Arielle Egozi (@ladysavaj) gets asked a lot about branding, sex, and social justice. As a Creative Director & Strategist, she works to bring diverse bodies and perspectives for brands across industries.
Humans are so wildly multi-dimensional — none of us have just one role, one identity or one version of ourselves. Roleplaying with a partner (or partners) can be a great way to step into the other parts of ourselves that don’t often get as much space to shine.
It can be about taking on a role, identity, or character other than one you normally show up with, but it can also be about consciously playing up elements of a role that you’re already engaging with.
Roleplaying is often positioned as a way to explore sexual fantasies — and yes, sure, that can be true — but more than that, it’s a tool to explore the folds of our psyches in, like, a really fun and playful way.
A roleplay with another is all about dynamics — the expression of your character is in relation to theirs. The way you move, respond, and engage in your role is the act of creatively stepping into character, but your character comes to life through the gaze of someone else.
You have an audience — your partner(s) — and the element of performance alone might be the most exciting piece for you because parts of yourself that are rarely shared are now being seen.
This can be incredibly thrilling. It can also be terrifying, and really intimidating.
Roleplay Ideas: Where To Start
The way most of us have heard about roleplay (and, on rare occasion, seen on tv, or played out in porn), is through the lens of a white cisheterosexual long-term couple trying to spice up their sex life.
They’re usually playing out roles that display a gendered dynamic of power — Boss and Secretary, Plumber and Housewife, Doctor and Nurse — the kind of “sexy” relational dynamics we see portrayed by characters on tv.
Sometimes we might catch strangers-meeting-at-a-bar, but overall, it’s a shame that these are the only portrayals of roleplay that we usually hear about or get exposed to.
Not because of what they represent — these roles can actually be super-healing for folks who are working out their own understandings of gender and power (for white cishet couples, these might be instances where they are playing up elements of characters they already embody, instead of taking on new “identities”) — but because it offers such a narrow view of what’s possible, and for who.
Is Roleplay For Me?
Roleplay is for any body and every body. You don’t have to look a specific way or be a specific gender, and you don’t have to be super-confident in either, because this is the space to play with all of it.
Any type of play always has to be consensual (like all things involving someone else, especially sex-related), but roleplay doesn’t have to be super-sexy, or even sexy at all.
Most of us have been doing it since we were three years old, playing dress-up or having lightsaber fights or playing house. It’s where we first learned how to “act” as little boys or girls (even if we were neither), so it makes perfect sense that this is the practice where we can come back to and unpack a lot of that.
It’s where we can step into a space to explore our own desires, and instead of shaming them, give them space to breathe.
Maybe you’re a cis queer woman, but you get off on being super-sexualized by men. That checks out for someone growing up in this society, no? Maybe as this woman’s partner who isn’t a man, you step into the role of a man at the bar (consensually) objectifying her, and now you also get to tap into the parts of you that perhaps enjoy elements of predatory power and stereotyped masculinity.
It’s easy to look at these pieces of ourselves and feel ashamed that they exist — but they’re so normal and reasonable considering how we’ve all grown up. Roleplay gives us a way to engage with them in a healthy, conscious way. It can serve as the playground: a space to explore and release old patterns and inhibitions.
Roleplaying with a partner is a little bit like putting on a mask — when we slip into character, it can feel a lot easier to reveal truths about ourselves and open up to levels of vulnerability that might not otherwise be as accessible. To be creative is to be vulnerable, and roleplaying is the act of co-creating a scene with someone else. It can feel incredibly exposing, and it’s totally normal and okay and reasonable that it does.
With roleplay, you’re going somewhere together you’ve never gone before. Each new scene has an element that can’t be predicted, it’s a piece of your partner you’ve yet to experience. But before any dialogue can be exchanged or characters envisioned, if you’re roleplaying with someone else, the first thing that has to exist is trust.
Roleplay, Consent and Trust: Saying "Yes, And..."
We can’t be truly creative if we don’t feel safe, and so whatever dynamic you’re in — a long-term relationship or an evening’s hookup from a bar – the only way to have an embodied and enjoyable experience is to make sure that trust and safety is established. That can look like a conversation, a safeword, multiple check-ins, or all the above.
Once you create that safety, sure, you can write out specific fantasies together and script out dialogue and buy costumes if that’s your thing, but my favorite way to role play? Improv, using the principle of “Yes, and…”
Again, it doesn’t have to be sexy. Ever. We can start with a world in which your partner comes up to you and announces that, for example, they are a tree. Remember, you are creating this world together, so if your partner says this is true, then it’s true. Instead of rejecting them or what they’ve said, you invite.
This is a place where anything is possible, where you accept them fully in their totality, so if your partner wants to be a tree, support them, then contribute to build out this world. “Yes, and” them. Maybe your response is, “Yes, you’re a tree, and I’m the girl next door who’s come to climb your long, stiff branches and look for plums.” And just like that – sometimes what you think is the unsexiest thing can veer pretty close to the hottest.
Ready for Roleplay?
Okay, okay. Maybe this is still too much. You're curious but you don’t have a partner to play with. You’re curious but also mildly freaked out and filled with the dread of stage fright. A great place to start? On your own.
Maybe you’ve always wondered why the concept of calling someone Daddy made you so uncomfortable, but also made you wet. Maybe you look at yourself in the mirror and assume the role of Babygirl. Let yourself feel weird and strange in it, let yourself explore where you feel free.
Maybe that’s way too intense of a place to start, so instead you put on a terribly fake British accent and translucent blue eyeglasses and decide to role play Prue from the Great British Bake-Off. Maybe you go about cleaning your house on Sunday morning calling each clean dish “scrumptious”, declaring all calories are worth it. That’s role play too. That’s seeing yourself too.
And if you decide, “Geez — none of this does anything for me,” fantastic! You’ve learned something new about yourself. Maybe one day that’ll change, maybe it won’t, but as long as you’re exploring yourself (and your partner, if you have one or any at the moment), this is intimacy and play, and this is the point.
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