Once, a therapist told me, “At some point, if you want to have a relationship, you need to actually try having a relationship.” Sounds simple, right? Maybe even absurdly so.
But it didn’t feel so simple to me. When you are a survivor of sexual assault - physical intimacy, vulnerability, the terrifying prospect of trusting fully, of knowing another person in the most private of ways and of being truly known - can all hijack your desire with fear.
This relationship anxiety is a challenge a lot of us come up against, and a common enough post-trauma experience that my female friends and I often talked about it. “How’s your sexually transmitted anxiety?” One of us might joke, facetiously, faux-flippantly. “Still in your trauma-activated celibacy?”
After a trauma, intimacy can get all tangled up with associations of pain and fear, cauterising your ability to connect with others. Deep closeness with others feels inherently unsafe - you worry that trust is just naivety, and that naivety will inevitably lead you to the slaughter. It’s a difficult, daunting knot to undo, no matter how desperately you might want to. It was my Catch-22: how could I practise intimacy, without actually experiencing intimacy?
So imagine my relief - and delight - when I discovered relationship roleplay audios.
On certain corners of the internet - mostly Reddit forums - you can find thousands of audios by mostly anonymous creators, all pretending - through one-sided, pre-recorded roleplays - to be someone who truly cares for you. Your best friend, your parent, your therapist, your teacher - anyone you want. Anyone you need. More often than not, they will pretend to be your significant other. “I love you,” these disembodied dulcet voices whisper, somewhere unknown across the globe. “I’m so glad you’re so here. I’m so glad you’re mine.”
“I love you,” these disembodied dulcet voices whisper, somewhere unknown across the globe. “I’m so glad you’re so here."
I discovered these audios by pure happy accident. Relationship roleplay is an off-shoot of ASMR - that wildly popular YouTube trend where vloggers whisper into binaural microphones. To unaccustomed eyes and ears, these videos often come off as a bit weird, kinky or even gross - but even though fans call them “braingasms”, ASMR isn’t inherently sexual (at least, not usually). They’re all made in the hopes of triggering your Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) - a relaxing, even euphoric sensation that most describe as pleasant “tingles” at the crown of the head, proven to slow heart rates, soothe anxiety, and assist listeners as study or sleeping aids.
ASMR has long been a beloved, well-used tool in my trauma recovery arsenal - the soft voices and caring words that are hallmarks of ASMR aren’t too different to techniques that therapists use, and it gets me sleep better than a sleeping pill. But it wasn’t until I discovered relationship roleplay audios that I felt I truly turned a corner.
At the click of the button, my I-want-love-but-I’m-too-scared-to-try dilemma seemed solved. I didn’t have to risk dates with real, fleshy, unpredictable humans. If I turned out the lights and slipped on my headphones, an entire chorus of imaginary boyfriends could provide this service for me. Relationship roleplay libraries on Reddit - like Pillow Talk Audio or Vanilla Audio - are like à la carte menus for intimate relationships. You can find any scenario you want there (and in the rare event you can’t find your fantasy, you can request a recording on the forum, or commission your favourite artist).
Maybe you want the cute guy from work to take you on a first date (“you look stunning in that dress. I’m so glad you said yes”). Maybe you want a centuries-old vampire to finally declare his love (like anywhere on the internet, you will find Twilight fanfiction here).
Or maybe - like me - you want to address something difficult, perhaps something even traumatic. Something that isn’t too easy to talk to real humans about. Maybe you want to imagine having sex for the first time before you actually do it. Maybe you want to finally show your self-harm scars to your lover, and have them tell you how beautiful you are. Did your husband say all the wrong things when you suffered a miscarriage? Your audio boyfriend never would - he says all the right things, because you scripted them. Did your past partner never properly ask for your consent? Well, your roleplay boyfriend always will, if you want him to.
Relationship roleplay libraries on Reddit - like Pillow Talk Audio or Vanilla Audio - are like à la carte menus for intimate relationships.
I could simulate healing scenes - scenarios that I needed to experience in order to move on, but ones I was afraid would crack me open in any real life romantic encounter. Something that should be as normal and expected as a partner asking for (and genuinely caring about) my consent was just not something I felt ready for in real life - not because I didn’t think I deserved it, but because I knew I would cry - and even tears of relief felt way too embarrassing for first dates. These audio roleplays offered me a safe space to manifest the kind of relationship I wanted, almost like a private dress rehearsal. Listening helped me gather the strength to finally date again, to be more open and gentle with lovers, to recognise green flags and to reject red ones. They even inspired me to document my (emotional, vulnerable, always squishy) journey, in my podcast, Pillow Talk. Perhaps most preciously, they connected me with a community of like-minded humans all across the globe, all trying to make a caring difference in the lives of complete strangers. Not with a bang, but with a whisper.
Laura Nagy is a writer and filmmaker.
If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence or sexual assault phone 1800RESPECT or visit 1800respect.org.au. Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.