The Importance of Role-Play - Part 1

29 Jun 2013 | Makyo

Sexual maturation is a process that, I would argue, lasts easily ten years, if not more. Sure, the body may be just about done with the surge of hormones after a few short years, and you probably stop growing (and start shrinking) at around eighteen to twenty years old, but the process of maturation is far more than physical. Even if it were to take an additional year to digest each year of puberty's changes, a generous estimate, that still only gets you to about twenty. In my case, I would say that it took another five years to fully grow into myself as a sexual person; that is, as someone who was not only capable of having sex, but someone who was capable of sexual interaction, in all the ways that implies, with others around me.

Honestly, I matured as a sexual being primarily online, and it was through text and within the context of furry that I experienced many of my most formative sexual experiences. Role-play, TinySex, cybering, type-fucking, co-authoring erotica - whatever you want to call it, the sharing of sexual acts and ideas across distances and through text does play quite a role within the furry fandom. And, for better or for worse, I think I'm hardly alone in the style of my coming-of-age.

I rather like the term "coauthoring erotica", myself. It really does come down to a process of playing out a fictional sex scene, except that rather than being between two characters with only the agency of one author behind them, each character has their own player with that player's own agency driving their actions. However, given the personal nature of many people's characters, it's really more autobiographical than this makes it sound. It comes down to a sort of subjunctive autobiography: a way of describing what we would do in such a situation.

Role-play of this sort is a stellar example of the interaction between fantasy and real life, as one's actions in a primarily fantastical space can be tied to the way one feels and acts outside of that space. One notable example surrounds orgasm in sexual role-play, and the idea that if one is planning on orgasm in real life as well as online, they ought to happen at around the same time, thus "lining up" the sensation for both the player and the description of what's happening with the character. I'll be careful to note that this usually is discussed in the negative: due to the refractory period, many find it difficult to so actively consider sex as to continue, thus an awkward idle-out or perhaps excuses leading to ending the session early being seen as an indicator of getting off too soon.

This also plays into the interaction that is going on between the two players, who may strive to reach climax at the same time, consciously or not. This is aluxury of the medium, of course. The shared moment of climax is seen as an ideal. It isn't always as common in physical sexual encounters as it is online, but more on that later.

So how exactly does all of this work? There are obviously countless different styles of RP, and there is hardly one common anatomy to a session. However, there are several common tropes that show up in sexual scenes.

  • The Romantic: of course, sex and romantic love are often entangled, and this is hardly challenged by the fact that the sexual act happens to be taking place in a (semi-)fictional setting on the Internet. This is of notable importance for couples separated by long distances. It's one way to experience the shared pleasure of sex even when the physical aspect of that is not possible.
  • Not everything is so tied to two individuals in a romantic relationship, however. The Mysterious Stranger is a trope surrounding one-off encounters between people who don't necessarily know each other, similar to a one-night stand, but often with rather less flirting or drinking than might be involved in one of those offline. The common factor here is that the two individuals may not know much about each other than their interests, and the thus the flirting phase may be abbreviated (or even absent).
  • Between these two extremes lies the Just Between Friends trope, which involves a relationship between two or more people who, while they may not necessarily be in a romantic relationship, still participate in sexual role-play with each other. Sex is often part of friendships, but when the sex is light on consequences and heavy on a sense of fun, it's particularly easy to work into many more relationships than one might ordinarily, but again, more on that later.
  • The Sex Scene is just what it says on the tin. With role-play that lasts longer than a single session, such as those that involve last over the period of weeks involving several characters and participated in by several players, a sex scene can happen and still fit within the overall arc of the plot being enacted. This can be as vaguely defined as a sort of guild or school that generally does things together (again on Tapestries, the St. Mary's School for Wayward Furs is a good example) or as tightly controlled as playing out a plot defined in advance.

Again, these are hardly universal, though they may show up often enough to be seen as common tropes. There are many different variations, including even well-defined events centering around sexual RP such as Kitseve, a fertility festival held on the Tapestries MUCK once a year.

