Ageplay is a form of role-play in which at least one of the participants adopts the role or mindset of someone younger—a teenager, child, or even a baby. Although ageplay scenes and relationships can be sexual or non-sexual, they usually involve power exchange, in which the younger figure allows their older partner or caregiver to take control. As such, they are a form of BDSM that is strictly for adults only.
Although ageplay has a long history, it experienced an uptick in its popularity with the emergence of Tumblr communities devoted to it in the early 2000s. On the major social network for the kink/BDSM communities, FetLife, there are today over 500 ageplay groups, the largest of them with tens of thousands of members. Until being banned by Reddit, /r/AgePlayPenpals was also a massively popular subreddit, which has now become an independent forum.
On the other hand, like many other kinks, ageplay is widely misunderstood and those who practice it are stigmatized. To help demystify the practice, Prostasia has held seminars on the roles that ageplay fills in the sex lives of consenting adults. One of the most popular search terms that drives traffic to Prostasia’s website is “Is ageplay wrong?”. So let’s clear that up first: although it isn’t for everyone, no it isn’t wrong. But some may still ask, isn’t it a little weird? So let’s dive a bit deeper.
Sex is weird
What gives sex much of its power is its mystery. There’s no logic to who and what we find sexually arousing, and there doesn’t have to be. Everyone’s sexuality is as unique as a fingerprint, and just as much beyond their conscious control. In the words of sex educator Euphemia Russell:
There is no normal. Sex is weird for everyone. There is no kinky because there is no normal. There’s only common and less common.
But that’s not the message that society tells us. Society privileges only a very narrow range of sexual desires and practices as normative (mostly those involving heterosexual cis-gendered people). Those who deviate from this script are stigmatized and associated with deviance and criminality, and as a result, their rights are routinely infringed.
Sex-positive movements, such as the LGBTQ+ movement and the organized kink/BDSM community, push back against this and fight for the rights of sexual minority communities. They advance the idea that everyone has the right to express and enjoy their own sexuality, provided that they do so consensually.
According to this philosophy, it doesn’t matter what you think about when you masturbate or have sex. There is no point in questioning why someone should be sexually aroused by kinks such as ageplay—any more than there is in questioning why breasts or penises should be alluring to anyone. So long as they engage in these activities alone or consensually with others, then it is none of anyone else’s business.
The hazards of online ageplay
Since we do not live in a sex-positive society, however, engaging in consensual sexual practices such as ageplay can be hazardous—even though those involved are fully consenting adults. One of those hazards is dealing with the effects of stigma. Ageplayer Danni Hamilton engages in ageplay as a way of coping with her childhood trauma, yet is frequently abused online with false accusations that the fetish makes her a paedophile. This is a very common experience for those who are open about engaging in ageplay.
To safeguard themselves against such attacks, many ageplayers adopt a separate identity for their kinky activities and confine their posts about this to on-topic, adults-only communities. While this cannot completely prevent abusive interactions, it can help to limit them from crossing over into your real-life identity. Prostasia’s recently-published anti-harassment resource guide provides more detail on how to prevent and respond to online harassment.
Avoid predatory communities
Another tip for ageplayers is to steer clear of predatory online communities, and communities that contain minors. Sometimes legitimate ageplay communities are visited by those with bad intentions, who misuse the term “ageplay” or “taboo” to signal their interest in real child sexual abuse or in the creation or distribution of unlawful sexual images of real minors. If you come across this in an ageplay forum, you should report it to the forum moderators so that such individuals can be weeded out.
On the other side of the coin, although ageplay is strictly a consensual activity between adults, this of course doesn’t prevent minors from being interested in it. In some instances, real minors will seek out older partners for “ageplay” scenes or relationships, without disclosing that they themselves are actually underage. They, too, should be reported to moderators when you come across them.
To complicate matters a little, minors are able to engage in non-sexual age regression—this is not a kink/BDSM activity, but simply involves regressing to a younger state of mind, often for therapeutic reasons. However, age regression forums that allow minors must be very scrupulous about keeping this distinct from partnered ageplay, and in particular should not allow older “caregivers” to match with age regressing minors. Some age regression forums are careful about observing this distinction, but others are not.
Avoid law enforcement stings
The most important hazard of all that ageplayers must be aware of is the prevalence of law enforcement sting operations, in which police officers pose as being underage to lure others into online chats that can be presented as evidence of soliciting a minor for sex. Such stings attract funding for police forces from child protection budgets, yet are a much cheaper way of meeting arrest targets than rescuing actual minors. Reason Magazine exposed the absurd lengths that police will go to entrap even those who are emphatically uninterested in sex with a minor.
These stings very often have tragic consequences. In August 2021, a gay ageplayer ended his own life to avoid facing a charge of minor solicitation, despite persuasively demonstrating that he always believed his chat partner was an adult. In April 2021, a court refused to allow testimony from an expert witness about the benign nature of fantasy role play and ageplay, studies showing role play is part of normal sexual interactions, and that fantasy role play does not implicate someone as a paedophile. The defendant was convicted and has appealed.
Thankfully, there is a simple way to protect yourself against such stings, and it is well-known to those with experience in BDSM communities: negotiate first. Although it may be tempting to launch into an online ageplay scene while the energy is hot, it’s important to begin the scene by having the “underage” partner confirm their real age. It’s also recommended to ask them to send a photo or a voice message, and if these leave any room for doubt that they may be underage, to follow up with a copy of their ID, with their photo and birth year visible.
During the scene, it’s OK to talk about fantasy ages. However, if this is phrased as a retraction of the real age given earlier—for example, “I’m not really 22, I’m 14,” this is a huge red flag that you may be being entrapped by an undercover law enforcement officer. If they continue to leave clues that their real age is under 18, leave the chat immediately and keep screenshots of your negotiation for your own protection.
Be privacy aware
Finally, consider where you engage in ageplay online. Some online communities, such as Second Life, explicitly ban ageplay. Others, such as Roblox, Microsoft, and Kik, have been known to use AI bots to scan private conversations for evidence of minor solicitation, which automated systems are unable to reliably distinguish from ageplay. Earlier this year, Prostasia revealed how this tool, which the UK government promoted, was ruled to be illegal by the European Parliament. Yet it may still be in use by platforms for their U.S. users.
The safest way to engage in ageplay online is over an end-to-end encrypted messaging service such as Signal, WhatsApp, Wire, Wickr, or Threema, among others. Also, be careful not to host archives of your chats on unencrypted cloud services. In December 2021 Google was exposed for scanning users’ files and reporting cartoons to police as child abuse images. We have every reason to be suspicious that Google may similarly be scanning chat logs that are stored on its Google Drive service.
People enjoy ageplay for many different reasons. None of these reasons need to be anyone else’s business but their own. If you are an ageplayer, it pays to be aware of the risks that you may face by engaging in ageplay online: you may run across real minors, predators, or undercover police. But by separating your kink identity and your real-life identity, negotiating in advance of your ageplay scene, and using secure communications apps, you can manage these risks and have fun safely.
If your rights are being infringed, you can find resources and support here.