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Gay sex roles

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The man laying on his back is the "top" and the other man is the "bottom".

In human sexuality, top, bottom, and versatile are roles during sexual activity, especially between two men. A top is usually a person who penetrates, a bottom is usually one who receives penetration, and someone who is versatile engages in either or both roles. These terms may be elements of self-identity that indicate an individual's usual preference and habits, but might also describe broader sexual identities and social roles.[1]

The terms top and bottom do not refer to the literal physical position during sex.

For men who have sex with men and do not engage in anal sex, the term "side" has been proposed and has seen commercial use. Side men do not engage in anal sex but rather enjoy outercourse.



A top is usually a person who engages in the penetrative role during sexual activity; for men who have sex with men (MSM), this often involves penetration using the penis during anal or oral sex.[1] 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 or pure top is one who assumes an exclusively penetrative role for sex.[2] A power top is one noted for their great skill or aggressiveness in topping. Increasingly the term rough top is used on apps such as Grindr to describe a top who penetrates with particular aggression often as a show of masculinity, and to let the bottom know they are being sodomized hard as a way to psychologically hurt them. A service top is "one who tops under the direction of an eager bottom", or is submissive while being the one who penetrates.[3] A versatile top is one who prefers to top but who bottoms occasionally, colloquially, a soft top.[4] The terms penetrative partner[5] or giver are synonyms of top, created to describe the act of penetrating without implying non-egalitarian relations among participants.[citation needed]



A bottom is usually the receptive partner during sexual penetration. This frequently refers to MSM who are penetrated via the anus during anal sex.[1] 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. For example, a power bottom may refer to someone who takes a more dominant role while being the receptive partner.[6]

In gay male sexuality, a total bottom is someone who assumes an exclusively receptive role during anal or oral intercourse. A versatile bottom is one who prefers to bottom but who tops occasionally.[7] The terms receiver or receptive partner may be preferred by some. An oral bottom is the exclusively receptive partner in oral sex, providing the penetrative partner, or oral top, with unreciprocated fellatio or irrumatio.



Versatile, or vers, refers to a person who enjoys both topping and bottoming and may alternate between the two in sexual situations.[1][8][9] Flip-flop or flip fuck commonly describes switching from top to bottom during one sexual encounter between two men.[10] Each participant penetrates the other and is penetrated in his turn.

Versatility is a concept of lifestyle.[11] Versatility, though, is not limited to the simple acts of anal, oral, or vaginal penetration, but also includes the splitting of duties and responsibilities in the relationship.[12]

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 lifestyle 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.[1] In self descriptions of men seeking sex with other men, they may refer to themselves as a versatile tops or versatile bottoms in addition to using other 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 some point during their career. In this study, the performances of 5,556 actors were 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.[13]



The term side was coined in 2013 in an article by psychotherapist and sexologist Joe Kort[14] for gay men who are not interested in anal sex. In the article, Kort offered this definition: "Sides prefer to kiss, hug and engage in oral sex, rimming, mutual masturbation and rubbing up and down on each other, to name just a few of the sexual activities they enjoy. These men enjoy practically every sexual practice aside from anal penetration of any kind."

The term has gained increasingly broad acceptance since then. In May 2022, the gay dating app Grindr added Side as a position option and other apps have subsequently followed suit.[15]



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%).[16]

A study of the most recent sexual encounter among men who have sex with men found only 37.2% of participants had engaged in anal sex, while 72.7% had participated in oral sex and 68.4% in partnered masturbation.[17]





In the hanky code, a person flagging the top, or active, role would wear the hanky in the left pocket, and 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 in which one flagged interest by wearing the hanky on the left and absence of interest by wearing it on the right. Preferences that did not relate to sexual mechanics, such as uniform fetishism or prostitution, followed a pattern in which the seeker flagged on the right and the object of desire flagged on the left.[18]

The cowboy position is anal sex in which the bottom straddles the top.[19] The position is often cited as being advantageous for bottoms who are new to anal sex, as it allows the receiving partner to lower himself on to the other's penis at his own pace.[20]

Alternative terminology


Other terms for top and bottom include active and passive, and pitcher and catcher.[21][22][5] The intended meanings of active vs. passive in reference to oral sex can be unclear, however.[23] Switch is sometimes used for versatile.[24]

Role vs. position among sexualities


The terms top, bottom and versatile do not necessarily refer literally to physical position during sex.[25] For example, if the inserting partner lies on his back and the receptive partner straddles him, the inserting partner is still considered the top, and the receptive partner the bottom, despite their reverse physical arrangement.

