Why Sex Happens in Tabletop RPGs and How to Deal With It
We all know the scenario. Well-developed characters in a long-running campaign all gather for another epic stroke in a majestic story arc. In a moment of rest and relaxation, the players head to an inn for some drinks and maybe gather rumors. There’s lots of roleplaying, and there are interactions between each of the player characters and even more interactions between the player characters and non-player characters (NPCs). Drinks are consumed. Passions rise (or maybe boredom surfaces). And that’s when it happens.
One of your players wants their character to have sex, either with another player character or an NPC. Or maybe even themselves. Note: This article does not attempt to provide solutions for the last one.
There are a lot of possible responses, and almost all of them are uncomfortable. In the right group, with the right people—that magic combination, WHICH ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS —these moments can be special. They provide a valuable dimension to the emotional and psychological tapestry of our character’s lives. But since most of us don’t play in that “perfect group,” it’s often something very different.
For most of us, most of the time, it’s just plain creepy.
Or, sometimes, it’s juvenile. We all know how most male gamers can be when confronted with imaginary boot-knocking. It’s hard to invoke romance when it must compete with a steady flow of sex-related Monty Python jokes.
So how do we mitigate this? How do we include sex in our otherwise low-sex roleplaying sessions? I’m here to help.
First, let’s identify how it usually erupts.
Reasons Players Inject Sex Into RPGs
1) They Are Practicing for the Real Thing
The players are trying to explore social avenues that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Translated: nerds trying to get laid in an RPG. This isn’t a slam on nerds or an insinuation that only nerds play RPGs. However, let’s be real—nerds often play RPGs to get much-needed practice at interacting in ways which they might be too anxious to try in real life. There’s nothing wrong with this—even non-nerds do this and in even more embarrassing ways. Ever practice a speech in front of a mirror? There you go.
2) It's a Safe Place to Experiment
Players are exploring their own sexuality in ways they wouldn’t in the real world because of social stigma or moral taboo. In other words, if you can’t explore your fetish for bisexual tentacle vore sex in the real world, you can certainly try it in a roleplaying game environment. Although, your fellow players may not be so inclined. But it doesn’t have to be quite so . . . offbeat, for it to be an uncomfortable experience for you (the gamemaster) and your fellow players.
3) For the Sake of Narrative
Your players are normal, well-adjusted individuals, who, during the game, have found themselves making realistic, expected roleplaying responses to specific situations. These responses have caused them to make decisions that have resulted in sexual congress between their character and other characters. This is how it happens in that ideal, magical game, which you only get to have once.
Why Is This Important?
So, what can we take away from this grossly simplistic summary of “sexual player types”? We see that, for most players, they either can’t have sex or can’t have the kind of sex that they would like to have. The roleplaying game becomes their liberating open door to experience things that they can’t experience in the real world.
But, hey. Wait a minute.
Isn’t that what roleplaying games are supposed to do?
So, what’s the point of this article?
The point is that despite all of this high concept roleplaying posturing that, simply put, sex is icky. Maybe not for you, the person having it. But it’s icky for everyone else that is not having it. And not everyone may share your tentacle vore bisexual BDSM fantasy, or whatever dance steps make a tango for you. And that’s ok—we don’t all have to agree, and to force other people to experience things that you find gratifying but they may find distasteful is wrong.
So what are we to do? How do we find a middle ground in which everyone gets what they want? There are many possible solutions, but the four that jump out at me are as follows.
How to Deal With Sex Scenes in RPGs
1) Gloss Over It
Innuendo, metaphor, analogy. Find ways to shortcut or paraphrase “the unholy deed” without going into details. Saying, “you experience a night of the kind of bliss you’ve long dreamed about,” is a lot better than going into a half-hour interaction about the mighty knight who wishes to be deflowered by a midget sorcerer, while being tied up and forced to listen to Vivaldi . . . sorry, sorry. I got carried away there. You get the point. Reduce the long, icky parts to a short flowery summary that clearly says they “got the job done” without forcing the rest of the players to witness the messy parts.
2) Slap Them With Reality
In truth, most adventurers in most RPGs have been riding a horse on a wilderness trail for days before they reach the inn (and potential sex partners). They’ve been fighting orcs and skeletons and undead tax attorneys. They are going to smell. They are going to be dirty and potentially contagious. And the inn in which they have chosen to rest, depending on the setting, may or may not have the appropriate facilities to get cleaned up and be made presentable to their new future ex-partner. Denying them their stolen cherries might also become the opportunity to impart a valuable hygiene lesson to your less-inclined fellow players. Just sayin’.
3) Go for It
If the group is right, and you remain adult and sane about it, it can be rewarding. Or, at the very least, incredibly hilarious. Who hasn’t rolled two dice to determine the size of their genitals? I know that I . . . well, I heard that’s what they do all the time. In other places. Not my table. Uhmmm. Nonetheless, embracing the weirdness might be a great way to break the ice, or at the very least, provide a good example of “why we are not going to do that again.” Just be careful to respect other players. Which brings me to #4.
4) Just Say No
Sometimes, it’s just not appropriate and won’t be well received. If the player insists, reduce it to such a kludgy metaphor that no gratification can come from it.
“I try to have sex with the maiden.”
“You have sex with the maiden. The next morning comes, and you are presented with a bill.” The end.
This last solution is the safest route and the one that leads to the lowest probability of an uncomfortable or compromising interaction.
So there you have it—sex and roleplaying games. I’d appreciate you taking a moment to comment below and let me know what you thought.