Top, bottom, switch (BDSM)

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A BDSM couple, with the top standing and the bottom in handcuffs, at 2002 Europride Cologne event

The terms top, bottom and versatile are used to describe roles for the duration of a sometimes sexual act, or may be used more broadly as a psychological, social, and sexual identity, as well as indicating one's usual preference. The terms top, bottom and switch are also used in BDSM, with slightly different meanings.

While popular media portrays a larger number of submissive males than dominant males, studies have disputed this.[citation needed] Businesses catering to BDSM culture show there is a strong and growing market for submissives and dominants of all genders and orientations and a diversity in BDSM communities, both recreational and professional. Professional dominants provide stimulatory services (which may or may not include sex) for submissives.

Beginning in the 1970s, in some American contexts, people would identify their interests by wearing a set of keys on the side of their belt or a color-coded handkerchief in their rear pockets. This practice, called flagging, began in the gay male subculture.

Top[edit]

In BDSM, top means:

  • a dominant partner in BDSM play (such as flogging, binding, being master, humiliating, and sexual play)
  • a partner who applies stimulation to another, and who may or may not be dominant
    • Topping from the bottom is a related BDSM term, meaning a person simultaneously adopts the role of bottom and dom.
    • a service top is a person who applies sensation or control to a bottom, but does so at the bottom's explicit instruction.

Bottom[edit]

In BDSM, bottom means:

  • a submissive partner in sexual play (such as in being flogged, tied, humiliated, or made to serve)
  • a partner who receives stimulation from another, and who may or may not be submissive
  • a partner who enjoys submission on a temporary, limited basis

A bottom in BDSM does not have to be the receptive partner; for example, a female dominant may command her submissive to penetrate her.

Switch[edit]

A switch is someone who participates in BDSM activities sometimes as a top and other times as a bottom or (in the case of dominance and submission) sometimes as a dominant and other times as a submissive.

Dominant and submissive[edit]

Those who take the superior position in dominance and submission scenes and relationships are called dominants, doms (male) or dommes (female), while those who take the subordinate position are called submissives or subs (male or female). A top filling the dominant role is not necessarily a dominant, and vice versa, and a bottom is not necessarily submissive.

The main difference between a dominant and a top is that the dominant ostensibly does not follow instructions, although they are limited by what the submissive is willing to do. The top may sometimes even be the partner who is following instructions, i.e., they top when, and in the manner, requested by the bottom. Contrast this with the pure dominant, who might give orders to a submissive, or otherwise employ physical or psychological techniques of control, but might instruct the submissive to perform the act on them.

The main difference between a submissive and a bottom is that the submissive ostensibly does not give instructions, although they do set limits on what the dominant can do. A bottom is not necessarily a submissive; they may enjoy intense physical and psychological stimulation but not submit to the person delivering it. Similarly, a submissive might not be a bottom; they may enjoy taking orders from a dominant without receiving any physical stimulation. For bottoms who are not submissive, the bottom is most often the partner who is giving instructions—the top typically tops when, and in the manner, requested by the bottom.[citation needed]

Many distinguish top/bottom from dominant/submissive by seeing top/bottom as an expression of physical power, while dominant/submissive is an expression of psychological power. In many cases, the dominant/submissive relationship involves the dominant party psychologically tearing down and denigrating the submissive (consensually, meeting the submissive's expressed needs and respecting hard limits). In contrast, the top/bottom relationship is more commonly marked by mutual respect and support.

Sadist and masochist[edit]

The terms sadism and masochism, while reflecting a "do" vs. "done to" distinction similar to top and bottom, are more narrowly defined as the giving and receiving of pain (often referred to as 'sensation').

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy. The New Topping Book. Greenery Press, 2003. ISBN 1-890159-36-0.
  • Person, Ethel S. / Terestman, Nettie / Myers, Wayne A. / Goldberg, Eugene L. / Salvadori, Carol: Gender differences in sexual behaviors and fantasies in a college population, 1989, erschienen in: Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Bd. 15, Nr. 3, 1989, P. 187–198
  • Janus, Samuel S. / Janus, Cynthia L., 1993 The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, Wiley, New York
  • Charles Moser, in Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality 1988, (7;1, P.43–56)