Is it play acting?

“…is there some “playacting” there with the de riguer props (whips and crops, bindings and gags, collar and leash) and the formalized play of rituals; the sub speaking only when spoken to or given permission, lowering of his eyes and made to kneel, bowing down…?”

I think I understand what you are getting at, but ‘play acting’ rubs me up the wrong way. Are vanilla people ‘play acting’ when they dress up in sexy lingerie or when they talk dirty or rub up all over their partner? Or are they just expressing aspects of their sexuality?

It’s not really an on/off situation either. We have an entire spectrum of human emotions and activities to play with and most of us run the gamut.

Interestingly, I had a similar conversation with a lovely newbie submissive I met in LA. He was asking whether BDSM ‘stuff’ was ‘role play’ (same gist as ‘play acting’). At some point (after many drinks and lots of talk), I could *feel* our dynamic even though he was not a potential for me, it was just ‘there’. I demonstrated snapping my fingers, pointing to the floor beside where I was sitting and saying ‘Kneel’, and I asked him if he thought it would feel like role play if I did that. I could tell that he was shocked by his own reaction, he would’ve done it in a heartbeat, he *wanted* to do it even though I was just demonstrating. BOOM: Light bulb.

I wasn’t ‘acting the dominant’ nor was his desire to do what I told him about ‘acting the submissive’. I was showing him what it looked like when I asserted control, and his intrinsic desire was to submit to it. The fact that I was [demonstrating] telling him to do something that had the trappings of BDSM (vs, say, telling him to do a soft shoe shuffle) put that request into a sexual context.

When there’s some D/s dynamic between you, the props and the rituals are not ‘the thing’. They simply provide a way to express what you feel or they are tools to get what you want or symbols to reinforce what you have.

I will say that there IS an aspect of theatricality to it. I can put on ‘bitch domme’ as well as anyone, and obviously that’s not how I walk around it the world (nor do vanilla women walk around as ‘sexy vixen’), but if I put her on, she is less ‘a costume’ and more ‘an externalisation of a part of me that exists’. I’m essentially letting her off the leash vs ‘pretending to be her’.

I do think that there are plenty of people for whom BDSM is mostly about role playing, and there’s nothing wrong with that: It’s fun and awesome. But for me it doesn’t work that way.

For me, when it’s BDSM in a D/s context, it’s an expression of love and affection that celebrates our respective places in our dynamic, and I don’t ‘play act’ love and affection. Of course I don’t.

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  1. Yes. This. It’s real.

    Apart from anything else, the primal parts of the human brain isn’t complicated enough to make the distinction.

    Power exchanged is real power.

    1. I think you touched on something there: even if you are play acting, if you can touch that primal part of the brain, then you can make it real.

      I think it’ similar to how people react to a roller coaster or a scary movie: It’s REAL fear, not ‘play acting’ at fear. The brain bypasses the higher thought processes and goes straight for the primal reactions.


  2. I think and I’m being kind here ( Ferns hush!) there is sometimes a degree of Role Play involved in some cases, I’m not really “Ice Queen” material as you’ve probably gathered, but on occasion I have played the role for us both to enjoy that particular dynamic/aspect of D/s. So there is that aspect.
    But as Ferns pointed out I am not sure if that’s acting or just a part of me that doesn’t usually stick her pointy little nose into my normal D/s “stuff”

    TLDR dunno

    1. I agree with you. And I think various people do various degrees of it.

      Proper role playing looks super fun and I really wish I could do it without feeling like a dick. But I DO feel like a dick, like some self conscious child in a school play.

      BUT I can exaggerate some aspect of myself for kicks, and if it’s working, it will ‘switch on’ that part of myself and that flips it over from ‘a role’ into something ‘real’.

      I suspect the two things don’t look much different from the outside, but they FEEL different to me.


  3. Dominance is real. Submission is real. Desire is real.

    Slavery, in the bdsm realm is not real, but it can real pretty darn close and can be treated as real to those who have agreed to itt. But the agreement makes it not totally real.

    There can be role play, as in boss/underling, nurse/patient, guardess/prisoner, etc, which might be fun.

    1. ‘Real’ is an interesting term as I keep thinking about it.

