The first time my college girlfriend asked me to role-play with her, I was mortified. She didn't want anything elaborate or taboo — no diapers, no foxtail butt-plugs. She simply asked me to pretend to be an inexperienced straight girl at cheerleader camp who she could seduce. Our sex life was voracious and experimental, so my shyness about accomodating her fantasy frustrated her. I knew it was a tame request, but the prospect of it made me feel embarrassed and insecure.
“You're a theater person,” she growled. “You're supposed to be good at this.”
I was practically brought up in a theater, and I have spent the better part of my life performing in some capacity. However, playing a role in a bedroom initially seemed like a far more terrifying prospect than playing a role onstage.
I always get nervous before the curtain rises — my mother used to say that if you're not nervous it means that you don't care, so butterflies backstage are actually a good thing. But I've found that my nerves increase as the size of the audience decreases. A packed house can fade into an amorphous blob under the stage lights until I almost forget they are there, but a small audience is quiet. I can hear every cough, every giggle, and every sigh. It's so much more intimate, and therefore intimidating. Playing a role to an audience of one, while naked and also trying to make that person orgasm, sounded like an actor's nightmare I might have on the eve of an opening night.
In high school, I dated boys who built scenery, and I spent all my evenings and weekends in rehearsals. I was a chubby, awkward teenager, but onstage it was easy for me to play roles that evoked sexuality and confidence that I did not yet possess. Acting allowed all of us nerdy kids to try on a different skin while we were onstage, to say and do things that we may never have had the courage to do as our awkward selves.
Once, I did a scene from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream with Bobby (not his real name), the preacher's son who had just transferred to our school from Missouri. He had big floppy lips, naturally curly hair, and any time he walked next to a girl in the halls he would insist on carrying her books. Bobby was a hot commodity.
Our scene ended with a kiss, and each night as the lights dimmed and the curtain fell, Bobby would slip me a little tongue. Bobby was a good Christian boy who wouldn't put out in real life — but onstage he was quite the Casanova. When I asked around, I found out that Bobby had been slipping girls the tongue onstage during a production of West Side Story the previous year.
When we take on a role, we give ourselves permission to be more creative, daring, and bold than we are in our day-to-day lives.
My college girlfriend was right: My years of performing had given me all the skills I needed to be a convincing straight girl at cheerleader camp. I just had to get over my stage fright. When I finally took the plunge, I was hooked. The next time she asked me to role-play, I suggested she put on her old cheerleading uniform, and I have never looked back.
Long after the college girlfriend and I parted ways, I have continued to explore role-play, and now, I do it for a living. For my clients, I love taking on the role of cruel mistress, bratty schoolgirl, or slutty next-door neighbor. Actresses and sex workers have kept close company throughout history; Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre was reputed to also house a brothel, and English prostitutes and actresses were considered part of the same social class during most of the 18th century. Though Hollywood stars who don't perform nude scenes may disagree, acting and sex work require remarkably similar skill sets.
Whether we do it on the silver screen, on a stage, or in the bedroom, when we create fantasy using just our bodies, it is quite magical.