sex slave in bed, the serious engineer who enjoys trying on a cheerleader character, the soccer mom who role plays as a high-end call girl.
It's often difficult for us to accept these wants as parts of ourselves when they're so drastically antithetical to what we want and feel in everyday life. But taking on a role in bed is about playing with power, not about wanting the scenario to materialize; these desires exist in one plane only, and we need to be able to make peace with that compartmentalization. The bedroom should be a place where we can play with dominance, submission, role reversal, risk, and even degradation as long as it's consensual. And we need to be able to do that without feeling shame or judgment toward or from ourselves or our partners.
4. Start with words
I don’t recommend starting your first role-play session with full-on costumes, new vocabulary, and public outings. Start in the shallow end, by verbally pretending to be a different character at home in bed. For example, if you are role playing that you are a high school football player and cheerleader, you might whisper into his ear, “We probably shouldn’t be doing this with your parents in the other room, but I’ve been wanting to since I watched you at football practice.” Save the costumes for when you're totally comfortable with the beginner's course.
5. Set limits in advance
When you're in character together, you may say and do things that are arousing and fun in the context of role play but unacceptable anywhere else, so it's important to set limits in advance. Consent is not a catch-all; you may have consented to playing out a fantasy, but that doesn't mean you've consented to any direction that fantasy might take. Consent can also expire. Sometimes, we agree to things, but when we actually implement them, they don't feel so good, which is why you need a safety word when role playing. This is especially true when it comes to fantasies that entail physical dominance.
6. Pick from a list
Not sure which direction to go in? Sometimes it’s easier to shop from a list of possibilities — which also means you don’t have to take responsibility for coming up with the scenario. Here are some of the most common ones that have come up in my clinical practice:
- Delivery person/customer
- Porn stars
- Cheerleader/football player
- Strangers at a bar
- Uniformed service worker/civilian
- Massage therapist/client
- Sex worker/client
- Teens trying not to get caught
- Cheating spouses
- Job applicant/hiring manager
- Rock star/groupie
- Virgin/experienced person
7. Suspend disbelief
People often feel silly and ridiculous when they start role playing. Pushing past that self-judgment is crucial to getting to the fun stuff. Try throwing yourself into a role as though you were on stage, reading from a script. Sometimes putting on a costume, changing your hairstyle, or altering your makeup look can help you get into character. Experiment by committing to staying in character for a certain amount of time; the more time that elapses, the less awkward you'll feel. But the most important commitment to make when role playing is not to judge — yourself or your partner. It's the key to opening the door to the many sexy characters that live within you both.
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.