      I’m an introvert, but I can play an extrovert. I do it all the time, I’m good at it. It was required 90% of the time in my last job.

      That extroverted me was real enough, I wasn’t play acting, but I was exaggerating a part of myself that didn’t reflect how I normally was. This feels like a similar thing.

      People are complex, have multiple facets and we choose, constantly, when and how to express those facets.


  4. This is a really interesting point to ponder. I can see that people may enter into the role and be acting. Look at all the actors, not to mention the entertainment industry, we have in our society.

    But that does not mean doing something is acting. I am a prime example, as I found that in high school, I could not act. I actually froze on stage and had to walk off the last time I tried.

    And when I have tried role playing in the bedroom, it simply doesn’t work for me sexually. Shrug.

    But I am totally into being submissive. Of course, you said it much better, all I am doing is saying, thanks for saying it!!


    1. I’m with you on the ‘role playing in the bedroom doesn’t work for me’ thing. I feel too silly. I wish I didn’t. I think it would be really fun.

      And you’re welcome *smile*.


  5. Hi Ferns:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I can certainly relate to the question you pose as the trappings of play do seem a bit theatrical sometimes. But the sub you met reacted to you on an instinctual level. A very real part of you touched a very real part of him that was lying dormant, waiting to be awakened. Sweet!


  6. A great discussion on a fair question. As to tools, props and costumes, humans have been employing those since time immemorial. Pre-historic shamans and chiefs wore emblems of rank. Medieval kings and nobles used the same to establish authority and aspirants to the throne would quickly grab those emblems to establish bona fides. How many of us would recognize a high court judge or a CEO or a cop, if not wearing their uniform?

    Sure, the authority of a BDSM D/s relationship extends only as far as consent, but I’d say that is more or less true of any relationship between humans.

    How’s that for pompous, gas baggery?


    1. Interesting perspective and I like how you equate it with how we recognise many kinds of vanilla authority through their ‘props’. And sometimes they have some frankly ridiculous ones: 18th century wigs and gowns are STILL worn in modern courtrooms here…!

      The main difference being between legally binding authority vs personal authority. But I see your point.


  7. Great post. It has also never felt like acting to me, even the times when it was awkward or when I felt tentative. I go into a space that is totally genuine, a part of me like any other. That said, I have found, funnily enough, that learning things like improv acting and public speaking help me to better *express* those parts of myself that have been hidden away by culture and circumstance for so long. I do take an artistic pride sometimes in building a scene, executing it, evoking a feeling a response. But acting? The connotations of that world also rub me the wrong way. It doesn’t feel anything like that.

    1. I agree (and thanks!).

      For me, I think if it really felt like acting, it means the energy is all wrong and I’d probably bail until I figured out what wasn’t working.

      I DO think that I have a pretty good line in ‘fake it ’til you make it’ that I’ve been practising in all areas of my life since I was a teenager. I wouldn’t call that ‘acting’ either, though some might.


  8. “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances,
    And one man in his time plays many parts”

    Each of us fills many roles in our lives. That doesn’t make a particular role fake or inauthentic. We simply emphasize certain parts of ourselves on certain occasions and with certain people.

    1. Yes, that!

      I think the ‘trappings’ (if you use them) can make it seem like donning a character, and in truth, I imagine there are many who DO do that (many pro-Dommes come to mind here first).

      But in an actual long term relationship, that’s just not realistic or sustainable.


  9. if I put her on, she is less ‘a costume’ and more ‘an externalisation of a part of me that exists’. I’m essentially letting her off the leash vs ‘pretending to be her’.

    Thank you for stating it so well!

  10. I can put on ‘bitch domme’ as well as anyone, […] but if I put her on, she is less ‘a costume’ and more ‘an externalisation of a part of me that exists’. I’m essentially letting her off the leash vs ‘pretending to be her’.

    That was really well put. I… I’m annoyed that I really can’t even add to this.

  11. I don’t think I can play at being submissive – it’s very much a real and serious part of me. My casual partner – I’m not sure. Our thing has developed into something more D/s like. He’s different, more dominant than he used to be but because of that I do think it’s a role for him.

    1. Ahh, interesting.

      I do think that some people can start with play acting and ‘find themselves’ if you know what I mean. Perhaps you are drawing his dominance out in a way that he hasn’t experienced before and he feels more and more free to express it.

