When I was a little boy, when I didn’t understand that the image looking back at me in the mirror wasn’t really me, I found the one place in the world where I could just… be. I logged onto my second-hand desktop, waited for the whirr of the old dial up to grind to life, and logged into my real life.
Online, I was me. I was Erin. I was a girl my age who played soccer, who had friends, and who loved to read classic books. I was sporty and smart, with long auburn hair that I insisted should always be worn in a ponytail. At the time I thought I was just creating a persona online, but what I didn’t realize is that I was visualizing who I wanted to be, willing into existence how I wanted to interact with the world around me. It was a fantasy as well as self-actualization. It offered me a respite from the shame and awkwardness I experienced in the real world, alone as a young transwoman who didn’t even know what trans was.
I grew up in a world without resources for queer youth, without any role models or idols to reflect my own identity and experiences. There was no Laverne Cox, just Jim Carrey and “Captain Winky” in Pet Detective. Everyone around me thought that I was just playing pretend in a made up video game world, but what they didn’t realize was that the real roleplay in my life was when I logged off and walked into the kitchen for dinner. That was fake. That wasn’t real.
Online roleplaying helped nurture and create a core identity for me in my youth that I could cling to and find a safe place to grow from. It helped me turn away from self-hatred, resentment, and continual embarrassment to a quiet new confidence. When I was older, it also helped me come to an understanding of what my body meant to me, and how I felt comfortable expressing myself sexually.
Eventually, when I was dating a partner who had a history of sexual trauma, online roleplay was a useful tool for her as well. My partner, a beautiful, insanely smart and funny woman was, by day, absolutely perfect. She was the best at her job, hardworking beyond belief, and an endless source of encouragement and support for me. But when the lights were turned off, when the sun was gone and we found ourselves close to one another, she couldn’t hide from the horrors of her past and the decades of abuse she had suffered at the hands of a cruel and twisted man.
Physical touch was impossible for her. She told me that even the lightest touch on her shoulder felt like needles on her skin. That wrapping my arms around her from behind instantly conjured memories of his breath on her neck. Any sort of sexual touching invariably led to tears as I held her, while she was forced to relive the pain of her sexual trauma. She was in the impossible position of badly wanting intimacy — the simple comfort of a loving touch — but knowing that every time she tried it would bring the nightmares back.
Her story is different from mine, but we found some peace in the same way: We started online roleplaying with each other. We both loved to write and game, so it felt like a natural fit for us. At first it was just little adventures that we would type to one another, fun stories about characters that fought demons and corrupt kings. We had fun and, for the first time, we were truly intimate with each other. Being online and in different rooms, we were able to find romance and sex by what many people would call glorified sexting. But it wasn’t me and her having sex, it was the brave and heroic characters we created together. It was wild, it was romantic, it was passionate. It was everything we wanted in our “real lives.”
Because roleplaying allowed her to experience positive sexuality without the triggering pain of physical touch, she was slowly able to reconnect with her sexuality and create her own sexual autonomy separate from her trauma. Roleplaying, when done in a safe and consensual way, served like training wheels until she felt safe including physical bodies again. Today we hardly ever roleplay at all, and our physical connection is stronger than it has ever been.
Maybe you’ve never considering roleplay before, and that’s ok! But I wish I could invite every queer person to try it for themselves. It’s one of the only sex acts — and intimate acts! — that is accessible for everyone, regardless of body shape and ability, gender or lack thereof, kink or fear or just quiet curiosity. It can be wild and loud or sweet and gentle, impossible and bizarre, casual or the start of something new. If you are patient and a little brave, you can even use it to find yourself or find each other.
Best of all, it is easy and free: no equipment or special moves required. All you need is a smartphone, a computer, or if you really want to be old fashioned, some pen and paper.
So, whether you’re looking for a fun new way to spice up your sex life and dive into an intimate world of your own making, or you’re trying to work through tough issues in your life, online roleplay might be just the thing for you to give a try.
Here are some steps to help guide you on your roleplay journey:
Talk to your partner
It may seem awkward at first, but let your partner know that you are trying out a new way to intimately connect with them. Online roleplay isn’t about hiding behind a screen, it’s about becoming more connected with the person on the other side. At first it might seem hypocritical to get closer with someone by typing to each other over the internet, but it’s not all that different than how so many of us spend hours and hours texting each other in the early stages of a relationship.
Have an open and honest discussion with your partner about your expectations and what you both would like to get out of this. If you’re working through trauma or dysphoria, let your partner know that beforehand. If you’re interested in exploring a particular sexual theme, figure out that too. This part is important because it helps lay the groundwork for consent and helps ensure that everyone feels safe going in.
Pick a setting and characters
The difference between online roleplay and sexting is pretty simple. When you’re sexting someone, it’s essentially a conversation the two (or more) of you are having about sex. Online roleplaying is about adopting a little bit of suspended belief, and getting in the headspace of a “character” that gives you just the right level of anonymity to let you open up in a way that you might normally feel too awkward doing in person. Honestly, this part is one of the most fun since you get to pick any scenario that you want. Want to roleplay out a really gay version of Twilight? What about the Hogwarts romance of your dreams? Maybe a reverse damsel-in-distress story is your scene. You have total freedom, so get in touch with your creative side and explore whatever story floats your boat (also, don’t feel pressured to outline a whole book’s worth of story or anything. You’re just looking for a premise to start and roll with!).
When it comes to making the character you want to roleplay, you’ll want to outline a couple of basics:
Backstory: This is your character’s history, their life story right up until you start your roleplay. This is up to you! You can make a backstory that is short and simple, or long and complex.
