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Sex With Someone New -- Every Night
The beautiful young French woman was soaking wet -- but alive, thanks to my fast action. Moments earlier, I'd pulled her from icy Patagonian rapids. In the faint starlight, I could make out her lovely face, her lustrous red hair, and the form of her breasts straining against her wet shirt.
She was whispering, and I brought my ear close to her full lips. "Only one thing can warm me up," she said in a heavy accent. "You must make love to me." She began unbuttoning her top.
Okay, this wasn't Sylvie, the French backpacker, and I wasn't Carlos, the Chilean ranger. The water was a trickling shower in a tiny apartment. The stars were candles propped on the bathroom sink.
My girlfriend, Ivy, and I were role playing. Go ahead and laugh. Back in my tent -- er, bedroom -- the sex was phenomenal, as Ivy/Sylvie's body slowly warmed, then became charged with new vigor.
Weird, right? That's what I thought at first. It's not. Pretending to be someone else is fun. It's exciting. It's hot. Trust me -- I'm a Ph.D. with seven published papers on the female orgasm.
Okay, I'm not. (That was last Thursday.) But listen to this guy: "Part of enjoying tantalizing sex is experiencing a level of escape," says Scott Haltzman, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University and the author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. "Role playing interweaves well with the natural tendency to dissociate from the daily demands of life. It helps your woman experience more liberation under the covers, because she can put herself mentally in a different, more exciting place."
In other words, men, if role playing helps her find new excitement, do whatever makes her happy. Is that too much to ask for an endless string of wild nights?
A few months earlier, Ivy and I had reached a point of mild desperation: Our sex life had grown, well, boring. Dr. Haltzman reassures me now that this is normal, "probably because dopamine levels [in the brain] diminish as you're exposed to something repeatedly." We humans are lucky, he says. We have imagination. "And exposure to anything novel stimulates feelings of excitement and attraction." Try role playing. You have nothing to lose except your identity for a couple of hours -- and some of your inhibitions.
Our adventure began when a friend of mine told me over lunch about a recent round of toe-curling sex, with him dressed as a pilot and his wife as a flight attendant. My buddy spoke freely; I was inwardly petrified. I couldn't possibly share my fantasies with Ivy, much less act them out. What would she think? My basic ideas -- doctor and nurse; professor and student -- were embarrassing enough, but my darker ones about rough sex frightened even me.
But I was normal. Nearly everyone has fantasies, and most of us are reluctant to explore them, says Brian Zamboni, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sex therapist at the University of Minnesota medical school. "We're simply embarrassed to disclose information -- sexual, personal information -- we normally don't share. We're afraid of being laughed at."
A couple of weeks after that lunch, Ivy and I were on my couch. We'd had a bottle of wine and were laughing easily, and I was in a courageous mood. I decided to bring up the idea of role playing. My heart raced, but the nervousness and adrenaline made me all the more excited to have this discussion.
After some hemming and hawing, I stammered something about playing a game. She said yes. "Can I blindfold you?" Again, yes. I found a scarf, tied it over her eyes, and we were off. I did my best Mickey Rourke with Kim Basinger in 91/2 Weeks, using honey and apricot preserves (wasn't much in the fridge). That was it. But it was fun, and a start.
Later we talked about it, and it turned out Ivy was relieved I'd brought it up. "And since we were in a long-term relationship," she says now, "role playing seemed like a natural extension of the trust we'd built."
You may have already role-played without knowing it: "Talking dirty or baby talk can be a type of role playing," Zamboni says.
Apparently I'd done pretty well for a rookie. When I talked to Brian Mustanski, Ph.D., a sex researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago and formerly at the Kinsey Institute, he offered a few suggestions.
Raise the idea in context. Play off a movie you've watched -- say, The Graduate. Wonder aloud what it would be like to sleep with Mrs. Robinson. "The best thing is if you get her to see the scenario as her idea," Dr. Haltzman says. Lift a line: "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me!" See what happens.
