I can’t believe I haven’t written a blog post on topping from the bottom! How could I be so remiss of addressing a topic which comes up often in sub group discussions? Ah well… here is my take on the issue.
Topping from the bottom is when a submissive tries to control the scene in various ways. This can be giving explicit directions during a scene, setting exacting constraints prior to a scene, refusing to do activities which are not on a hard or soft limit list, or other similar behaviors. Generally topping from the bottom is seen as problematic behavior on the part of the submissive.
Is Topping from the Bottom Always Wrong?
I have come across a bunch of blog posts which write from the perspective that topping from the bottom is always wrong and always problematic. In reality, there is nothing inherently wrong with topping from the bottom.
In fact, topping from the bottom uses terms (“topping” and “bottoming”) which are not explicitly tied to power exchange. Top and bottom are used frequently to describe the person who gives or controls the actions and bottom often refers to the person receiving the action.
If the power dynamic does not involve one person explicitly giving up power and one person taking control topping from the bottom only describes communication. However, few of the posts I’ve seen written on this topic deal with the fact that power exchange may not be involved in every scene. There is an assumption that “topping from the bottom” implies a submissive refusing to give over power. The reality is, this term can apply to a myriad of situations which do not involve power exchange.
Some folks enjoy kinky play without power exchange. In these interactions and scenes, while one person may engage in traditional “topping” activities and the other in “bottoming” there is no power exchange in the play. In these instances, directing the scene or guiding the behaviors isn’t “topping from the bottom.” It is consensual sex between two equals. While it may appear as “topping from the bottom” if you are watching the scene, without understanding the power dynamics of the people in the scene, you really can’t make that call.
Topping from the bottom can occur between couples engaged in power exchange and it isn’t a problem. For example, I have “topped” dominants as a form of service. They have wanted to experience something (e.g., fire play, pegging, flogging) because they enjoy the activity as the receiver. As their submissive, I engage in an act of service by carrying out these “topping” behaviors. It is perfectly acceptable in these situations to be directed by the person “bottoming” because in our power exchange dynamic, they are still the D-type and I am still the service submissive.
Sometimes the D-type is new to an activity. Part of the fun of kink is that we can continually learn and expand our play. In situations where your D-type is new(ish) to an activity, I find it completely acceptable for a submissive to provide feedback and guide the scene. If the sub can provide feedback which helps the D-type learn and/or prevent injury, this is a helpful version of “topping from the bottom.”
So topping from the bottom is not always a problem and can often be helpful.
People who often address topping from the bottom do so assuming power exchange is in play. So, is topping from the bottom problematic in D/s or M/s relationships?
Sure, it can be. The goal in many power exchange relationships is for the submissive to give over their power to a dominant. This is a conscious and consensual exchange negotiated by the people involved in a relationship. Oftentimes the power exchange involves some form of submission during sexual encounters.
So, in this much more narrow context of power exchange within a scene, let’s address topping from the bottom.
Successful power exchange relies on trust. The submissive has to trust the dominant to respect limits, to engage in safe play, and to keep the submissive’s needs and safety in mind during a scene. If a submissive is going to safely let go of all their power during a scene(or even just some of their power) it is important to trust a D-type to protect the sub’s safety.
I find that it is impossible to let go of much control with a new partner. Until I know how they play, how they interact with me during a scene, how they take my safety into consideration in what we do, I cannot confidently give over power. I find very few subs give over a significant amount of power until they know the D-type is trustworthy.
This is where topping from the bottom can be an indication to partners about the level of trust and safety they feel. In newer relationships or in relationships where trust may have been recently broken, s-types may show reluctance to relinquishing power. If you are an s-type and find yourself unable to relinquish power, ask yourself how safe you feel with your D-type. Do you trust them to take your safety and needs into consideration? Do you trust them with the activities you are engaging in? If the answer is no, you may want to explore why this lack of trust exists.
D-types, if you find your s-type resisting your control or topping from the bottom, after your session, you may want to consider talking about the specifics of when they were not releasing full control. It is an opportunity to explore your relationship more fully. It may be that the activity was new, and therefore uncharted territory and this made your sub nervous. It may be that your s-type recently saw similar activities go awry in a playspace and feels guarded around certain types of play. It might be that you and your subby type had a fight recently and those feelings have not fully resolved. You can discover much deeper relationship aspects by exploring topping from the bottom instead of just seeing it as bad behavior to correct.
Brats and Bratty Behavior
Brats are a whole unique group of subs. Brats can tease and push back against control as part of their personality. Topping from the bottom may be a part of bratty behavior.
Depending on your relationship with the person, you may tolerate a bit of pushback and topping from the bottom. You may not be the type of D-type who finds this behavior tolerable. Your response as a D-type will be based on your personality and your partner’s personality.
Sometimes brats top from the bottom as a way of egging on a partner or provoking behaviors. This may be a type of play between a D-type and a brat. This may simply be the brat trying to get what they want (e.g., a spanking, being gagged) from their D-type. D-types will have to decide if they want to give in and thus encourage the behavior in the future, or provide a response (or non-response) to end the bratty behavior.
Subs Who Can’t Give Up Control
Some people identify as subs as a default. In the United States, women are often assumed to be submissive because we ascribe submissive characteristics to women culturally. Some people are pushed to identify as a submissive by a partner who wants a sub. Some people may identify as subs but grow and change without changing their title. These groups of folks often have a difficult time letting go of power.
There is a lot of demand for people to chose a title and stick to it in the kinky world. There are plenty of folks who chose the title associated with the first position they explored in the kink world and try and stick to that regardless of how well it fits. And there is a ton of social pressure to identify as a sub or Domme or slave or Master but not (gasp!) a switch or top or bottom (implying no power exchange).
These groups are the ones I see where topping from the bottom is most problematic. If you do not want to engage in power exchange, if giving up your power doesn’t feel comfortable or safe, you will have a great resistance to giving up power. This resistance can (and often does) come out in the form of topping from the bottom.
If you find yourself (or a partner) often topping from the bottom, it might be time to explore different types of submission and different kink roles with that person. There are lots of ways to be a subby type. You might be a brat or a pony or a service sub or someone into rope but not impact. Submission comes in thousands of forms. I am pretty confident none of us has explored submission to its full limits. If you are constantly resisting a specific type of submission, you might want to explore something new.
There is always a reason someone tops from the bottom. It might be as simple as having a new partner. It might be more complex. If you find you (or your partner) repeatedly engages in topping from the bottom, its a great time to open up a conversation about what you (they) need to engage in power exchange and if power exchange as a submissive is what they really want at this point in time.