Personality: What type of person is your character? Are they quiet and brooding, or talkative and happy-go-lucky?
Appearance: How does your character look? Tall? Short? Blonde hair or blue hair? Androgynous or ultra femme? Feel free to get detailed, or keep it vague.
Strengths/Weaknesses: If you choose a story or setting that involves magic or superheroes, you may want to outline any strengths or weaknesses of your character.
Find a platform
In a pinch, texting your partner is an option, but in my opinion texting can kind of ruin the magic of online roleplay and make it “too real.” Instead, I suggest using text based apps like Skype, Discord, or good old fashioned email. Once you’ve settled on a program, just make a profile and share it with your partner.
Set the mood
Now that you’ve got your platform, your story, and your goals all ironed out, do whatever it is that can help you get comfortable. I like to dim the lights and burn a few scented candles. I always suggest that you and your partner go to separate rooms, although it’s not absolutely necessary. In my experience, part of online roleplaying is using the internet as a filter to help you get comfortable exploring sexual themes that might be too embarrassing or triggering to explore in person. Being close to one another, but perhaps in a different room, can really enhance the overall experience and give you the freedom to type up whatever you want without feeling immediately judged for it. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also introduce a few sex toys to the mix to really help crank up the tension.
One person has to send the first post/email/text
This is the toughest part because in a way you’re putting yourself out there. But don’t worry, the whole process gets way easier after you get the first post out of the way. If you’re really creative, this is your time to shine in describing whatever scene you want, but remember, online roleplaying is about engaging in an activity with your partner, not dictating a story. This is cooperative story-telling at its best. I always like to start with a bit of action to get the blood pumping, but feel free to start in any way you want.
Here are some guidelines to help you craft your post:
1.) Never assume control of your partner’s character, or try to dictate what they do or don’t have to do–just like you never would without permission in the actual bedroom.
2.) Be descriptive in your first post. Try to set the scene so that the other person knows what is happening/where they are. This can be long and super descriptive, or it can be short and more to the point. Once you both get into the flow of things and your characters begin to converse, your posts can get much shorter to keep a quick pace.
3.) To keep things simple and consistent, try to choose one tense to write in before you begin: present tense or past tense. You also generally want to write in the third-person. Writing in the third-person enhances the feeling that you’re telling a story together.
Here is an example of a more short and concise first post, as well as a few lines of roleplay:
BrieBrie23: Elizabeth’s ribs burned as she trudged up the hill to the main lecture hall, rain pouring down in thick sheets all around her. She had thought it wasn’t supposed to rain until later that day, and now she was paying the price for leaving her umbrella in her dorm. She was soaked, cold, and even worse, probably late for class. Under normal circumstances, she would have just stayed in her dorm and snuggled up with a warm cup of hot cocoa, but today’s lecture was mandatory, and the last thing she needed was Professor MacCafferty yelling at her for skipping class.
Roleplayer1989: Jackie saw Elizabeth walking up the sidewalk in front of her and jogged up the hill to catch up. “Hey!” She smiled as she held her umbrella out to cover Elizabeth too. “So, uh, walking in the rain your new thing? Like those guys who walk around campus barefoot?” Jane smiled.
BrieBrie23: “Oh, thanks!” Elizabeth blushed as Jackie covered them both with the umbrella. “And no, it’s not my thing. I keep telling myself that I’ll learn a spell to keep the rain off of me, but I just never get around to getting to the library to find one.” Elizabeth had had a crush on Jackie since they first met in the Brew & Potions class years ago, but could never quite work up the courage to admit it. She couldn’t help but feel like Jane was out of her league.
Roleplayer1989: “You know, I was flipping through one of the spell books in the library the other day and saw a few that could keep you dry in the rain.” Jackie stepped closer to Elizabeth, their shoulders touching as they huddled under the umbrella. She had been practicing for weeks how she would ask out Elizabeth, and had already worked out a huge plan for catching her after class one day and asking her out to the Bread & Butter Witches Tavern outside of campus. “Want to go to the library after class and see about learning one?” Jackie threw her plan to the wind, a hitch in her breath as she waited to see whether or not Elizabeth would say yes. “We could maybe go grab something to eat afterwards, maybe get coffee later?”
BrieBrie23: “Yes!” Elizabeth blurted out without a second thought. “I mean, yeah. Sure. Sounds like fun.” She smiled, her heart racing.
If you would like more examples, I encourage you to pick up just about any romance novel of your choosing and flipping to any scene where both of the main characters are talking to one another. You’ll notice how both characters generally have good and consistent back and forth dialogue with one another. You’ll also notice how each paragraph usually contains descriptions of their body language and their internal thoughts/feelings about what is happening. Mimic those two things: dialogue and descriptive language, and you’ve got everything you need for an amazing roleplay.
Remember online roleplay is foreplay
Online roleplaying, much like sexting, isn’t supposed to replace actual human connection. Think of it as extended foreplay, but with the added bonus that it lets you seriously explore sexual concepts that you might otherwise not share due to societal pressures and norms. You’ll be surprised how often online roleplay can quickly lead to some pretty amazing and spectacular physical connection in the bedroom!
There you are, six steps to trying out a new adventure into intimacy with your partner! Like any sexual exploration, communication is critical. If you follow these steps, maintain an open mind, and communicate boundaries, roleplay can be a great way to explore your likes and dislikes, the interplay of all of our unique identities, and nurture a deeper intimate connection with our partners. Don’t be afraid to be messy and make mistakes, and make sure you remember to blow out the candles when you’re done!