When the DND Game Gets Raunchy: How Do You Deal With Sex in DND?

"Just so you know, if the game gets sexual, I'll probably bow out." My DM looked at me, his eyes suddenly full of panic. "What do you mean?" he asked. "I mean, if it goes sexual in a way that doesn't service the plot or make sense, I'm out. Sex in DND is just not my taste." "I can't really control what other players do." "I'm not asking you to, I"m just telling you what I will do."

Sex in DND and Roleplaying

I like to think of D&D as an incredibly inclusive hobby. Roleplaying is, in truth, really about human connection. It's about telling fantastic stories with our friends. If it wasn't, we'd be at home, writing a book. But one reason D&D has been traditionally considered difficult to get into for women is because it has a tendency to become sexually charged. And of course it does. Fantasy has sex. That being said, no one wants to feel unsafe.

For men, these sexual innuendos were often just juvenile humor; humor that we all have. But for women, especially when outnumbered by men, these experiences can feel like a hostile act. Either the woman has to laugh and go along with it, or she risks being judged as stuck up or prudish.

And that's not to lay the blame on men. Certainly women can make these things sexually charged as well -- and make men around them feel uncomfortable. In fact, in recent years, most of the groups that I've seen turn sexual were mostly women. Being sexual in a group is not a bad thing if everyone is on board; after all, we are all adults. It's a bad thing when someone else becomes uncomfortable. And that's the problem: making sure that everyone feels comfortable. 

Let's be honest: ultimately most fantasy stories that we grew up with were about a man saving a beautiful woman. Fantasy is, in some ways, inextricably entwined with sex to our subconscious. And it takes some extra work to break out of that habit. 

D&D has the unique advantage and disadvantage of putting us in uncomfortable positions. When a player "hits" on our character, it can be difficult to see the line; are they really just roleplaying, or are they doing something sexual to get a reaction out of us? And it's that's the gray area that becomes so dangerous.

Sex and Laziness

What does a writer do when they want a woman to have a traumatic encounter? Rape. And usually an attempted rape at that -- they want to flirt wih danger without having to deal with the natural consequences for the character. Sex isn't just a problem because it makes people uncomfortable; it's a problem because it often represents lazy writing.

A sexy elf isn't compelling, even if it may be fun to describe; it's expected. But what about an elf consumed with sickness and decay? This will engender just as volatile (if not more) reactions from your players, without  just succumbing to the shorthand of sex = entertainment. 

A Matter of Awareness

"I'm startled, and wounded. I don't think to use my dagger, instead I use a defensive spell: charm."

"He fails his check. You wink at him playfully and bend down a little to show your cleavage."

"I what?"

"Huh? You said you charmed him."

"That's not what charm means!"

"It isn't!?"

Certain things simply go past certain people. I've never had a female DM assume that the "Charm" spell is necessarily sexual in nature, but every male DM I've ever had considers it sexual. Why? Who knows. Right now, a few DMs are actually going to go to their 5e handbook ready to insist that charm is, at very least, enticing. But, in fact:

The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. When the spell ends it knows it has been charmed.

In one campaign, I charmed a Kobold. The female DM said, "In his language, he squeaks, Holy shit! Ned! I haven't seen you in forever! Let's go get a drink."

But in another, I charmed a guard, and immediately showed him my breasts. Why the difference? It just lies in a set of assumptions: a lack of awareness that sexual content can make people uncomfortable, and the idea that everyone is seeing things from the same perspective. And in the above scenario, I wasn't bothered, just confused. My character was an awkward, naive waif, not a femme fatale. 

If I hadn't been in a comfortable setting, with a good group though, I'd have to wonder whether it was accidental or whether it was intentional.

You know.

Because of the implication.

There's No Wrong Way to Play

"What's your group doing?" 

"We're a brothel now, just turning tricks over and over."

"That sounds horrible."

"It's amazing! We get to roll for how well we have sex!"

Again: I stress that there's no wrong way to play DND. Roleplaying is a fluid thing and whatever works for one group simply works. As long as everyone involved is having fun, then it's a successful campaign. My opinion and anyone else's opinion doesn't matter. And I also want to note: sex is a natural human thing. It makes sense that it may occasionally happen in a story or that it could make sense within a larger plotline. 

Different people can be concerned about different things in their games. For many players, some sexual banter is fun and exciting. But there are also aggressive encounters: DMs who will actually rape female characters, or characters who will sexually assault each other. These things have to be explored and looked at, because they may be an extension of real world prejudices and discrimination. 

The DM Can't Help if the DM Doesn't Know

Real world experience: I often had fellow employees complaining to me of negative experiences, experiences that could be construed as harassment. But when I asked if they'd gone to HR, they would say "no." Why bother? HR won't do anything. They may have been right, but the flipside of this was that HR couldn't do anything if they didn't know something was going on.

If you're playing with a good DM, they should be able to listen to your complaints and formulate a solution. That's part of what a DM does. And it may even help your gamemaster grow in their own personal and worldbuilding skills. After all, sexual content is fun, but it's also cheap. It's an easy way to add intrigue. 

If you can't have a one on one chat with your DM, then you probably don't have a great DM to begin with. 

Using the "X" Card

We were first introduced into the idea of the "X" card from Bluebeard's Bride, a storytelling RPG set in a world of psychological horror. An "X" card is a card you place in the center of the table, with a large "X" on it. Any time a player (or the gamemaster!) feels uncomfortable, they can simply pick up the card. No discussion has to occur; the game simply proceeds in a different direction. Whatever was just happening stops. It is not questioned.

You may wonder, "Doesn't this go awry very quickly?" But, of course, anything can go awry in a bad group. In a good group, the X card creates a safe space in which players can object to what is happening without having to explain themselves. For the benefit of the other players, they don't need to sit through a discussion or explanation: the game still progresses quickly. In other words, it's a non-disruptive method of ensuring that players always feel comfortable.

Ultimately it's all about making sure that people have fun and stay safe. And it's good that people are thinking about these things. Gone are the days when most female characters have to worry about being assaulted or belittled; females of this realm can excel at anything.

But we need to recognize that both male and female players can potentially make others uncomfortable, and we need to provide an "out" for players that doesn't require them to out themselves to the general group. Mechanics like the "x" card can help, as can having one-on-one discussions with an understanding DM.