There are a few other commonalities that I've noticed in a lot of sexual role-play that are worth mentioning. For one, most every scene leads to climax, often for both (or all) parties, which is often less-common offline than it is online. This may be due in part to the sharper distinction between what is sexual and what isn't in a text-base role-playing situation than in person. Additionally, penetration of some sort seems to be more common online, as well, perhaps due to the relative ease of typing about the process as compared to the physical process itself, and perhaps due to it being "more interesting" compared to other forms of sexual interaction.

TinySex, sexual role-playing, has played a formative role for me in my own sexual maturation, leaving behind a sort of coming-of-age story of my own sexual maturation (a Bildongsroman, if you will) in the form of logs and memories. I don't think I'm alone, either, in finding sexual satisfaction in the form of writing about it with at least one other person. For many furries, even for many who just grew up with the Internet as their companion as furries are hardly alone in this act, sexuality burgeons easily online for many reasons.

One of these is transgression. It's interesting to note the ways in which we act that align with what we think of as popular culture, and the ways in which we transgress against that. Kink is, in a lot of ways, one of the bigger and more structured ways to do so. It goes beyond just performing sexual acts online, which is perhaps transgressive in its own way (though less so now than it used to be - the decline in use of the word 'cyber' is something of an indicator here). With role-play, consequences are greatly reduced from similar acts taking place offline, and so it acts as a facilitator in a way, allowing greater and wider exploration into interests and kinks that one might not have the chance to do otherwise. Further still, there are things one can do in TS that are simply out of the realm of possibility in real life, relying heavily on the framework that furry provides to guide these plot lines. From something as common-place as canine knots to acts such as vore, furry helps give these both context (canines have knots, predators eat prey), and structure (we are canines, we are predators or prey).

Another important reason is the concept of consent. I believe that defining consent on a situational basis is one of the biggest parts of leading a sex-positive life. With role-play, though, consent relies heavily on participation. Power dynamics are softened by the fact that not consenting does not necessarily put one in danger; not consenting can simply mean not participating. This isn't to say that there are no power dynamics, that there aren't any abusive relationships due to this reliance on participation as consent. Rather that there is an easy way out of a situation one doesn't want to be in: logging off. One avenue that this helps open up is a safe way of exploring consent and agency through fetishization of the same. Both can be played with safely as part of the plot of the scene.

Of course, it's also still personal interaction on a level that is deeply important for many. There's a lot to be said for shared experience, and thus a lot to be said for the comfort in shared fantasy. Writing a story and expressing one's fantasy in words does cover quite a bit of ground, but it lacks that interaction, and this co-authorship helps to provide that. The solo act of writing doesn't always satisfy that need.

I know I've been waxing rhapsodic about just how neat and awesome typesex is, and I really do enjoy it (or did, at least, it's been a few years since I've been really into it), but I can't posit an idea as something worth studying and only look at the good sides. It's not that there's some sort of huge, sinister aspect to RP, of course, but it's worth considering that the being able to work with fantasy in such a way is a means to having ideal sexual encounters.

The fact of the matter is that sexuality in real life rarely, if ever, includes such scripted perfection. We can't pause and decide what would be the ideal - hottest, most well written, best for furthering the plot - next step offline nearly so easily as we can online. There's a lot to be gained from realism in terms of getting off, what hurts, and all that goes into a sexual encounter. There is certainly a place for sex within a relationship, and it's worth the potential pain of real live physical contact to understand one's partner. The unrealistic understanding of consent in TS is strange, of course. It doesn't apply one hundred percent outside of that context. Still, it's hardly a bad thing to play around online. An outlet is an outlet, and we all need those.

Role-play is most certainly not a furry-only thing, of course. Intentional role-play has been a part of life for most of human existence, I'm sure, and sexuality is a logical extension of that. Even online, it's very much not restricted to furries alone: after all, the word cybersex wouldn't have been this big, scary thing for my parents to warn me about back in the late nineties without there being some type-fucking going on at the time. However, we already have the benefit of interacting through our intentionally constructed avatars in the context of furry. Adding sexuality in as an aspect only serves to further that for a great many people.