Stumble upon any community dedicated to BDSM or D/s relationships, and you’re sure to find someone discussing topping from the bottom, usually in derision. It’s apparently a bad thing that’s also common. But what is topping from the bottom and how do you avoid it if it’s going to be bad for your relationship?
In a BDSM scene or D/s relationship, one person acts as the top (also dominant, Master, etc.) and the other the bottom (sub or slave, etc.). There are expectations for all of these roles, including that the bottom will perform roles given to them by the top, also known as bottoming, and that the dominants will provide instruction and care, which is known as topping. When a submissive steps outside of his or her role and tries to control the scene or relationship, it’s known as topping from the bottom.
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Examples of Topping From the Bottom
Topping from the bottom can take on a variety of appearances:
- Refusing to obey orders
- Ignoring commands
- Questioning orders
- Negotiating the scene after it’s been agreed on
- Trying to barter with the top
- Telling the top what to do
- Intentionally making mistakes
There are a few things that are not topping from the bottom. For example, begging is a common activity in a scene. A submissive might beg for more or harder spankings, for example. A submissive might also beg for their dominant to stop, which typically goes along with the scene.
When a bottom actually needs the scene to pause or end, they’ll use a safe word. A safe word is also not considering bottom topping. It’s a tool used to ensure the peace of mind and safety of both partners.
Discover more about safe words and safety in BDSM.
IMPORTANT: Any dominant/top who ignored safety and safewords or tries to gaslight you into thinking that following safety precautions is topping from the bottom is one that you don’t want to play with. Even if you’re new to BDSM, and sometimes especially if you’re new to BDSM, you have the right to specify what you want to try, your limits, and what makes you feel safe.
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Furthermore, a bottom providing feedback isn’t topping from the bottom. A submissive might ask for harder, softer, faster or slower. Those things help increase pleasure and satisfaction with the scene.
Finally, a scene might look like topping from the bottom if the top identifies as a service top/dominant. Service tops employ a type of dominance that focuses on the submissive desires. Thus, the bottom usually gets what they want, which can make them appear to be in control to an outsider.
Why Is This Bad?
There are several reasons that topping from the bottom is problematic. First, a dominant and submissive should have already specified how a scene was going to go by discussing it beforehand. If the submissive is trying to control the relationship, those details should already have been discussed or even agreed upon in a BDSM contract. The time for disagreement is over.
Secondly, topping from the bottom is a type of manipulation that isn’t healthy for the relationship just as manipulation isn’t healthy for any romantic or sexual relationship. It’s not open or honest, and it doesn’t help either person grow. In fact, it can be damaging to current and future relationships!
A healthy BDSM relationship helps people be intimate and grow. This is why some people enjoy domestic discipline. More on domestic discipline in this post.
If that’s the case, why is bottom topping so common? There are a few reasons why a submissive might resort to topping from the bottom.
Why Do Subs Top From the Bottom?
They’re testing the dominant.
A particularly hard-headed submissive might want to ensure that a dominant is just as hard-headed and can keep them in check. In this way, topping from the bottom might actually be a type of encouragement for the dominant to reign the submissive in tighter. If the top is unable to do this, the bottom might opt for a different partner who can handle them.
For some submissives, the role takes on a brattier nature. The dominant responds by keeping the submissive in line. While some tops are okay with a bratty bottom, not all are.
The top is a novice.
Newbie dominants might be especially likely to run into topping from the bottom because they’re not sure how to top another person. Or they might be too lenient because they’re still getting used to their role as a top. When paired with a strong-willed submissive or one who is more experienced, the dominant might find themselves being topped.
The submissive isn’t really submissive.
Sometimes people try to learn BDSM but do so in the wrong roles. A person who has an interest in power-exchange relationships might find themselves trying on the role of a submissive but topping from the bottom because they’re naturally more dominant.
They’re both switches.
In BDSM, a switch is a person who can play either role. Some switches are more naturally dominant or submissive. If you’re playing the bottom in a scene with someone who is naturally less dominant than you are, you can easily fall into the trap of topping from the bottom.
The bottom has trust issues.
A bottom whO is new, playing with a new-to-them top or engaging with a new dominant entirely might have issues trusting and letting go. This might lead them to disobey or ignore orders during a scene. It’s natural to be hesitant, which is why new partners shouldn’t rush into any scene. Furthermore, you should communicate with your dominant about any of your fears so he can avoid triggering you or causing long-term damage.
Discuss safe words, so you know the scene will end when you need it to. This assures you as a submissive that your safety comes first. If you’re the dominant, a safe word is reassuring because you know you won’t overstep any boundaries.
Talking about sex can be tricky sometimes, and we understand that. That’s why we wrote our guide to talking about sex to help you! Read our guide to sexual communication to learn how to discuss your safety during scenes, sexual needs and so much more!
How to Stop Topping From the Bottom
As you can guess, communication is an important step to stop topping from the bottom (and it’s one of the 8 rules of BDSM you should always follow). After discussing fears and desires, you might be able to proceed while being an obedient bottom. Or you may realize that this partner isn’t for you and instead seek out a new partner.
It’s not necessarily up to the submissive to start those conversations, either. A dominant should get to know their submissive to see signs of tension, doubt or similar negative feelings. If you find yourself in this role, look for any signs of discomfort and start the conversation yourself. Sometimes people do not know themselves well enough to recognize these signs in themselves.
What dominants shouldn’t do is respond with anger. In fact, it might be best to stop a scene and walk away from it, which will deprive the bottom of any stimulation. This provides you with time to come up with a proper punishment or to decide how you want to discuss the issue with your submissive.
Another thing the tops can do, when safety isn’t an issue and fears have been allayed, is to train the submissive to stop topping from the bottom.
Training means encouraging behaviors you like and discouraging the undesirable actions. This may be complicated if your submissive is a masochist who enjoys spanking (get the 411 on erotic spanking). Obviously, that’s not a good way to punish them. In fact, withholding such discipline might be more of an actual punishment to a sub.
Consistency is key. You cannot sometimes allow topping from the bottom while punishing for it at other times.
In D/s relationships (more on D/s relationships here), punishments might reach outside of the bedroom. For example, your dominant might respond to you topping from the bottom by not allowing you to play video games or grounding you.
Training a submissive is a pretty complicated subject, which we won’t discuss in depth here. But training is one way to correct poor behavior and topping from the bottom. You might consider The New Topping Book or The New Bottoming Book for more insight into these roles and how they interact together.
At the end of the day, your BDSM scenes or relationships are what you make of them. If you prefer being a service top or a bratty submissive, that can work for you and your partner. Topping from the bottom when you haven’t agreed upon the roles in your D/s relationships is nearly always a symptom of a bigger problem and one that you should try to deal with as soon as possible if you want a happy and healthy relationship.
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