Are you a top or bottom? If you’re not sure, or if you haven’t even heard that terminology before, we’re here to help! Want to know the difference between them, or need help determining where you fall on the spectrum?
We’ve got a primer on what these terms mean and how you can use that information to improve your sexual experiences.
Tally-ho brave explorer, knowledge is power!
Are These “Gay” Terms? Why Are They Important?
While you may see the terms top/bottom used more in the LGBTQ queer community (particularly among cisgender gay men and to describe gay sex), these terms can apply to any consensual intimacy.
We mostly use top or bottom to refer to any sexual activities that include penetrative sex with another person (whether with a penis, strap-on, dildo, or prostate massager).
Even research has shown that these terms defy set gender roles, so we consider them far more non-binary now. If it’s your first time hearing these terms, don’t stress.
You’re also under no pressure to choose a label for yourself! It’s absolutely fine to enjoy sex (either by yourself or with a partner) without having to pledge your allegiance to be a top or bottom. Self-labeling is a long process, so don’t feel you need to make lifelong decisions.
Similarly, if you identify with any of these labels, it’s okay to claim them as your own. Your sexual preferences may also change over time, so you’re never locked into having to follow any set role for the rest of your life.
While you don’t have to claim a label, they can be important for helping to develop a sense of community. You may even find that you enjoy exploring your sexual subculture, so to speak, allowing you to meet and bond with like-minded individuals.
It can be challenging to make friends as an adult, and narrowing down your place in the world can be life-changing. Compatibility is essential, and terms can help.
What Is a Top?
Let’s start by looking at what it means to be a “top.” Although the word top is often used interchangeably with “dominant,” the role and not the power exchange matters here. Tops are the giver in a sexual relationship, meaning they perform oral sex, anal sex, etc.
Historically, the term "top" came from that person’s physical location during sex. However, we now know that there are so many different sexual positions, and none have anything to do with your sexual identity or preferences.
Different Types of Tops
Under the “top” umbrella, there are different ways to be a top.
- Dominant Top. Dominant tops combine the sex position of being a top with the energy of being a Dominant. There is much more of a power dynamic at play, and it can involve elements of sadomasochism, shaming/humiliation, or bondage.
- Stone Top. Stone tops (sometimes called Touch Me Nots) are people who enjoy giving without being touched at all themselves. However, some stone tops are okay with being touched only after giving the bottom specific directions on how to do it.
- Service Top. A service top is someone who gives but only with explicit instructions from the bottom. Essentially, they perform the physical actions of being a top but are told what to do by the bottom (often a power bottom).
How To Be a Good Top
Being a top is about far more than just being the giver. Being a good top requires knowledge and active communication. Otherwise, you risk crossing boundaries or even causing pain to your partner. Here are a few tips:
- Learn your partner’s anatomy. Learning about what makes them tick is crucial whether you have the same anatomy as your partner or different parts. For example, if you want to use a prostate massager, you need to know where the prostate is and how it functions. This knowledge helps you make your partner feel good without risking injury (pro tip: always use plenty of lube).
- Ease into it. Whether using a sex toy, prostate massager, or your body, you must ensure your partner is prepared. Do plenty of foreplay (especially before anal intercourse), use lubrication, and take your time getting your partner ready for what’s to come.
- Check with your partner frequently. Getting consent is vital, but someone can revoke consent at any time. However, not everyone feels comfortable speaking up if something doesn’t feel right. As a top, it’s your responsibility to check in frequently with your partner to ensure everything continues to feel good.
What Is a Bottom?
Bottoms are in the opposite role. Where tops give, bottoms receive. But don’t be fooled into thinking that bottoms are all passive people. There are ways to receive pleasure without being submissive to your partner.
Different Types of Bottoms
Like tops, there are also different ways that people can explore being a bottom.
- Bratty Bottom. Affectionately known as brats, bratty bottoms like to push their partner into being more aggressive with them. This is seen more in BDSM scene play; however, it can also be a fun dynamic to play with in more vanilla encounters.
- Power Bottom. A power bottom is a perfect companion for the service top. Power bottoms like to receive, but they also like to tell the giver exactly how they want it. Power bottoms also do it differently than others, some using supportive language and others being more aggressive.
- Stone Bottom. Sometimes referred to derogatorily as “pillow princesses,” stone bottoms enjoy receiving but don’t feel comfortable reciprocating. Stone bottoms have been unfairly shamed and slandered, but it is just as valid a way to bottom as any others.
How To Be a Good Bottom
It may seem like tops are the ones doing all the work, but being a bottom is also its own responsibility. Although you are the one receiving pleasure and stimulation, there are ways that you can be a better bottom (and make your own experience more enjoyable, as well).
- Don’t be afraid to communicate. Even though you are a “bottom,” it’s just as crucial (if not even more so) that you actively communicate with your partner during intimacy. If you prefer to be more of a submissive role, you don’t have to “boss” your partner around. Having an established “safe word” you can use if you need a break can help you feel more at ease.
- “Practice” on your own. If you’re new to bottoming, we highly recommend that you practice on your own through masturbation outside of a sexual encounter. Practice can help you work your way up to full penetration if that’s your goal. Try a prostate massager in the privacy of your room before inviting in another person. Knowing what works for your body and how far you can push it, you’ll be a much better bottom.
What Does Being “Vers” Mean?
Vers is short for versatile, meaning a person who identifies this way likes to both give and receive. You may have heard this called a “switch” in the past, but there is a slight difference.
Vers identifies someone who doesn’t mind being in the top or bottom role during a sexual encounter, whereas being a switch is more specific to the practice of BDSM. When you are in the vers role, you can mix it up in the middle of your encounter!
More people identify as being vers rather than top or bottom, making it much easier to find someone sexually compatible.
How To Be a Good Vers
Flexibility can make it easier to be a good vers, but it can complicate the process if you don’t know how to avoid the common pitfalls.
- Communicate with your partner before you take your clothes off. If it seems like we’re talking about communication a lot, that’s because it’s essential. Communication is especially crucial when you’re vers because you need to establish what role you’ll be taking, so there’s no confusion or crossed boundaries.
- Be flexible. Not every sexual encounter has to be so black and white. Flexibility is one of the most fun parts of being vers, so don’t be afraid to switch it up in the middle of things if your partner wants to take a turn as the top or bottom instead.
When In Doubt, Ask!
There is a lot of subtlety and variation in the definitions of top or bottom. If you’re unsure what your partner means when they define themselves as one or the other, clarify!
Communication is essential in a sexual encounter, especially when getting enthusiastic, active consent. Setting boundaries with your partner ahead of time and identifying the roles that you feel most comfortable with can set your sex life up for long-term, continued success.
Whether you are a top or bottom, knowledge is power. Learning what makes your body tick and how to be a more communicative, open partner can make your sexual experiences more pleasurable, exciting, and fun.
At GIDDI, we support you as you learn what makes you feel good without judgment. Follow us for more tips and tricks on keeping your sex life exciting and your prostate happy and healthy, no matter how you identify.
“Butch Tops and Femme Bottoms”?: Sexual Roles, Sexual Decision-Making, and Ideas of Gender among Young Gay Men | PubMed
Recognition and Construction of Top, Bottom, and Versatile Orientations in Gay/Bisexual Men | PubMed