Information Styles and “Topping from the Bottom”

In the kink community, I hear a lot of derisive commentary about “topping from the bottom.” A recent conversation happened online about how it is a problem, a removal of authority, and it struck me as being true in some instances, and profoundly invalidating of truth in other situations. That “topping from the bottom,” like many things that apply to interactions between humans, are based on context and the people involved.

Midori has an excellent grid that lays out kind of like this (I encourage *everyone* to attend Midori’s workshops, she is incredibly articulate on these concepts):

Top          Switch         Bottom     Neutral





Journey-EnthusiasmIn her system, there are Dominant Tops, Dominant Switches and Dominant Bottoms. A dominant top is sometimes referred to as a “true dominant,” or in classical BDSM terms pre 1995, simply a “Top.” A dominant switch can say “tonight I want to have you single tail me the way I want, and tomorrow I will single tail you the way I want.” A dominant bottom can say “I like it when you use and abuse me in this specific way.”

Neutral players set aside power exchange. They want the physicality, but not the power exchange. They want to top, bottom or switch, and it’s all about the touch, the hedonism, the sensation. Neutral across the top becomes where there are Dominant and Submissive individuals who have no interest in the physical interaction. A Switch down the left side goes between being dominant or submissive in roll. Thus, Neutral-Neutral would be “vanilla sex.” A Submissive Top becomes the “Service Top,” who revels in the service aspect and the giving.

A Dominant Bottom is a valid form of player. They have the right to top from the bottom. The issue, in my opinion, is people assuming that bottoms are necessarily submissive and that tops are necessarily dominant.

It’s also an issue of how negotiation around in-scene communication styles. I know many dominant tops who like their bottom purring out “ooooooo, yes sirrrrrr, more to the left sir pleassssssse.” Which is a form of “topping from the bottom” if, by that, you mean, having the bottom tell the top what they want. It goes over differently then “Sir, what hell are you doing? You should hit me more on the left.”

The second is abusive not because it is a bottom telling a top what to do. It is abusive because there is shaming language. Violent language.

I know some tops who love hearing “Hit me on the left side now.” It gives them confidence to have constant verbal feedback and direction.

My vote – compatible systems that work for all parties involved. How does the top want information?

  • Pre-scene: “I prefer sensation on my left side.”
  • Post-scene positive feedback: “I really preferred when you hit my left side and would like it if we did more of that next time.”
  • Post-scene critique: “I found the ratio of left to right hitting would could be improved.”
  • Non-verbally: *wiggles left ass cheek*.
  • As data points: “My right side is sore.”
  • As request: “Could you hit my left side?”
  • As statement: “I like it when you hit there.”
  • As delight: “Oh, yum, more of that!”
  • As formal request: “Sir, could you please hit my left side Sir?”
  • As plea: “Oh gods please not the right side any more please please please.”
  • A begging “Oh Mam would this Slave begs you please hit the left side oh please how I adore thee.”

There is an issue with some of these… and yes, there are many more. Asking for what you want does not equal the opposite of what someone doesn’t want. So some of these read different to different “listeners” and “speakers.”

I think it boils down to communication styles. Some tops would consider some of these “topping from the bottom” while others would consider it feedback or providing information. Some would consider it incredibly sexy, while others do not.

There are some that are some forms of information sharing that are outright abusive, unless you are in a scene where the top is supposed to be degraded:

  • What the fuck, you asshole, hit the left side.
  • You *never* hit me on my left side.
  • You should be a better Top than this.
  • Everyone knows that people hit on the left side equal to the right.
  • My last Top knew to hit me on the left side.
  • You’d hit me better if you loved me.

And some are abusive to the bottom:

  • Every Bottom should have the capacity to take un-even bodily impact.
  • What is wrong with you?
  • Why are you so demanding?
  • Clearly you are not a “real” Submissive.

Latex-SlaveWe each have the right to be the person we want to be. We have the right to be Submissive Fetishists (Sir, may I lick your boot?) or Dominant Fetishists (Get your ass over here Boy so that I can lick your boot.) We can be Primal Switches (wrestling each other to the ground for either Top/Bottom control or Dominant/Submissive control… or both), or Primal Neutral-Neutral (we are animals, walking side by side through this concrete jungle.) We can be Tops into caning (I will hit you with precision), or Dominants into caning (I will hit you to assert my power.) We can be… ourselves.

I challenge each of us (including myself) to work on applying non-violent communication to our erotic and interpersonal encounters. If “topping from the bottom” doesn’t work in your world, let’s be clearer about what that looks like to you. And? That is it doesn’t work in *your* world… not that it is a bad thing for any human being to possibly be. For some folks, topping from the bottom is the hottest thing other. And for others, it is pain and disrespect.

Let’s learn to speak from an “I” place, rather than a “you” place. There is a difference between “I’m not a fan of having people service top me,” and “You aren’t a real Top if you service top folks.”

Respect. Not only of others, but of ourselves. When we find out what works for us as individuals, we can more clearly communicate those wants, and build up success for ourselves in our erotic journey. In our life journey. Because we deserve excellence.


If so moved…



Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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