The Power of Erotic Role-Play: The ‘Who’

If you glanced at the title of this piece and clicked through to learn who engages in erotic role-play, I can answer your question in just three words: anyone and everyone. People of all ages, genders, races, orientations and relationship statuses role-play in the bedroom, and anyone can learn how to do it. The purpose of this post, however, is to explore a question that has a more complicated answer. Namely, who do people play as?

I’m not asking what roles people play (that was explored in part two, The ‘What’), but who they inhabit when playing those roles—an alternate persona they harbor within themselves, an archetype of a person, or a full-fledged character? This may seem unnecessarily analytical, like a paper proposal for a method acting class, but I assure you the answers are fairly brief and very useful when deciding how you can make role-play work for you. For example, plenty of people are under the impression that erotic role-play requires serious acting chops, because they wrongly believe one must role-play as a full-fledged character. These types of character role-plays are what professional actors engage in on stage and screen, but you’re not going for an Oscar in the bedroom. So go ahead and throw that notion out the window. The only two sorts of characterization that matter in terms of erotic play are the archetype and the alternate persona.

An archetype is defined as an original form that all other copies are based on. It is the real or imagined ideal of many kinds of social roles (which we talked about in part one, Introduction). In practical terms, playing an archetype means playing a stereotype. An archetype of a nun in an erotic role-play is often that of a rigid disciplinarian, while an archetype of a maid is someone who is giggly and flirtatious. There may be more than one archetype for any role, such as the naughty schoolboy who is rude and mischievous versus the naughty schoolboy who is remorseful and scared. The appeal of the archetype is obvious and simple: it provides an easy template for who you choose to play.

While an archetype is constructed from outside ideas of what a ruthless interrogator or sadistic doctor is like, an alternate persona is something that originates within the self. According to the S&M tome, Consensual Sadomasochism*, if you have been drawn deeply “to some SM role you have occupied, you may have identified what we call an ‘alternate persona’, and what the British psychologist John Rowan[…] calls a ‘subpersonality.’ ” Fully developed ‘little’ personas (among age players) and cross-dressing personas (among gender players) are quite common. And though alternate personas may seem to be the opposite of archetypes, they can actually go hand-in-hand. The ‘little’ persona might inhabit a naughty schoolboy archetype, or a cross-dressing persona might inhabit a maid archetype.

For most people, starting out role-play with just an archetype is the best bet, although a few of you may have alternate personas straining to get out! Alternate personas are one reason why people engage in role-play, and we’ll explore all of these motivations in the next installment in this series.

*by William A. Henkin, Ph.D. and Sybil Holiday, CCSSE

Read the other articles in this installment series:

The Power of Erotic Role-Play: Introduction

The Power of Erotic Role-Play: The ‘What’

The Power of Erotic Role-Play: The ‘Why’

The Power of Erotic Role-Play: The ‘How’

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