Playing With Sexual Arousal

Playing With Sexual Arousal

Players may engage in erotic and amorous interaction, in character, in different ways (Stenros 2013). Sometimes the design of the larp tries to avoid arousal, especially due to safety concerns, but there are a growing number of Nordic style larps designed for strong emotions, including sexual arousal, and players steering for that experience.

The question is, how to successfully indulge in that excitement?

Sexual role-playing has been addressed in Nordic larp for the last 20 years (Brown & Schrier 2018). Harviainen notes (2019) that in larps the role-playing activity is in the centre, contrary to BDSM role-play, without digging too deep into solely sexual aspects.

I will question this conclusion and lay out methods by which we can explore the sexual dimensions of larp.

A new trend has emerged in Nordic larp where erotic action seems to be at the core of the player experience. For instance, the many re-runs of Inside Hamlet, Baphomet, Just a Little Lovin’ and the 2019 larp House of Craving have shown that larpers want and are capable of playing with sexual arousal and erotic action. I choose to call these player interactions Embodied Erotic Role-Play — they can be found in larp, in BDSM, and also in private settings or pro-domme settings. They might happen in any larp, especially if the theme is erotic.

Representative symbolic methods, where the player is not meant to feel anything, are not included in this article, nor verbal methods of playing out erotic lust. Of course, sexual arousal might happen because of fantasies, the right person, that adrenalin rush you feel when you are scared, the fetish of larp costumes, etc. But this article is about the times when all players included want to play out (and get immersed in) sexual arousal.

My thinking around sexual arousal is inspired by the sexologist Denise Medico (2019).

There are three steps in my method of handling sexual arousal in character:

First, you need to “feel deep” about what you really want for yourself. Next, pregame (and postgame) the people involved in Embodied Erotic Role-Play should communicate and negotiate, try to “talk true” as much as possible, and then find ways to “adjust arousal” during playtime.

Feel Deep

If you jump directly into negotiating and calibrating with your co-players, you might not realize what you really need. It is easy to say do everything you want to me and hope for as strong emotions as possible. But what would be your most erotic and arousing scene? You need some time by yourself that could be provided during the workshop: close your eyes, breath deep, consider what do you need now? What do you see yourself doing in this larp, with this person or these people?

I find Betty Martin’s Wheel of consent really useful for this phase: Before you start communicating offgame with the one(s) you want erotic role-play with you should be able to answer these questions for yourself:

  1. How would you like to touch me? (take)
  2. How would you like me to touch you? (accept)

You need to be able to allow (or not allow) requests from others of touching you, or how others want you to touch them (serve). This is to understand if you are doing your erotic runtime actions for yourself or the one who ask.

When you know a little more of what you want, you may play The 3-Minute Game (booklet available in many languages, including Danish, English and French) in the workshop with several different people, so that you are more secure and aware before actual erotic negotiations. It is a good exercise to do with the one(s) you plan to heighten in-game sexual arousal with.

Betty Martin's Wheel of Consent.

Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent.

Talk True (Negotiate Hard)

A couple of methods have been used in many larp workshops (Pan, House of Craving) to create a brave and loving mode for talking and playing more intimately: The loong hugs stretching into awkwardness and staring with acceptance and love into each other’s eyes. Preferably with many more than the ones you have planned to play sex with.

I have made a model (Grasmo, 2019) about how immersion into the fiction and sexual arousal may interact. You can use this when you negotiate Embodied Erotic Role-Play: Would you like to play out your erotic scene in a performative or narrative-driven way. Look at the model (2) to have a tool for more concrete discussions about what you want (draw it on a napkin for yourself) — do you want immersion into the character’s erotic history, without much sexual arousal at the player’s end, or is sexual play the core of your play?

Here are questions inspired by Midori (2017).

  • What mood do we want to reach? (sexual, erotic, performative, immersive/narrative). Think in more detail what the atmosphere between you should be like. If you draw this on a napkin, you can also stick a straw through which may symbolize maximum/minimum physical contact.
  • How do we want to reach that mood? Share goes and no-goes, mentally and physically.
  • How do I hear and see if you are having a good or bad time? Show with the body language of your character.
  • How do we escalate or de-escalate? Also agree on if you want to play safe (no one gets their feelings or bodies hurt) or brave (we know it is risks involved, and we will be there for each other if something goes wrong).

A part of the negotiation should be practical: Try out some scenes together. To create a brave space (Friedner 2019) go further than you think you would go in-game. Test out different ways of urging each-other on, gently stopping, and hard stops. Change who initiates. A version of this was done in the workshop at Vedergällingen.

Arousal enhanced by the alibi of characters and fiction

Adjust Arousal

The game has started, you are in character and you’re ready for some hot play. It may be just a lustful story, but just as often an extremely abusive and negative narrative may make you happy and horny (See Montola 2010). Remember, plans or consent can always be granted or revoked, because of what you (playing your character) want now. In the worst case you can always walk out of the scene. In the best case, continue to climax. Here are some tips to adjust sexual arousal up or down.

