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What Is Up With Roman Roy’s Sex Life?

Photo: HBO

Everyone on Succession needs therapy, and nobody’s getting it. Each week, we sit down with one member of the extended Roy clan and try to give them a little professional nudge in the right direction.

Last night on Succession, we got a deeper look at the sexual perversions and proclivities of our favorite little slime puppy Roman Roy. When it comes to his sexual relationship with Tabitha, rumors of their sex life remain as exaggerated as Vaulter’s traffic numbers. On their trip to Tern Haven, he tries to get off by telling her to play dead, which doesn’t quite work out (she snaps, “The morgue is closed”). At the same time, his sadomasochistic relationship with surrogate mother-boss figure Gerri is flourishing. This time, Roman goes back for another round of IRL phone sex and ends up masturbating behind a door while the Waystar-Royco general counsel tells him he’s a “rotten little nothing.” We talked to three sex therapists about what’s going on with Roman’s sex life — and what they would tell him if he rolled up to their office asking for help.

Dr. Kristie Overstreet, psychotherapist and clinical sexologist:

I would say, “I know that you’re really enjoying the power exchange with Gerri,” and I’d try to begin to talk with him about this humiliation fetish that he really enjoys. Gerri has this dual role of nurturing him — really the only female we see nurturing him throughout the entire series— but who also stays engaged with him in this sort of consensual power exchange.

Roman is very used to humiliation, in the way his dad speaks to him. He learned that humiliation and that entitlement from a young age, and communicating in that way is really normal for him. There’s also something about being the baby of the family, and this pecking order of being the forgotten one, and the continued screwup, that provides his own internal sense of embarrassment and failure. I think it says a lot about his lack of connection growing up with any type of solid nurturing, connected presence in his home. He’s really left to figure it out himself, and he hasn’t had these intimate, close, connected relationships. And so why would he form that as he gets older, especially in a sexual relationship?

He has not had a normal life as far as dating and sexual expression, given the cult of the family and the cult of money and power. He’s had no barriers. And maybe he’s just really wanting to have structure and someone to put him in his place, which is what Gerri does. She ignites the sexual part for him in that power dynamic.

Dr. Patti Britton, sexologist and founder of

As adults, people often transcend their family dynamics, but these people live in the center of family dynamics, and they’re extremely twisted. In my opinion, this family is a den of sociopaths. Nobody in the show is authentic, except maybe Logan Roy. Everyone else lives in a kind of caricature of themselves, and a projection of what they believe their father expects of them.

There’s something so profound about the way Roman and Tabitha interact. For instance, they get into the bedroom, and and she calls him Professor Can’t Fuck, it’s just so cruel and shaming. So even the selection of a partner becomes a reflection of the family. She’s just like them. She’s as cruel as the family. He’s selected perfectly in that way.

There’s also something about his longing to be in a role-play with a dead person that is so utterly reflective of what I think is going on for him. We call this necrophilia in fetish terminology. For Roman, it’s symbolic of his deadness. He’s emotionally dead, he’s sexually dead. All of them are. Siobhan is the only one who transcended the family prison of being controlled totally by the father, but then she gave that up. So for Roman, the idea of being a fucking a corpse is really about being with himself in his deadness. He’s attempting to find himself, in a way.

What happens when he goes to Gerri’s door and she starts acting in the dominant role with him, I think that is that this his authentic sexual self, at least so far. Right now, the only way he can feel and access his true sexual self, his erotic pathway to his sexuality, is through being dominated with humiliation and shaming and punishment. They’re pretending he’s locked in this bathroom, and it’s kind of a chamber of his shame, but it’s also the chamber of his release. He’s also allowing himself be dominated by someone he absolutely trusts. Gerri is a trusted figure in the family. She’s trusted with the family secrets, and Logan trusts her. So the whole family trusts her because they are all such weaklings — anything the father approves, they approve.

Roman doesn’t have the self-esteem to ask what he wants from a real person, so he has to use this role-play figure. He could find that his current relationship could sustain the expansion into this. In one way, if Tabitha found out, I think she might be relieved because she would discover he is a sexual being. So there might be an opening because she’s going, Oh my God, you are sexual. There is something there and you are alive sexually. Maybe I could have a piece or a part of that. But she’s also so undeveloped emotionally it would be very hard to think that she has the capacity and the depth to actually know how to be in that way with him, because she’d have to know how to dominate him. With BDSM, you don’t just play a game, you learn the skills of being in those roles. There’s huge responsibility in that and it’s really a way of relating that requires knowledge and skill. Alternately, the thing with Gerri could become very unhealthy. It’s not like a consensual, mature BDS dom-sub relationship where they both own it. It’s sneaky. It’s undercurrent. It’s dirty, it’s bad, it’s wrong. He wants to go for the wrong because he feels so wrong. He is so disconnected from who he is. And he has to go to like the underbelly because that’s part of how he identifies, as this disgusting, twisted person who has these feelings and longings. I don’t know that he has what it takes to convert that into a healthy sexual behavior, which so many people who engaged in BDSM do.

Dr. Tammy Nelson, sex therapist and author:

In sex and sexuality, our fantasies are always based on our greatest fear. So at his psychological depths, his anxiety is that he is piece of shit. His anxiety is that he is worth nothing because his family has treated him like crap, his father has treated him like crap, he is at the bottom of the list. They basically tell him: You’re at the bottom of the ladder, you have had to go back to training, you’re in kindergarten, you mean nothing. And as much as he tries to play that off as you’re right, I don’t care, it’s got to be horrifying and painful. In playing this out sexually, he’s rewriting that neurological pathway so it doesn’t always end with just humiliation and misery, now it ends with humiliation and pleasure. Your body cannot experience something more pleasurable than an orgasm. You can try it with drugs, which is what his brother’s doing. But there’s nothing more exciting and pleasurable than an orgasm, because the flood of brain chemicals that go through your body. So what he’s doing is rewriting that neurological pathway from the plain humiliation that he’s getting from his siblings and his and his father to now: Okay, humiliate me, but it’s going to feel good.

The fact that he goes to Geri for this is a little creepy, because she’s like a mother figure to him. He doesn’t really have a mother figure. I want to know what happened with the mother. I mean, it’s so cliché, but it’s always about the mother.

A lot of this is also built on shame. Shame at its core means, If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me. So I’m going to act like a clown. I’m going to push you away, I’m going to be mean, I’m going to say stupid things. I’m going to avoid being in a real relationship. I’m going to avoid intimacy, I’m going to jerk off behind a closed door while you talk to me. In many ways shame is the flip side of narcissism, which is interesting because that’s really what the show is about. It’s about this incredible narcissism of the father, and how he has created these narcissistic extensions of himself. It creates kids that are these little balls of shame.

I think for Roman will probably this will turn into like, a compulsive thing he’ll reenact. I think you’ll probably see him compulsively doing this and maybe getting caught and that’ll give him even more shame. And Shiv, she has tried to build herself up to get this confidence. But it’s based on sort of the internal hill of sand because she’s not confident about herself as a woman and as a worker. She looks to her father to feel confident, and if she doesn’t get it from her father then she feels like crap about herself. And her father will not give her that, so then she questions herself and feels shame, and she creates these situations that make her feel that way over and over again. And Kendall — obviously his shame is just the thing that runs him around.

What Advice Would a Sex Therapist Give Roman on Succession?