BDSM 101: Topping from the Bottom
You might have heard the phrase “Topping from the Bottom” thrown out in discussions. Someone might have even said it about you! No matter where you've seen it, the phrase is usually used with a negative connotation to describe an undesirable-to-most behavior, so let's make sure you know what it is, why it happens, and how to prevent it (if you want to).
What Is It?
"Topping from the Bottom" is a descriptive phrase we use in the BDSM world to describe a specific situation between a Top and a Bottom.
In this situation, the Bottom person, despite being the agreed-upon Bottom, regularly attempts to take control of the scene through suggestions, disinterest in playing unless it follows a scripted outline, or disinterest in obeying. "Topping from the bottom" is rarely as simple as it seems, and most of the behavior will be more manipulative than obvious.
Let's be clear: "Topping from the bottom" is not the same as having limits or boundaries. No bottom should ever go along with tasks or scenes that fall outside of their agreed-upon boundaries. "Topping from the bottom" differs because it's usually focused on activities and asks that would fall within the Bottom's comfort zone, but they're disinterested in doing them because they don't fit into their pre-conceived fantasies.
For example, a Top brings out a paddle and commands the Bottom to bend over the bed for an over-the-knee spanking. This is within both partner's limits. However, the Bottom refuses to comply and instead starts suggesting that they should use the chair in the living room because that chair has always featured in their fantasies. The Top allows it, and once they're in the chair for the spanking, the bottom suggests different paddles and spanking techniques mid-spanking, interrupting the Top's flow.
It's important to note that "topping from the bottom" may not be done with malicious intent. Some Bottoms genuinely may not realize they're doing it - or they may assume this is what's expected of them. Some may confuse “topping from the bottom” for the much-desired open communication. If you see signs of "topping from the bottom" in yourself or a partner, don't automatically assume malice.
Why Does It Happen?
Turns out, most of us have fantasies we bring to the table. Depending on how long you've wanted to do kinky things, you might have literal decades of fantasies kicking around in your brain - or you might have spent those decades refining that one, perfect fantasy.
This can become the catalyst for problems, though, when you're asking someone else to "dominate" you.
As a general rule, when you hand over control to another person, that means the other person is in charge. They get to do what they want (within limits and boundaries!). They also happen to be their own person with their own wants and desires, so it's likely they're going to come at the scene from an entirely different viewpoint.
But wait: they're not doing anything like how those fantasies have played out in the Bottom's brain!
For a lot of people, that's how topping from the bottom comes into play. One partner (the Bottom partner, in this instance) has very firm ideas about how they want the scene to go, but they're not the ones in charge. So when the person in charge (the Top) crafts a scene that is falling far away from where the Bottom's fantasies lie, the Bottom attempts to course-correct into an option that best fulfills the Bottom's fantasies.
Why is Topping from the Bottom a Problem?
Let's be clear: topping from the bottom isn't a problem for everyone. Some Tops may enjoy providing the service of fulfilling the Bottom's fantasy. And in the case of professional domination, the goal is to fulfill the Bottom's fantasies without much of the Top's preferences!
But for many people, power exchange is about the exchange of power and decision making. If the Bottom is calling all of the shots - and getting upset when the Top isn't following them to a "T", this isn't likely to leave the Top feeling very dominant or in charge. Depending on how forceful the Bottom is about the entire experience, it can leave the Top feeling like a disposable toy that just exists to fulfill the Bottom's fantasies - and nobody likes that feeling.
But Wait: This Sounds Like Open Communication?
It can be easy to confuse open communication and topping from the bottom. Honestly, it can.
The biggest distinguishing factors are intent and timing.
"Topping from the bottom" happens mid-scene. It's a jarring course change prompted by obvious and less-than-obvious behaviors by the Bottom. It's an attempt to change the direction of the scene the Top has crafted. Open communication happens before and after the scene. During the scene, aside from communicating needs, the Top's gameplan and control of a scene generally stays intact.
It's easy to think about it this way: your preferences should come out in the discussion ahead of time. Once the scene starts, the scene is the Top's call, and any input from the Bottom should be reserved for safewords or modifications to reduce pain or discomfort.
Your specific phrasing is also important when distinguishing between "topping from the bottom" and open communication mid-scene. Open communication may look like "Sir, this position hurts my knees. Can we try another one so I can better focus on you?" while "topping from the bottom" may look like "I bet it'd be hot if we did this on the bed. Let's go to the bed."
The intent also matters. None of us use the perfect language to communicate our intention all of the time. Sometimes your honest request might sound a bit like "topping from the bottom" because you're so focused on trying to stay still like your Top asked.
The second factor differentiating the two is intention. Is the Bottom trying to change the scene to better fit into their fantasies, or does their ankle just honestly hurt? Is the Bottom refusing to do an activity because it's on their hard limits or because it isn't how they saw the scene going? Only the Bottom themselves can tell you the intent of their request, but it matters.
How Can I Avoid "Topping from the Bottom"?
Okay, so you've read this entire article, and now you're worried about "topping from the bottom" because you're pretty sure you've been doing it.
If you want to change that habit, my first recommendation would be to start communicating about your desires ahead of time. It isn't "topping from the bottom" if you discuss what would be hot for you during pre-scene planning. It isn't "topping from the bottom" if you tell them every detail of what your fantasy entails when you're having an open conversation.
Remember: your partner isn't a mind-reader. If there are various, very-specific things you've always wanted to experience, consider telling your partner ahead of time. If it's important to you that you experience that activity in a certain way, make that clear too.
Giving them as many details as possible ahead of time helps them craft a scene, but remember: even with all of the details in the world, their real-life version will probably not match the fantasy you've been creating for years now.
My second recommendation would be to step back from your fantasies for awhile. Instead of focusing on the perfect world you can create in your brain (nothing goes wrong in there, ever!), focus on the imperfect world that's actually bringing some of your fantasies to life. Remember that a scene is a magical mixture of your turn-ons and your partner's turn-ons, and it's unique to you and them.
My third recommendation, if you have a fantasy that just won't quit, is to ask a favor from your Top partner. There's literally nothing wrong with being "gifted" an experience - just like you'd receive a massage. If you're going to go this route, and they agree, make sure to lay out everything you have in mind - all the way to the smallest detail. Remember that this is real-life - and not a fantasy - so something is likely to go wrong, so don't hold it to the highest standards that your brain offers. When it's all said and done, make sure to return the favor to your partner - and offer lots and lots of gratitude to thank them for bringing your fantasy to life.
Despite reading this entire article, please never be afraid to speak up during a scene - especially if it's about your comfort or enjoyment. There's a large difference between "topping from the bottom" and speaking up because you're not having a good time. If a simple change of position could help reduce the painful pressure on your knees, speak up.
Mistress Kay lives in the world of sexuality and kink. With a house that's quickly running out of space for things that aren't sex books and sex toys, she spends what free time she has writing femdom help articles (http://kinky-world.net/category/bdsm-advice/femdom-advice/), trying the latest and greatest in sex toys, and exploring the sexual universe with her partners. She can be reached at Kinky World (http://kinky-world.net/).