• Introducing sex (the sexy kind) into your role-playing games

    by  • April 29, 2012 • Essays • 14 Comments

    As an adult gamer, you may want to include adult themes in your role-playing games. This often means broaching the topic of sex.

    Many people find it scary to introduce the topic of sex into their games.  Not everyone wants to play the actual sex acts, but sex is so much more than the acts.  Sexual relationships, sexual tension, and sex as a part of the story even if it not on-screen, can all be interesting and rewarding elements in your stories.

    This is an article about how to introduce sexual content into you role-playing games, so I will not address why sexual content is nice to include. If you are reading this article I assume that you want sex in your games. So let’s get started.

    One of the first questions that comes up when discussing sexual content in games often is:

     Isn’t it embarrassing?

    The answer to that question is: Yes, it is.

    Sex in role-playing games is a lot like sex in real life. It is awfully embarrassing the first time.  With practice it gets less embarrassing, but every now and then there is a relapse and it becomes extremely embarrassing again. Like when you are doing it with a new person you’re not comfortable with, or when something goes wrong, or when your mom walks into the room while you are doing it. Like sex in real life, sex in role-playing games is worth doing in spite of the initial embarrassment.

    Also just like sex in real life, sex in role-playing games can make you feel vulnerable, so it is important to be respectful and careful when introducing it into the game. Fortunately, the same methods to deal with embarrassment usually also help people to deal with feelings of vulnerability.

    To help with both of these issues here are some tips on how to survive the first embarrassing phase when introducing sex into the game:

    Talk about it

    Get the group talking about how and why you want to introduce sexual content.  How to introduce it, what pitfalls you want to to avoid, what people expect to be comfortable with, what they aren’t comfortable with, and what methods you want to use.

    Admit that sex is scary! Once the groups admits that, it often helps set a tone where it is okay to be nervous and make mistakes.

    Humor

    Laugh. It helps a lot. You are probably going to feel embarrassed about the whole thing, and perhaps a bit vulnerable and tense as well. It is okay to approach the subject with humor to ease the tension.

    Use as much humor as you need to. Perhaps you just need a few funny out of character laughs or comments to get through it, or perhaps your group needs to play the Monty Python version of sex the first time you breach the subject. That is okay. Humor is a great tool for getting comfortable with sensitive material.

    Veils

    Just because you want to include sex in your game doesn’t mean you want to actually play the act. It’s okay to say that the scene fades to black after the young lovers close the door behind them. Or to agree out of character that the two characters who just had sex had bad sex which left none of them satisfied, and breakfast the next morning was filled with uncomfortable silences.

    Agreeing what happened without playing the scene can be a great tool for including mature content in the story.

    Euphemisms

    Even if you don’t normally have any problem taking about sex, talking about sex during your game can feel like talking about sex with you grandparents, if sexual content hasn’t been a part of the gaming culture at your table before.  Sometimes it can be surprisingly hard to say ”And then they have sex” and a lot easier to say ”And then they do the beast with two backs.”

    Euphemisms are fun, so don’t be afraid to hide behind them. Using more or less poetic metaphors and expressions just adds  some spice to the game.

    Stereotypes

    Usually people aren’t all that happy about  playing stereotypes or clichés, but they can be helpful tools to make people feel comfortable when playing stories with sexual elements.  Having some kind of ”script” to go by reinforces that what you’re doing is part of a dramaturgy, not having verbal sex with the other player.

    Playing James Bond movie sex, or nervous teenager sex, or mythological sex can be a lot easier than just playing ”sex.”

    Distance

    Playing a character you have a lot of distance from can also make you feel safer. That can mean playing a character very dissimilar from yourself, or dissimilar from the kinds of characters you usually play. This often goes hand in hand with using stereotypes, since it also provides the safety of reinforces that you are not having verbal sex, you are an actor playing a character.

    Changing genre of game, running a one shot game, playing a character type you don’t usually play, playing a different gender, a different age or choosing to play in third person, rather than in first person are other methods for creating distance.

    Play with the people you feel most comfortable with

    This is true on both a player level and on a character level. If it’s easier to play against the GM with an NPC then a PC, play it against an NPC. If it feels easier to play against a character or a player of a certain gender, try it with the combination everyone feels comfortable with.

    Some people find that it is a lot easier to try new things with players they don’t know, and others find that they feel most comfortable trying new things with people they know really well.

    Accept that you feel the way you do, you are not a bad person because you feel more comfortable one way or the other. We all have different comfort zones.

    Expect that it won’t be all that great in the beginning

    If you expect that the first times you include sex into a game it will be awesome and add a whole new dimension to your game the first time you do it… You will be disappointed. Awesomeness and whole new dimensions to you character and story might show up later, but not the first time.