      I know that when it’s right with my partner, I ‘relax’ into my dominance more and more, trust him more, feel freer to ‘be myself’ and in a lot of ways that makes me ‘more dominant’.

      I do hope it ends up working well for both of you.


  12. There isn’t a objective answer, for me just another side of my personality / sexuality that I can’t express or experience in day to day life.

    Others might not see it the same way but both are valid and requires introspection and exploring it for yourself to be content with yourself and not compare how you relate to your sexuality with others.

    For some just filling the role is ok and others, like myself see it as an expanded view of who we are. Both are valid.

    1. I agree that there is no objective answer, and I also agree that both (or anywhere in between) are valid as long as all parties are happy.

      I think the only time it becomes a problem is when there is a mismatch because it can impact outcomes and expectations, and while one might thing it’s EASY to know for yourself what you are expressing, I don’t think that’s always the case.

      I keep thinking of ‘submissive fetishists’ (or ‘dominant fetishists’) who really like the *idea* of submission or dominance, and will play that role as long as it fits their exact idea of ‘what D/s is, how it looks, how it plays out’.

      For the submissive fetishist, the fact is that they aren’t really submitting at all, and if the dominant moves ‘off script’, it falls apart. Often there’s no malice or bad intent in it, but some of them don’t at all realise what the problem is: thing is that their relationships will fail over and over because their partner ‘isn’t doing it right’ or ‘isn’t dominant enough’ or some other thing.

      THEN it can become a problem.


  13. I hate to do the “me too” comment, but this does sum it up perfectly.

    I can put on ‘bitch domme’ as well as anyone, […] but if I put her on, she is less ‘a costume’ and more ‘an externalisation of a part of me that exists’. I’m essentially letting her off the leash vs ‘pretending to be her’.

  14. Thanks for putting it so clearly.

    I agree that although the props and rituals are not “the thing” they can be important. Within a relationship they can resonate with memories and accrued meaning – both emotional and sexual.

    1. I think you’re right. They CAN be important, and part of compatibility is figuring out whether the ones that are important to one person are ALSO important to the other.

      And of course there are the ones that become important because you MAKE them so in your relationship (from your wording, I suspect those are the ones you meant). And boy, can they ever be powerful *smile*.


  15. “…but if I put her on, she is less ‘a costume’ and more ‘an externalization of a part of me that exists’. I’m essentially letting her off the leash vs ‘pretending to be her’.”

    Damn! That’s good! Excellent explanation!

    ~ Vista

  16. I think I understand what you are getting at, but ‘play acting’ rubs me up the wrong way. Are vanilla people ‘play acting’ when they dress up in sexy lingerie or when they talk dirty or rub up all over their partner? Or are they just expressing aspects of their sexuality?

    This! If it feels real to the people involved, then it’s just as real as any other expression of a relationship.

  17. Do the interactions define the relationship or does the relationship define the interactions?

    Does the distinction even matter?

    Perhaps it all begins and ends with the desire for a meaningful connection, with us finding different means to agree on a handshake; be that conversation, being hurt, dancing in the moonlight, or committing to be choked and kicked in the balls.

    You always know when play is an expression of some personal truth even if you don’t wish to publicly admit it.

    If play becomes an expression of some shared personal truth then it’s done its job and whether it’s “play acting” or not is irrelevant.


    Occasional Poster Person

    1. I think between people, as long as it makes them happy, it doesn’t matter.

      But I think when an outsider looks in and goes ‘isn’t it just play acting?’ that it’s reasonable to bristle at the characterisation, especially if it’s fundamentally NOT that for you.

      “If play becomes an expression of some shared personal truth then it’s done its job and whether it’s “play acting” or not is irrelevant.”

      *smile* That’s a lovely way to put it, and I agree.


