Top, bottom and versatile
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In human sexuality, top, bottom and versatile are sex positions during sexual activity, especially between two men. A top is usually a person who penetrates, a bottom is usually one who receives penetration, and a versatile engages in both activities. These terms may be elements of self-identity that indicate an individual's usual preference, but might also describe broader social, psychological, or sexual identities.
Top, bottom and versatile are also used in BDSM to describe similar—but distinct—BDSM identities and practices.
A top is usually a person who engages in the penetrative role during sexual activity; for men, this involves penetration using the penis during anal, oral or vaginal sex. Top is also used as a verb meaning "to penetrate another." Top may also describe a broader personal identity involving dominance in a romantic or sexual relationship; however, this stipulation is not a requisite element of being a top.
Several related terms exist. With regard to gay male sexuality, a total top is one who assumes an exclusively penetrative role for both oral and anal sex. A total top by definition never assumes a receptive role for either oral or anal sex. A power top is one noted for their great skill or aggressiveness in topping. A service top is one who tops under the direction of an eager bottom. A versatile top is one who prefers to top but who bottoms occasionally. An oral top by definition does not engage in anal sex and is the exclusively penetrative partner during oral sex. The terms penetrative partner or giver are synonyms of top created to describe the act of penetrating without implying non-egalitarian relations among participants.
Trevor Hart of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in the 2003 publication of The Journal of Sex Research that self-identified tops were indeed vastly more likely to act as the penetrative partner. The study also found that a top is also more likely to act as the penetrative partner in other sexual activities, such as oral sex and sex toy play.
A bottom is usually the receptive partner during sexual penetration. With regard to gay male sexuality, this usually means through the anus during anal sex. Bottom is also used as a verb meaning "to be penetrated by another, whether anally or orally." Bottom may also describe a wider social context of submission within a romantic or sexual relationship, though this element does not apply to all people who prefer to bottom.
In gay male sexuality, a total bottom is someone who assumes an exclusively passive or receptive role during anal or oral intercourse. A  The term receiver or receptive partner may be preferred by some. An oral bottom (alternatively described as being the "oral active" partner) is the exclusively receptive partner in oral sex, providing the penetrative partner, or oral top (alternatively described as being the "oral passive" partner), with unreciprocated fellatio and irrumatio.is someone who aggressively enjoys being the receptive partner. A is one who prefers to bottom but who tops occasionally.
Versatile, also known as switching, refers to a person who enjoys both topping and bottoming, or being dominant and submissive, and may alternate between the two in sexual situations. Flip-flop commonly describes switching from top to bottom during one sexual encounter between two men. Both participants penetrate the other and get penetrated.
Versatility is a concept of lifestyle. "In large cities in the United States, gay men are for the most part expected to be versatile, not only in top versus bottom roles (if any) but also in the choice of particular acts (e.g., oral, anal, masturbatory)." Versatility, though, is not limited to the simple acts of anal or oral penetration, but also includes the splitting of duties and responsibilities in the relationship.
The reciprocal scenario, where both men take turns fucking each other, is often exercised as a celebration of equality. What sets this scenario apart from the others is the versatility of the men involved. Versatility is a unique and important feature of male anal sex. Some men consider it liberating; (...) Versatility to them is akin to speaking two different languages. It requires a special kind of playfulness, creativity, curiosity, and coordination.—Steven G. Underwood, Gay Men and anal eroticism: tops, bottoms, and versatiles, Harrington Park Press 2003
According to some, living a versatile life style implies a certain openness to new things and an opposition to labels, stereotypes and generalizations. Therefore, this concept differs from heterosexual relationships where sexual compatibility does not begin with guessing who will end up as top or bottom. In self descriptions of men seeking sex with other men, they may refer to themselves as a versatile top or versatile bottom in addition to other commonly used terms.
A 2009 Austrian study on gay pornography has shown that at least 82.4% of all men performing in the male porn industry are versatile at one point or the other during their career. In this study, the performances of 5,556 actors have been considered. 10.8% performed only in the top role, 6.8% only as bottoms. The study also found that the actor with the larger penis was more likely to act as the top.
Role vs. position among sexualities
Top, bottom and versatile, with regard to sexual activity between males, refer specifically to the penetrative role, regardless of the physical positioning during sex. For example, in positions where the inserting partner lies on his back and the receptive partner straddles the inserting partner, the inserting partner is still considered to assume the "top" role, even though he is positioned on the bottom (and vice-versa). When used in reference to heterosexual and lesbian sex, the terms top, bottom and versatile usually refer only to position and not to the penetrative role.
No scientific study has ever been conducted as to what percentage of the gay and bisexual male population prefers any given role. The popular assumption is that the majority prefer to bottom and that those who prefer to top are in the minority. A tally of 55,464 profiles on gay.com from the United States showed that 26.46% preferred top, while 31.92% preferred bottom, and the largest group (41.62%) preferred versatile. The preferences seemed to vary by state, however. In Wyoming, for example, 16% preferred top, 44% preferred bottom, and 40% preferred versatile. In West Virginia, tops outnumbered bottoms by a slim margin (32% top, 29% bottom, and 39% versatile). In Oregon, "versatile" profiles made up nearly half (48.42%).
In the hanky code, a person flagging the top or active role would wear the hanky in the left pocket, the bottom or passive role on the right. Acts which were not divisible into distinct roles however, such as "69" or "anything" followed a pattern where one flagged interest by wearing the hanky on the right, uninterest by wearing it on the left, and preferences that did not relate to sexual mechanics, such as uniform fetishism or prostitution, followed a pattern where the seeker flagged on the left and the object of desire flagged on the right.
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