Start with "something positive and complimentary, like 'I think you're really sexy,' " Mustanski says. "Then say, maybe, 'I've been having this fantasy lately. How would you feel about trying it?' " Never mention boredom!
Don't be in a hurry. "Start off slowly," Zamboni says, "giving each person permission to laugh. Pretend. You may not be dressing up like a doctor, but you can talk like a doctor and go in and out of the role. Be spontaneous. Explore. Remember, there's no right way to do it. Have fun and a sense of humor."
"A few years ago," says a friend, Anna, 23, "I wasn't quite ready to role-play in real life. So I started out by doing some online role playing. It was the perfect way to go, because I could explore my own preferences anonymously and without any pressure."
Anna says she and her boyfriend have used role playing from the start. "Maybe the first date isn't the time or place to bring up ball gags," she says, "but I started hinting as soon as we began taking our relationship to a sexual level. I wouldn't want to find out years into a relationship that my boyfriend had been wanting to role-play all along."
Ivy and I proceeded gradually. Usually we'd begin with a story and only move into the role playing several sessions later. "We took baby steps," Ivy says. "And I enjoyed every little hurdle. Taking another step, pushing it a little -- that's the best part."
Butterflies can be a good thing; being nervous makes the role playing even better.
What is your partner like? "If she's very conservative, she may be more interested in a mild, better-accepted scenario," Dr. Haltzman says. Some common ones: victim and rescuer, teacher and student, nurse and patient, French maid and baron.
But keep this in mind: "Most people's fantasies aren't really safe," he says. "One of the biggest fallacies about sex and relationships is that they have to be fuzzy and comfortable. Sometimes it's important for them to be just slightly uncomfortable."
So say goodbye to yourself for a night, and let an alter ego have some fun. "Role playing is a comfortable way for couples to explore their sexuality from behind masks. Often the roles people enjoy most are the ones that are the most different from their normal lives," says Mustanski.
Ivy, for example, has a corporate job in a button-down firm but is into playing the slut with me. "I really liked the time I was a drugged-out whore wearing this tiny pink leather miniskirt with silver sparkles, with mascara down my cheek," she says. "It turns me on to become someone else for a little while."
Dr. Haltzman recalls one woman's post on his Web site: "I'll let my husband sleep with whatever woman he wants, so long as she has my Social Security number."
A woman I know, Suzanne, 29, has tried many classic scenarios: voyeurism, exhibitionism, playing a slut. "I like exhibitionism, because I know I'm hot, and it feels powerful to rub it in sometimes," she says with a wicked laugh. "And violent sex is great if you trust your partner."
Rough sex is a common female fantasy. "That doesn't mean rape, but it does involve the man's using a certain amount of force," Zamboni says. Combine assertiveness with tenderness. And have a code word that means, "Stop. Too much."
Ivy was grateful for my suggestion that we role-play. "I saw it as being for my enjoyment, as well," she says.
Fulfilling a fantasy is not kinky; it's intimate. "You're learning more -- and discovering something new and deep -- about your partner," Zamboni says. "So this can be an opportunity to build intimacy."
A warning: You may see each other in a different light, Mustanski says. Tell her you won't be offended by anything her character does, and ask for similar assurance from her. Consider a mild start: Our Men's Health poll shows that both men and women would love to try the simple "strangers in a bar" scenario. No costumes necessary.
If you're investing in a wardrobe, you do the shopping -- "and drop the coin, too," says Ivy. There's a big difference between a $40 geisha wig and a $10 wig. ("One looks like the real deal; the other looks like roadkill.") And don't expect sex on the spot, Ivy warns. "I needed about a week to come to grips with the Mary Magdalene outfit."
We're having fun. As Ivy says, "If role playing comes from a place of love and trust, there's really no downside to it. You just end up with a better sex life and maybe even a new little Angelina Jolie dominatrix outfit -- which is nice, because you can get him to clean the dishes before having sex!"
Okay, I've got to go now. The sink is full. But dessert is waiting. . . .