    It might just possibly be the worst sex scene in history. But don’t let that scare you. Do it anyway, laugh at it, and then try it again.

    An actual play example

    In one of my gaming groups when we first introduced sex into the play many years ago I managed to use all techniques above in the same scene:

    My teenage character Kym lost his virginity with a tavern girl. Kym wasn’t the sort of character I normally play, and he wasn’t much like me.  I relied on a teenage stereotype when playing his seduction. I was playing with people I was comfortable with and we had talked about including sex in the campaign. We laughed and used a lot humor during the scene leading up to the sex, as well as after the scene.

    The actual sex in the scene happened under a veil, the scene was faded to black once he and the girl headed up to the hayloft. I didn’t try or expect to play the best sex or seduction scene ever, and wasn’t discouraged when the scene wasn’t a masterpiece. We even used euphemisms when describing what was done, all that was said about the act was :

    ”It was the first time a girl gave him bedhead hair, and she was sweet and patient with him.”

    At the time, doing it that way meant that we all felt comfortable with the scene, and even though there was some blushing, no one was scarred for life or died of embarrassment.

    Closing words

     That is all the advice I have to offer at the moment on how to survive the embarrassing phase when you introduce sex into a game. Once you have played sex and sexual scenes for a while and people have gotten comfortable you might feel that you don’t have to rely on a technique like this to feel comfortable to play games with sexual elements. That is great. The advice in the article are just tips to help you start out and survive the first terrifying encounters.

    If you as a reader have  any additional advice to offer on how to survive the embarrassing phase when you to introduce sex into your games please share them in the comments.

    (PS: I written a follow up article. “Why would you want sex in your role playing game?”)

    Thanks to Darla Magdalene Shockley, and Meguey Baker, for help with language and editing.

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    About

    Elin Dalstål is a game designer, larp organizer, and former gaming club board member. She started larping and playing roleplaying games in 2002. She lives in Luleå, Sweden and has held seminars about gender and roleplaying at Luleå University of Technology and the Luleå Pride parade. Elin views roleplaying games as one art form that can be expressed in different kinds of media, be it larp, tabletop, freeform playing over the internet or in some other yet-to-be-explored media. She is also an crafter, digital and traditional artist and own a fluffy dog.

    14 Responses to Introducing sex (the sexy kind) into your role-playing games

    1. avatar
      bookscorpion
      April 29, 2012 at 11:41

      The first time I did this was totally unplanned, but I think we handled it pretty well. My (male) character ended up in the hotel room of a male player’s female character and by unspoken consensus, we let the scene end with the closing of the door and started again in the morning. But we decided that we wanted to know what our characters had been doing and took the scene into a play by email just between us, no GM or other players involved.
      That’s something I can really recommend because it gives you privacy, time to come up with the right words and it doesn’t involve the whole group, who may not be all that interested in what happens (or at least not in all that much detail). Some of the best roleplaying moments of my life have come from such play by email-games, with and without sex.

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    2. avatar
      Finaira
      April 29, 2012 at 17:37

      None of my gaming groups have ever discussed whether sex is involved in a campaign, largely because we generally assume that there will be a certain degree of references to sex without necessarily any direct mentions.

      But the biggest trick we’ve found to keep it comfortable is to be flippant about it. Someone decides to go have sex with another player or NPC? We just say that, casually dismiss it as a non-issue and move on. Most of the other players typically do the same, there are very few in character comments about the event itself though there may be comments about, say, how often the character is sleeping around, if at all.

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    3. avatar
      April 29, 2012 at 18:50

      bookscorpion; Yeah. Text is great way to provide both privacy and distance, as well as give you a chance to glance into the characters head and emotional life. You can do this with monologues as well, but usually text is better media for it in my experience.

      Finara: Yeah, and it seems like many people do that way. Personally in the gaming circles I play in we usually play with sexual content is treated like any other sort of content of a sensitive nature. We do play sexual scenes if they relevant to the story or the characters and every one is comfortable with that. As sexual scene can be intense and interesting scenes worth playing at times, and at times as scene with sexual content might just be people going trough the motions with no relevance to the overall story at all and gets skipped the same way any boring scene is skipped.
      Sometimes it veiled and just hinted, other times it is more explicit HBO.

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      • avatar
        Finaira
        April 30, 2012 at 04:17

        I should note, however, that sex scenes in larps are a lot more emotionally intense. And usually happen over coffee or email well after the event. Never actually at the event though. To my knowledge. ((Note: I don’t mean acted out, just “sex has occurred” type scenes.))

