I remember lying there in my bed, waiting for my then boyfriend, nervous. I had shared a pretty big fantasy with him and he was, luckily, up for playing it out. We bought the clothes and accessories to make it feel as real as possible, talked at length about what I wanted to get out of it and set a time to do it. But as soon as he knocked on the door to our bedroom, opened it wearing a white coat and stethoscope, and sort of shouted a well-meaning “hello”, I screamed. “No, no, no, please stop!” Everything about it was wrong. My whole body cringed. I couldn’t look at him. The entire thing was absurd and, although we ended up laughing, it put me off sexual role-play for a long time.
Role-play has a bad reputation and a bad image. Often in media, resorting to role-play is framed as a last ditch effort to revive a dead sex life. We are shown men dressed up in fireman uniforms, clumsily climbing through windows and ruining the mood. Women dress up like french maids, but are still unable to excite their man. Even in Netflix’s Feel Good, a show that does a great job at navigating gender and sexuality for the audience, non-binary Mae and their girlfriend George have a montage moment in which they role-play many characters in fancy dress outfits. The role-play ideas become increasingly frantic and absurd, but they are just a tool to hide the fact that Mae is unable to process a major traumatic event in her life.
So how do we fulfil some of our major fantasies without feeling silly or cringe, or just falling about laughing? Being called upon by a partner to dress up in what is essentially a fancy dress or halloween costume, then pretending to be a builder, doctor or even Minnie Mouse (as one guy I was seeing was into) is deeply embarrassing. No one wants to look like a twat in front of their partner, especially whilst dressed up and delivering lines like “I’m here to look at your pipes.” It’s doubtful that the person whose fantasy it was imagined anything like the role-playing experience to begin with – and it is likely that you will also feel incredibly unsexy.
But feeling sexy, confident and comfortable is the key to any great sex. That’s why telling your partner in a low-key, no pressure environment that your ultimate fantasy is a vampire taking total advantage of you, going into some detail, is a lot better than asking them to buy a cape and fangs get up, and just surprise you with “I vant to suck your [insert body part here]”.
Once you have communicated what you like, incorporating that into your usual sex routine, rather than performing a three act play with stage directions and a script, takes the pressure off things. Start off with short sentences rather than a monologue. Keep it simple, sexy and on message. Listen to how the person responds – and definitely don’t over do it. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the speaking bit just yet, you could try dressing up first to make you feel the part. Bang away as normal, but as that sexy librarian! It might turn out that one element works better for you than the other. Doing both the dressing up and acting is, in fact, doing the most. You don’t need to dive in head first.
The good news is that role-play doesn’t always have to be about costumes and pretending to be a sexy tradesman. Sexual dynamics like being dominant or submissive – a daddy, a mistress, a slave or really any power exchange name you like – can very easily be “modes” or “headspaces” that you switch on or off. Exploring these types of dynamics means that you still get to be yourself – the pressure to pretend or act like someone completely different is non-existent. Once you have established consent (and who wants to be the one tied up and who wants to be doing the tying), you can push these sorts of boundaries in lots of different ways. Verbally, you can try being more authoritative, condescending, patronising or even incredibly sadistic, if that is what turns you and your partner on. And if you still want your dress up fix, then I have amazing things to tell you about bondage gear.
Still unsure of how to ease into all this? A sext is the perfect way to flex your fantasies before playing them out in the real world. You can craft a perfectly worded message and gauge the response, without being put on the spot and saying something incredibly embarrassing. Let go. Pour out your wildest fantasies. The hottest ideas tend to be the most organic, least contrived ones, so even if they seem scary to reveal at first, they will be infinitely better than “suck my dick”.
Rather than traditional role-play, having any sort of off-and-on dynamic that you can easily slip into means that, with practice, just a look, word or text will get you in the mood and ready to go. There’s no need for faffing about with costumes and the cheesy sex chat, if you don’t fancy it. Comfort and confidence is sexier than an embarrassed, latex-clad nurse. Long live the new rules for role-play.