“Topping from the Bottom” refers to an instance in a BDsM scene where the submissive partner, or bottom, seeks to control the scene. It’s a frowned-upon practice in the BDsM community and a somewhat controversial topic. Today I wanted to unpack the idea of “Topping from the Bottom” and discuss some of the things I’ve found help to avoid it.
What does “Topping from the bottom” actually entail?
One of the reasons why it’s so difficult to discuss topping from the bottom is that there isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition of the kind of behaviour that it involves. What some dominants consider acceptable, others will be angered by. For example, some submissives indulge in “bratting” during a scene, where they refuse to do what their dominant orders until they are made to comply. For some people, bratting is part of their dynamic, and having the dominant “make” them submit is an important aspect of play. For other players, this type of behaviour is deeply disrespectful to the dominant.
So it’s difficult to say “X behaviour is topping from the bottom, while Y is not” because what is acceptable varies from person to person and scene to scene. There are a range of practices that might be considered topping from the bottom depending on the circumstances. But generally speaking, any instance where the submissive partner tries to manipulate play in a way that has not previously been agreed upon would constitute topping from the bottom.
Why does it matter so much?
Topping from the bottom is so frowned upon because it violates the power exchange that is the core of most BDsM scenes. Usually, when a scene takes place, the submissive party gives up some of their power and control to the dominant, who promises to look after them and drive the scene. For many dominants, when their submissive tops from the bottom, it can be seen as a declaration that they do not trust them. It can also be extremely frustrating for a dominant who has carefully planned a scene to have it disrupted by a submissive saying “No, use the red flogger, not the black one”. Planning and executing BDsM scenes is mentally and physically draining for a dominant, and it can feel like the submissive doesn’t appreciate that hard work and effort if they interrupt or manipulate the scene. At it’s core though, topping from the bottom is seen to matter because it means that the submissive has failed to carry out their role in the scene.
So, how can we avoid topping from the bottom?
Clear and comprehensive negotiation is the best way to avoid topping from the bottom. Negotiation is an important part of BDsM scenes, and there are a few things that should definitely be touched on to diffuse a situation that could give rise to topping from the bottom:
- A lot of the time, when a submissive won’t submit or tries to manipulate a scene, it’s because they’re afraid. They’re worried that they might get hurt or that their dominant will harm them in some way. Discussing fears, phobias, triggers and limits is a vital part of negotiation and if the submissive party feels that they’ve been heard in this realm, they’re a lot more likely to be able to hand over the reigns to a Dom.
- Sometimes, people have a very clear picture in their minds of how they want a scene to play out. Perhaps they have a particular fantasy that they’re trying to recreate, which means that certain details have to be just so. If you’re trying to do a fantasy role play scene, discussing these details and planning out how to achieve them beforehand can help.
- Set out rules and limits that all parties agree upon as to what is acceptable during play. For example, if you know that you like to be a bit of a brat during a scene, speak up and decide if this is ok. Whatever works for you, just make sure that you’ve set out the rules for the scene clearly before you begin.
- Finally, agree on a safeword or signal and decide what will happen if the safeword is called. Many submissives will have one safeword that means “Slow down and check in” and another that means “Stop right this second”. Both parties should commit to following the rules you set out for safewords.
– Trust is another important factor in BDsM in general, but it is a huge component in avoiding topping from the bottom. When a submissive feels secure in their relationship with the dominant, and they are confident of their top’s abilities, it’s so much easier to put themselves in that person’s hands:
- Build up scenes slowly over time. Don’t leap right into a suspension rope scene or heavy impact play with a new partner. Start with something simple, a light spanking scene or some scarf bondage and build up to the heavy stuff. Each time you navigate a new scene or type of play with your partner, your trust in them will grow. Start out with play that involves a small exchange of power, and work towards the big, complicated power dynamics as your trust grows.
- Talk about your individual skills and abilities, and don’t commit to doing scenes that are beyond your comfort or skill level.
- Debrief after the scene is over. Once everyone is feeling calm and you’ve done your aftercare, have a conversation about how things went, what was good and what could be better next time.
There is a lot of introspective work that goes into BDsM. A huge amount of time goes into soul searching and self evaluation
- Be very honest with yourself about your personal limits and desires. And then be unwavering on your limits when negotiating a scene. Don’t agree to participate in play that you aren’t comfortable with. That way, you won’t be put in a situation where you’re afraid and anxious and trying to manipulate play to protect your ego.
- Commit to your role in the scene. If you’re in the submissive role, your job is to submit. Even if you’re a brat or you resist, your ultimate role is to submit and do as you’re told. And if you don’t want to do that…then maybe BDsM play isn’t for you. Or maybe you’d be better off in the dominant role.
- If you’re a submissive, it’s very normal to experience resistance to submission. Even when I trust my partner and I’ve given my full consent, I still experience moments where Sir will tell me to do something and I hesitate. In these moments I’ve learned to have a quiet word with myself, to remind myself that I trust my partner and that He has a plan for the scene. I remember that He knows what He’s doing and that Sir would never harm me. Reminding myself of those facts helps me to relax and give myself over when anxiety or fear creep in during a scene.
- Manage your own expectations. This is particularly important if you’re doing a fantasy role play, because fantasies rarely translate perfectly into reality. When you let go of the need for the scene to go exactly the way you pictured in your head, it makes it easier to resist the urge to micromanage it.
Topping from the bottom is a very tricky topic to discuss, because it can mean many things to different people. But ultimately it’s about a submissive who is either unwilling or unable to surrender and submit. And I believe that honest communication and slow building of trust will go a long way to allowing that submissive to let go and hand control over to their dominant. It’s not easy to submit, but once you’ve established that safety and trust, it’s so much easier to release your grip and just enjoy the ride.
Do you have any tips on how to avoid topping from the bottom? Or any questions about BDsM scenes and negotiation? If you do, please leave a comment below.