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        • avatar
          April 30, 2012 at 09:14

          I played sex at larps using the Ars Armandi technique at larps, where you touch the other persons arms sort of acting the sex trough the ways you touch each other, arms only. That get really intense and also becomes a very sexual experiences.

          Lizzie Stark got a great two great articles about it in English:

          http://elizabethrstark.com/2011/11/06/ars-amandi-the-post-coital-review/

          http://elizabethrstark.com/2011/11/09/intro-to-ars-amandi/

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          • avatar
            Finaira
            April 30, 2012 at 15:54

            I’ve heard about this and I’ve heard some good things. However, I still shy away from a lot of physical touching in larp purely because it can get very emotionally intensive and I’ve seen that emotional intensity boil over into regular life a few too many times.

            In other words, I don’t doubt that this works great, but I think it’s a lot harder to distance yourself from “I’ve become uncomfortable because of signals”. But then, it might just be me.

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          • avatar
            April 30, 2012 at 23:33

            It’s not just you. Problems like this one is often address in pre-game and post game workshops, and when it going to occur at some larp it not a obligatory element, as well as something you are informed the larp will include.

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    4. avatar
      Darla Magdalene Shockley
      April 30, 2012 at 08:00

      Any time sexual content has become uncomfortable in an roleplaying game context for me, has been when I’ve stepped over some invisible line and made others uncomfortable. (To be honest, I think this has usually happened because I was taking cues from the other male gamers, who were comfortable hearing about sex from each other, but not comfortable with a woman talking about sex.)

      But anyway, when talking about sex is uncomfortable, I strongly prefer to avoid using euphemisms. I guess it’s just another way of creating distance, but I really prefer to talk pretty clinically, like a “grown up” about sex.

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      • avatar
        April 30, 2012 at 09:32

        I sort of agree. The way I today like to include sex, and play it from the where I am now is a lot different from I started out years ago as a teen. What I like today is a lot different from what I written for the the target group of the article.

        My intention was that I wanted to write an sex positive article on how including sex is pretty simple and many cases is just about get over the blushing part somehow and then move on. If you and the whole group can start out with out being all that embarrassed, this isn’t really an article you need.

        I like the language of sex, today to reflect the genre and mood of the game. Sometimes very subtle, and never mentioned in a direct manner and sometimes as crude and explicit as possible. But if you still at the stage when including sex is a scary and hard, I think using whatever language that works is the right way to go.

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    6. avatar
      May 1, 2012 at 16:40

      If anyone is interested in writing about this issue at essay length:

      http://dirolab.com/2012/02/14/well-played-call-for-papers-romance-in-games/

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    7. avatar
      May 2, 2012 at 04:43

      This is a great essay, and I’ve found everything in it to be true based on my experience. I’m running an Apocalypse World game now, and want to run Monsterhearts, but a few people in my group balk or complain about how there are “Sex Moves” in the rules. I’ve explained that they’re there not there to encourage people to have sex, but to represent the complications and messiness that arise from such an intimate act between two people.

      Honestly, I feel that if sex isn’t going to be handled seriously in your game, then you shouldn’t do it. By seriously, I don’t mean that you have to act out or describe a porn scene. By all means you can (and possibly should) fade to black. I just mean that it should have some kind of impact on the story and the characters involved. If you’re playing a typical D&D campaign for example, where you’re just travelling from one dungeon to the next and the towns in between will never be visited again, then sex doesn’t add anything. It’s fine to say “I find a brothel.” or something similar during down time, but that should really be it.

      If, on the other hand, you’re playing a game where the PCs will be interacting with the same NPCs for a long time, then I say go for it. Sex, seduction, and romance are great motivators and can plant all kinds of story hooks into a PC. Yeah, it can be awkward when you’re trying to roleplay the “attraction” scene out while your buddies are constantly snickering all around you. But just suck it up, focus on something else, and keep going.

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      • avatar
        May 2, 2012 at 13:56

        I don’t think you have to handle sex in a mature and serious way when you start out,(unless your group feel you need to handle it in mature way for emotional reasons etc). Demanding that people can handle things in a mature way the first time they try it is asking quite a lot of them.

        I think a more reasonable approach is to let people start out in immature if they want to, but in a constructive way. (As apposed to immature destructive ways).

        Like playing sex involving Nanna Ogg and a wizard staff with a nob on the end in Discworld. It not very mature or serious, but it can be constructive to everyone involved as well as silly.

        Monster Hearts is fantastic game. I just tried it this weekend. The sexual content came very naturally because if the mechanics, and helped make every one comfortable. Go for it!

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