Dear Kiki: Conquering role-play stage fright

Dear Kiki
Questions about love and sex in the city of Iowa City can be sent to Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.

Dear Kiki,

I like including role-play scenarios in my sex life. My problem is that even if it’s something that’s been previously discussed with my partner, when I make the first move––say the first line, put on an outfit––I am overcome with the same embarrassment of performance that, say, watching open mics or bad theater gives me. It seems showy, so I get shy and silly while standing there in front of my partner. I don’t have this problem with role play if I’m not initiating, but I’d really like to make some of my fantasies come true, too, not just be a participant in someone else’s. Is it possible to overcome this?

Signed, Shy Player

Hey Kitten,

Sure. Lots of things are possible to overcome, depending on the circumstances and how you’re prioritizing your resources. I think the primary problem here is that something in you is saying that the role you’re taking on is fake and that you are an impostor. Before we get into how to overcome your feeling of stage fright, I have a more short-term suggestion. Talk to your partner about your difficulties, and then suggest a fantasy that involves them initiating. That way you get to experience having control without putting yourself in a position that will make you self-conscious. This will also clarify whether initiating the fantasy or realizing it is tripping you up.

Next step is to investigate why you feel like an impostor when you initiate. Do you feel a similar kind of nervousness in other contexts? Do these areas have something in common, like violating a gender norm? See if one of these areas feels a little less fraught, and identify a few small ways you can expose yourself to your feelings of embarrassment. This could even mean going to an open mic or participating in some “bad theater” if these would terrify you less than bad sex. Doing a little homegrown exposure therapy and a little practice could make a world of difference. Even doing a “dry run” of a scenario with your partner could help you form accurate expectations for your performance on opening night.

Finally, impostor syndrome is something that can affect people who haven’t been represented in their fields. If you haven’t seen someone doing what you want to do, whether a job or a sex act, you might feel silly doing it for the first time. I would try and seek out people you identify with doing the things you’d like to do—whether in erotica, porn or at a local kink demonstration. The more you can see it, the more you can be it. Remember that sharing your fantasy will make you vulnerable in new ways, and it makes sense that you feel nervous about how you’ll come off. If your partner wants to play with you through your nervousness, you have a connection worth cherishing, and if they can’t, then that says more about them than it says about your performance. Best of luck and have fun! xoxo, Kiki

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