If it feels too much for you, this is some suggestions to minimize sexual arousal:

  • Do not immerse: make theatrical pre-planned scenes and use symbolic representational techniques.
  • No or very little touching, avoid eye contact. Use instead a lot of words to stay in your head, not your body.
  • Rush into and out of scenes without feeling them.
  • Play on preferences and kinks you do not share.
  • Think of other things, don’t be present. But be present enough to know if you allow, take, serve or accept what is happening. Stop if it is not what you like.

Of course it is always a good idea to take an off-game break to adjust, but also to be able to escalate or not while staying in character. This might give you another kind of control so that you can feel safe to explore sexual arousal. Talking about bleed after the game is important (Waern 2011) to understand and adjust your arousal to real life but I will not cover that in this article.

If you are interested in erotic role-playing you probably don’t want to minimize the sexual arousal. If you’re steering for that sexual transgressiveness (Stenros & Bowman, 2018), you can train for skills to stay in your state of sexual arousal, while you are in character. Actually sharing the imaginative space together, as inter-immersion (Pohjola 2014), might help you spiral lust upwards. It does not have to be unhelpful to stay in character: normally fantasies help us closer to orgasm, not further away.

You may heighten ingame arousal during your intimate scenes using some of these tips for erotic and sexual embodied play:

  • Use your breathing. Both to breath deep into your own body, your own loins, and to breathe fire into the other players(s) lust. Sounds and touch go straight into our brain, without filter. Alter with breathing “dog breath”, fast and shallow, it will make you more horny (and maybe a bit dizzy).
  • Lock eyes with each other, touch, stand close.
  • Be mindful, focus on breath, the other(s), the sounds. Make lustful sounds and sighs. Remember to use a lot of time (good practise for real-life sex), do not rush.
  • Eroticize the other and the situation, even if you do not find them attractive out-of game. They are your porn now. Hopefully, they will also give you something that turns you on, as you have planned.
  • Play on your preferences and kinks, build them into your character, maybe even with a strong backstory on why it means so much (sexually) to your character.
  • Make rules to keep the space and the play both safe and brave: For instance with other persons (lustfully) watching, with clear rules (like no clothes off, not touching sexual parts).
  • Stay in the mode you trained for: clear, detailed communication, both with facial expressions, body language and words. The perfect thing about having larp as the frame for erotic interaction is that in most larps you cannot actually performs sex acts ingame — therefore you do not have to act on it. This is a gift that can transfer knowledge, skills and emotions into your real life sexual relationship(s).

Bibliography

Sarah Lynne Bowman (2018): Immersion and Shared Imagination in Role-Playing Games. Role-Playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations. Routledge.

Ashley Brown & Karen Schrier (2018): Sexuality and the Erotic in Role-Play. Role-Playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations. Routledge.

Anneli Friedner (2019): Brave space — Some Thoughts on Safety in Larps. Nordiclarp.org. https://nordiclarp.org/2019/10/07/the-brave-space-some-thoughts-on-safety-in-larps/. Ref Feb 29, 2020.

Hanne Grasmo (2019): Arousal in Character: Embodied Erotic Role-play in larp and BDSM. World Association for Sexual Health Biannual Conference/International Journal for Sexual Health, Special Edition.

J. Tuomas Harviainen & Tania Sihvonen (2019): My Games are… “Unconventional” — A Literary Cross-examination of Game and BDSM Studies. 3rd Sexual Conference: Play, Turku

Betty Martin (2016): Wheel of Consent: The Three Minute Game. https://bettymartin.org/download-wheel/. Ref Feb 29, 2020.

Midori (2017): Forte Femme Workshop. https://www.facebook.com/PlanetMidori. Ref Feb 29, 2020.

Denise Medico (2019): Orientation toward Eroticism: A Critically-Based Proposition for Sex Therapists. World Association for Sexual Health Biannual Conference/International Journal for Sexual Health, Special Edition.

Markus Montola (2010): The Positive Negative Experience in Extreme Role-Playing. Proceedings from Digra 14

Jaakko Stenros (2013): Amorous Bodies in Play: Sexuality in Nordic Live Action Role-Playing Games. Screw The System — Explorations of Spaces, Games and Politics through Sexuality and Technology. Arse Elektronika.

Jaakko Stenros & Sarah Lynne Bowman (2018): Transgressive Role-Play. Role-Playing Game Studies: Transmedia Foundations. Routledge.


Authors

Hanne Grasmo
Hanne Grasmo (b. 1966) is a larp designer and sociologist from Norway. She published Larp – Levende Rollespill (1998), co-founded Knutepunkt, codesigned Just a Little Lovin’, and recently started her PhD on role-play and sexual arousal.
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