Carlin Ross walked into a ritzy Manhattan nightspot, dressed to the nines. She sat down, set her handbag on the bar, and ordered a drink. The fellow sitting two barstools away took immediate notice of her. He slid over and said hello.
"Excuse me, do I know you?" she asked. He seemed taken aback, and well he should have. He was, after all, Ross' longtime boyfriend. "You're one of those investment banker types, aren't you?" she said, teasingly.
It wasn't long before he realized what Ross was up to, and began to play along. The two "strangers" kept up the act for the rest of the evening -- and into the morning.
Ross runs the sex-positive, femme-focused web site Cherrybomb.com. When people email or post to the site's message boards asking for ideas to spice up their relationships, she often suggests this game. "It was a wonderful experience for me," she tells WebMD. "It wasn't about any sex act or anything extreme," she says, but it was hot.
She's not the only one who recommends role playing of this sort to couples whose long-term relationships have turned tepid.
When couples pretend to pick each other up in public, "They get to appreciate their partner's talent and abilities on the dating scene," says Barbara Bartlik, MD, a sex therapist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
For married people, these talents may have been hidden for years. "They have forgotten that this guy or this woman that they're married to is actually attractive, and could be sexy, and a turn-on, and sought after by others. So it does work."
"Role playing is very important, and we use it all the time in sex therapy," she says.
"One of my women patients, although she loves her husband dearly -- he's the father of her child, and they have a very good marriage in many ways -- she finds his gentleness unappealing sexually," Bartlik says. "She was attracted to her husband because of his kind, considerate nature. But when it comes to the bedroom she wants him to give her exactly the opposite of what she selected.
"She wants a brute, so we had to get him to role-play being a brute."
But if your imagination stalls when you try to dream up sexy scenarios, or if your acting abilities are found wanting, don't despair. There are many other ways to turn up the heat in your relationship.