  18. As someone new to the world of kink and bdsm I have struggled with the real vs. play acting. In wanting to be GGG for my partner, I dove in and started learning and reading as much as I could. I recognized a certain kinship with the dominant woman I read and would describe myself as a strong controlling female in most aspects of my life. But when it came to sex, I started from vanilla, and despite my partner wanting me to be his domme, he didn’t buy it when I tried a scene for him. He bared his soul, bless his heart, about his kinks but I think his expectations were so slanted from years of watching porn solo, so I don’t know if he realized it but he was watching “play-acting” all those years. Everything I read told me that I need to be genuine and focus on what I want and enjoy, so even when I figured that much out, because it wasn’t what he wanted- he was disappointed. Topping from the bottom? I think so! So it feels like a catch-22. I am not a domme like in pornos, so if I act like one, he can’t get into the headspace that allows him to enjoy it, so it’s gone and the scene is a failure on both our parts. But if I really do want to control him and dominate him in MY way, it’s not what he was expecting and doesn’t work for him. So, the play acting question is an astute one, most men don’t realize that’s probably all they’ve ever seen?

    1. Oh gosh, I feel for you.

      Firstly let me say that your experience is NOT uncommon.

      Men who have spent years fantasising about ‘femdom’ and then finally finding a woman who will be GGG for them are often THE WORST for exactly the reasons you describe!

      He’s not submissive.

      He’s a submissive fetishist.

      He wants a femdom scene like wot is in his head (and as you say, that probably came from porn).

      He has fooled himself into believing that this is about ‘giving you control’.

      You and I both know that’s not true AT ALL.

      It might be true if he found a woman for whom his fantasy is EXACTLY HER FANTASY :/.

      What he REALLY wants is a service top who will pretend to be a femdom in exactly the way/s he wants and who will pretend that doing what he wants is actually all about HER because that’s how his fantasies work, when it’s clearly and completely all about him.

      You can’t win here. Truly. And it’s NOT YOUR FAULT (putting that in caps because most women who strike this feel like it is, though it sounds to me like you have figured it all out and know this already).

      And he’s not a bad guy or a bad person. He just doesn’t get it at the most fundamental level.

      There’s no easy way to fix this. The two obvious choices (acting as a service top or talking about what your *actual* domination looks like and see if he will come on board) sound like they have already gone nowhere. Unless you think more talking will move it forward, there’s not really anywhere to go with those.

      Which then begs the question whether you are simply incompatible in this area :(.

      And in terms of ‘play acting’ (back to the post), service topping an entire ‘scene’ that includes mood and attitude and behaviour (vs just activities) is totally play acting and that’s fine if you find it fun and enjoy that stuff, but it’s actually really hard to do and impossible to sustain if you don’t.

      I wish I had some fabulous ideas for you, but most of them are a bit crap (like if you’re open, you can go out and seek others for the D/s part, but I figure if you WERE, you’d have thought of that already).

      I wish you (both) the best of luck.


      1. Thanks for the reply- it validated some of my revelations or realizations. We’ve had some talks and discussed how much we want to stay together but realize there are a lot incompatibilities in the bedroom. So we’ve talked about opening up our relationship as a way to get our needs met in that area. I feel like my needs are much simpler than his, but it’s also because of the sad state of my libido post-menopause. That is my responsibility to deal with, and I will. One of his kinks is to “service” me, exquisitely, so I am very lucky in that regard, and probably won’t need much more than that.

        Because I hate to see such a wonderful man spend so many hours of his life isolated from the human race and jerking off to porn on his computer, he’s agreed to full-time chastity. It was his idea early in the relationship but again, his idea of the training he would be getting was quite different than mine. (This was how I came to discover Thumper’s wonderful writing, and got to know Drew, and many of the “crew” that have helped me understand this lifestyle.) It’s a case of be careful what you ask for becuase you just might get it! I can’t control his kinks and fetishes, but I guess we’ll see what orgasm control does for us. I wish that I could have a conversations with Thumper’s wife Belle because we have some things in common. She too is not interested in engaging in some of the kinks that do it for Thumper, but he always writes about how horny he is for her and he seems to be ready, willing, and able to fuck her on demand. That’s the issue in our bedroom, so if I start to miss a nice hard one, that’s when I’ll have to go outside, with his permission. Did I mention he also has a cuckhold fetish? I’ve never come from PIV so I might not miss it that much in the end.

        It is a relief not to have to “play act” any more- there were times when I felt like I was doing all the work. The bottom line is that we communicated openly and honestly about everything and reached an agreement together. While I have always been conditioned to not want to disappoint my partner and to take care of his needs, I also know I have to be true to myself first.

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