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e Steven Gregory Underwood (2003). Gay men and anal eroticism: tops, bottoms, and versatiles. Psychology Press. ISBN 1-56023-375-3. Archived from the original on 2021-03-10. Retrieved 2011-12-02.
  2. ^ Gremore, Graham (4 May 2015). "What Do You Do When Your Total Top Boyfriend Refuses To Bottom?". Queerty. Archived from the original on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  3. ^ Rodriguez, Carissa (13 May 2015). "It's Symptomatic". Document Journal. Archived from the original on 1 August 2015. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  4. ^ Versatile Top Archived 2012-01-25 at the Wayback Machine. Gaylife.about.com (2012-01-01). Retrieved on 2012-01-09.
  5. ^ a b Peter M. Davies; Ford C. I. Hickson; Peter Weatherburn; Andrew J. Hunt (31 October 2013). Sex Gay Men & AIDS. Routledge. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-135-72249-4.
  6. ^ Zane, Zachary (July 15, 2021). "What Is a Power Bottom? Here's What the Sex Term Really Means". Men's Health. Retrieved March 21, 2023.
  7. ^ Versatile Bottom Archived 2012-01-25 at the Wayback Machine. Gaylife.about.com (2012-01-01). Retrieved on 2012-01-09.
  8. ^ Goodreau, SM; Peinado, J; Goicochea, P; Vergara, J; Ojeda, N; Casapia, M; Ortiz, A; Zamalloa, V; et al. (2007). "Role versatility among men who have sex with men in urban Peru". Journal of Sex Research. 44 (3): 233–9. doi:10.1080/00224490701443676. PMID 17879166. S2CID 13334957. Archived from the original on 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
  9. ^ "Männer, die sowohl passiven als auch aktiven Analsex praktizieren, nennt man versatile." Archived 2012-02-26 at the Wayback Machine Georg Pfau, Präventionsmedizin für den Mann, Linz 2009
  10. ^ Michael D. Smith, David W. Seal; Seal (2008). "Motivational Influences on the Safer Sex Behavior of Agency-based Male Sex Workers". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 37 (5): 845–53. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9341-1. PMC 5454495. PMID 18288599.
  11. ^ Levine, Martin P.; Kimmel, Michael S. (1998). Gay Macho: The Life and Death of the homosexual Clone. New York: New York University Press.
  12. ^ Jay, Karla; Young, Allen (1979). The gay report: Lesbians and gay men speak out about sexual experiences and lifestyles. New York: Summit. ISBN 0-671-40013-4.
  13. ^ Michelides, Christian: Männlichkeitskonstruktionen der Pornografie zur Jahrtausendwende, Wien 2009
  14. ^ Guys on the 'Side': Looking Beyond Gay Tops and Bottoms Archived 2013-12-25 at the Wayback Machine Huffingtonpost.com Retrieved 2014-10-02
  15. ^ Farber, Jim (June 20, 2022). "Rise of the sides: how Grindr finally recognized gay men who aren't tops or bottoms". The Guardian. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  16. ^ Best states for tops, bottoms, versatiles Archived 2017-10-27 at the Wayback Machine. Straightacting.com. Retrieved on 2012-01-09.
  17. ^ Rosenberger, Joshua; Reece, Michael; Schick, Vanessa; Herbenick, Debby; Novak, David; Van Der Pol, Barbara; Fortenberry, J. Dennis (August 24, 2011). "Sexual Behaviors and Situational Characteristics of Most Recent Male-Partnered Sexual Event among Gay and Bisexually Identified Men in the United States". The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 8 (11). Wiley: 3040–3050. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02438.x. PMID 21883941. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
  18. ^ "Gay Hanky Codes". Archived from the original on 2011-10-30. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
  19. ^ The Vada Guide to Anal Sex for Men Archived 2019-12-29 at the Wayback Machine Vada Magazine. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  20. ^ Pink News Explainer: The Best Gay Sex Positions Archived 2019-12-29 at the Wayback Machine Pink News. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  21. ^ Bering, Jesse. "Top scientists get to the bottom of gay male sex role preferences". Scientific American Blog Network. Archived from the original on 2019-11-17. Retrieved 2020-02-26.
  22. ^ "Neither here nor there: breaking free of gay stereotypes". The Bryant Archway. Archived from the original on 2020-02-26. Retrieved 2020-02-26.
  23. ^ Bell, Robin (1999-02-13). "Homosexual men and women". BMJ: British Medical Journal. 318 (7181): 452–455. doi:10.1136/bmj.318.7181.452. ISSN 0959-8138. PMC 1114912. PMID 9974466.
  24. ^ "What Does It Mean to Be a "Bottom" or "Submissive" in Lesbian Sex?". Autostraddle. 2018-07-10. Archived from the original on 2020-02-26. Retrieved 2020-02-26.
  25. ^ Topping or Bottoming – How To Know If You're A Top Or Bottom Archived 2011-11-14 at the Wayback Machine. Gaylife.about.com (2012-01-01). Retrieved on 2012-01-09.
  • 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)