Being An Asshole, or Topping From the Bottom?

Thank you to Devastating Yet Inconsequential for permission to repost this post.  My comments are below the double line.

topping from the bottom

Can we please, please retire this concept?

Listen, there is such a thing as being an asshole in bed, no matter what kind of sex you’re having.  These types of behavior might make you an asshole (depending on context):

  • constantly insisting on getting your own way
  • not letting your partner finish the sex equivalent of a thought before correcting them
  • trying to force your partner to do things they don’t like and don’t choose
  • pouting or whining that things aren’t exactly to your liking
  • giving your partner long lists of changes you’d like them to make
  • refusing to play along with any idea you haven’t thought of yourself

When bottoms do things like this, it’s sometimes called “topping from the bottom.”  But the behavior listed above is equally obnoxious from a top or dom.

Listen to your partner.  Give them space to try things.  Be “good, giving, and game” (as Dan Savage puts it).  Be willing to try things yourself.  Prioritize your constructive criticism and give it at a pace your partner can handle.  Recognize your partner as a fellow human being with their own needs and desires, which have an equal claim to be fulfilled.

And, whatever side you are on, don’t worry about “topping from the bottom.”  If you’re worried that you’re impossible for your top to satisfy, work on that.  If you’re distracted by your bottom’s constant comments, talk about that.  But let’s get rid of this concept that I’m pretty sure causes a lot more stress, grief, and reluctance to communicate than it could ever possibly be worth.

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First of all, I quite agree that the whole concept of topping from the bottom needs to go away, largely because of what Dev says, namely how badly it (and the fear of being accused of doing it) interferes with communication and the ability to resolve problems.  Even in a D/s relationship, you have a right to have your needs heard and respected, and that means you’ve got to be able to communicate them to your top without fear of this kind of nonsense.  Even in the most extreme M/s, TPE, etc. relationships, you ultimately still have those rights as a human being, even if you’ve negotiated them away.  A smart dominant will listen to them and take them into consideration no matter what the form of the relationship, just as any intelligent partner in a vanilla relationship will.

On the face of it, and without context, this list of behaviors can indeed be quite obnoxious.  I’d argue, actually, that many of them are considerably less appealing when a dominant does them than when a submissive does – and they are very much part of where BDSM may, and often does, cross the line right into abuse.

What the concept of topping from the bottom does is obscure this distinction, and that’s part of why it’s such a bad idea, because far too many people on both sides of the slash cannot tell the difference between topping from the bottom and protecting their own selves from abuse, between a healthy interchange of thoughts and respect for limits as well as attempts to accommodate a partner’s needs and desires, and outright abusiveness.

The notion of topping from the bottom is often pulled out by abusers to justify running roughshod over their submissives, and used as a bludgeon to shut them up and beat them into greater submission, even when so doing is clearly harmful to the sub.  It’s also used as a measuring device to compare one’s own submissiveness to that of other subs, by both subs and doms, when the reality is you simply cannot compare two people or situations, because of differences in individual needs.

Topping from the bottom is a concept that is not limited to what happens in bed, but is also often pulled out by dominants to justify all manner of abuses of their submissives in the rest of life as well, and to stop the sub from objecting.

If we remove the concept and term from our vocabularies altogether, the realities of what may be happening in a given situation are much easier to sort out.

Here are some examples of things that might look like TFTB, or being a jerk on the bottom, but aren’t – and are in fact much more abusive on the part of the top than anything else. Continue reading