16 Sex Tips You’ll Wish You Heard Before You Tried Role-Playing

Role-playing in the bedroom can be fun and hot — and on top of that, it can be really great for discovering different aspects of your sexuality.

It allows you to safely explore your relationship with your fantasies, with taboo, with power, with who you are and what turns you on — all while giving you the opportunity to play make-believe. You know, that super-fun thing you stopped doing when you reached a certain age because you had to become ~grown up and mature~ or whatever.

BuzzFeed Health chatted with sex expert Ian Kerner, PhD, founder of GoodInBed.com, and sexuality educator Sandra Daugherty, host of Sex Nerd Sandra, to get their best tips for making role-playing amazing. Here’s what they said:

1.
First, know that there’s no set definition of what role-playing entails — it’s all about what you and your partner are into.

A lot of people hear “role-play” and their minds immediately jump to, “You get a costume, I get a costume, we play out an official scene, we can’t break character. Go,” says Daugherty. But that’s such a high bar — and it’s only a small part of what role-playing can be.

Depending on what you and your partner want, role-playing can be taking on characters (“You be the prince, I’ll be the stableboy”). It can be wearing costumes and making a sex tape. It can be playing out simple scenarios (“Let’s pretend we’re in high school again and our parents are right downstairs”). It can be playing with dominance and submission. It can be playing with setting (“What would it be like if we were students at Hogwarts?”). It can be talking through a fantasy you have without actually carrying it out. TL;DR: It can be anything that allows you to explore different personalities, temperaments, and ways of expressing yourself sexually.

2.
Don’t put a ton of pressure on it being this crazy-sexy time — it should be fun before anything else.

Sure, plenty of people get into role-playing as a way to ~spice up their sex lives~ or whatever, but you have to keep the bar low. Instead, go into it thinking that it could be something silly and new to try with your partner. Above all else, you have to be willing to laugh at yourself — because yes, there’s lots of room for error and you’re not going to do everything perfectly.

“Play should be for its own sake,” says Daugherty. “It doesn’t have to get you super turned-on. It doesn’t have to be anything other than play for fun. You have a good laugh, and five minutes later, you’re having the best sex of your life.”

3.
Reeeeally simple prompts work great, so don’t feel the need to plot anything intricate.

If a multi-act character-driven role-play extravaganza is your thing, by all means, YOU DO YOU. But things can be a lot easier than that — basically, all you need is one sentence to kick things off.

“It can literally be something as simple as ‘You didn’t do your homework’ to begin playing with a dynamic,” says Daugherty. “‘Shhh, my parents will hear us.’ ‘Don’t tell your wife.’ One sentence and then you’re done. And then the rest of your play can be exactly what you normally do, but then there’s an extra layer of excitement, a little extra fire.”

4.
Play with how you look and what you wear to embody different personalities.

You don’t have to jump to elaborate costumes or anything. When you play with your appearance — maybe changing your hairstyle or getting a wig, growing some facial hair, wearing an outfit that’s the opposite of your style, whatever — you wind up feeling different, too.

“It helps you get outside yourself and give yourself permission to explore different personalities,” says Kerner.

5.
Or just talk through your fantasies. It might wind up being hotter than actually carrying it out.

“You can do tremendous role-playing without doing more than exchanging words,” says Kerner. “You might not ever have to get to the point of dressing up in a costume or taking on a character in order to get the spirit and gratification of a character or a scenario.”

6.
Use your favorite shows or movies to ~get inspired~.

You wouldn’t be the first people getting really turned on by watching Game of Thrones, says Kerner. Whatever you and your partner are into comes ready-made with fleshed-out characters and relationship dynamics, settings, and scenarios — all stuff you and your partner will already be familiar with without having to put in the work. “You can watch a show together and then continue the action in your bedroom,” says Kerner — whether that’s taking on the characters or just rolling with the spirit of things.

7.
Explore those common, clichéd pairings in unexpected ways.

If you’re going to lean into the “role” part of role-playing, you definitely know the common pairings: student–teacher, doctor–patient, boss–employee, etc. They’re popular because they give you a chance to safely play with power dynamics — but you can switch up how you do it.

Take student–teacher, for example: “You think the teacher has power and the student doesn’t,” says Daugherty. “However, that doesn’t have to be the case. You can have a student who’s blackmailing the teacher, who’s seducing the teacher, who’s doing the teacher a favor, who’s soothing the teacher because they’re having marriage problems. You can have a relationship and it can play out a million different, interesting ways.”

So ~use your imagination~.

8.
Think about what specific parts of a fantasy are especially hot to you.

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“Say 10 people have a teacher–student fantasy,” says Daugherty. “But every single person will be turned on by a different element. One might be turned on by corporal punishment, rulers, spanking. Another might be really into plaid skirts. Another person might be into the adrenaline rush of the forbidden. Another might be into embarrassment. Another person would really be into a certain word a person said, like ‘detention.’ Some people might be into the desk! So just because 10 people have the same fantasy doesn’t mean you are getting a boner for the same reason.”

Because of that, it might be a good idea to communicate to your partner what you’re really excited about when it comes to role-playing something — otherwise you might wind up riding out the completely wrong fantasy.

9.
Take advantage of Halloween and other natural excuses to dress up in ways you know will turn each other on.

I know we said that role-playing doesn’t have to involve costumes, but come on. When else will you have the opportunity to put on a totally rad costume and have the added benefit of running around wearing it in public and counting down the minutes ’til you guys get home? Halloween is the best — and the perfect opportunity to experience role-playing related thrills in a low-key way, says Kerner.

10.
See how you can develop the things you already do with your partner into more of a ~role-playing thing~.

Like, maybe you already really like wearing your partner’s shirts because it makes you feel like the guy or girl next door — that’s a little thing you can run with and expand on, says Kerner. Or maybe you and your partner already give each other back rubs while you’re watching TV before bed — you could step up your game and explore a massage parlor fantasy together. Or maybe you guys play a sport together — aka perfect basis for a forbidden romance between the star players on rival teams. Etc, etc, etc.

11.
Channel some real-life frustrations into your play to blow off some steam in the best way possible.

Let’s say you have a shitty day at work because a co-worker was being an asshole. You can go home and have fun with it. “You can flip the script,” says Daugherty. “You can play a boss–employee dynamic with your partner and you can play it where you’re blackmailing your boss. You can be the boss. You can give favors for a raise. Whatever!” Same goes for pretty much every other everyday annoyance, from the barista who fucked up your order to the judgy sales associate.

12.
Maybe take an improv class.

Not necessarily to brush up on your acting skills — it’s more to get in the spirit of role-playing.

“Improv is silly and terrifying at first, but there’s nothing at stake,” says Daugherty. “It’s about a whole team supporting each other. Those are good skills to have — sex play is healthiest when you’re both on the same team aiming toward the same goals. If you feel like you mess up, your partner is there to help you carry that ball.”

A lot of places will offer one-day workshops, but if that’s too much for you, Daugherty suggests this book as a place to start.

13.
Make sure you know what you’re not comfortable with in general so it doesn’t accidentally come up in a role-play situation.

Underlying triggers or general discomforts are really important to consider ahead of time, since when you’re playing with different characters or situations, some shit might come up in unexpected ways, says Daugherty. For example, if you’re really not into exploring pain, that’s probably a good thing for your partner to know before playing with any sort of power dynamics where they might be inspired ~in character~ to punish you.

“Yes/No/Maybe” lists like this one might be a helpful place to start if you’re not exactly sure what’s out of bounds for you. Basically, it’s a list of sexual acts that you can take for self-reflection or with a partner to indicate what you are and aren’t down for.

14.
Along those lines, consider setting some parameters or coming up with a safe word ahead of time.

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Spontaneity and going with the flow are great, but there are certain times when talking with your partner about what will happen or setting rules (like safe words, which you can read about here) is necessary. For example, if something calls for punishment, degradation, humiliation, or simulated lack of consent, you guys should discuss boundaries and how you’ll communicate during and after, and talk through a bit of what might happen.

That said, just because you set parameters ahead of time doesn’t mean that plan can’t change. “Having a safe word, for example, is not an excuse for not checking in with a partner, being in tune with your partner, and recognizing what’s happening with your partner during sex,” says Kerner.

This is especially true if you get into BDSM territory, which can have a lot of overlap with role-playing. More info on how to navigate that here.

15.
If you really have no idea where to start, there are games and books for that.

The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin is a great book for anyone interested in erotic play. “It’s all about exploring your fantasies in your own head to extract the underlying themes and details that specifically turn you on,” says Daugherty. She also suggests this kit, which comes with 40 erotic role-playing prompts to ~inspire~ you.

16.
Finally, make sure to take your time and enjoy yourself.

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“Whether you’re working outside in, with a physical detail and then moving into a character, or seeing from the inside out, working from your fantasy life and then gradually leading to some external play, really appreciate every step of the process,” says Kerner. “Every step is enjoyable. Getting to the fully realized role-playing may be the least interesting part of it. Be open to all aspects of the process. Learn from it. Figure out what really turns you on.”

Anna Borges is a health writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Anna Borges at anna.borges@buzzfeed.com.

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