Conversations about being a “top” or a “bottom” are common in gay life. Whether it’s to describe our sexual preferences or when gossiping about someone else, these terms have become a deeply ingrained part of queer social and pop culture.
For those few who don’t quite know what they mean, here’s a quick and broad lowdown: In gay/bi lingo a top is a guy who prefers to anally penetrate his sexual partner, while a bottom is the one who is penetrated. (Handily, these terms can also be used as verbs, i.e.: “I always top” or “I love to bottom with my partner.”)
A third common category is “versatile”. That describes a man who is happy or open to indulge in both top and bottom sexual roles; perhaps often, or sometimes just in certain circumstances or with a particular partner.
Now, as much as these are simply descriptions of sexual roles and preferences they also come with A LOT of baggage.
For example, for some, being a bottom is associated with being submissive (in bed but sometimes also outside the bedroom) and being a top is often linked to being dominant. Bottoming is also sometimes equated to being feminine and topping with being more masculine. This can even extend to age; with tops expected to be older and bottoms, younger.
But while these expectations or roles may indeed accurately reflect the experiences and desires of some people, they can also become restrictive, boring and potentially harmful stereotypes for others. The reality is that anyone – femme or masculine, younger or more mature – can be a happy top or bottom.
Sexual preferences – how we like to be pleasured and to pleasure others – do not have to relate to any other aspect of our behaviour, personality or expression inside or outside of the bedroom. That’s perhaps why more diverse terms like “power bottom” (a bottom who takes a more dominant or aggressive role in sex) have started coming to the fore.
So how relevant are these terms to our real lives anyway? In a recent MambaOnline poll we asked our readers how they felt about the categories of tops and bottoms.
“It’s not intended to be a formula; it’s meant to be fun!”
You may be surprised to learn that half (50%) of the 283 people who responded rejected these ‘either-or’ binary categories. The reasons were varied. Sixteen percent said they “don’t do labels when it comes to sex,” while 15% said that they identify as versatile.
Interestingly, 13% took the view that being defined as a top or bottom “is heteronormative and restrictive”. And, finally, 6% said that these terms simply “don’t reflect the kind of sex I have.”
For those who do identify with the bottom or top labels, a whopping 40% believe that these terms are practical and “helpful for knowing what we prefer in bed” and 10% asserted that they are “part of my identity as a queer person.”
Perhaps what is missing from this conversation is the acknowledgement that not all gay/queer men engage in anal sex. (That may be a shocking revelation for those who watch a lot of gay porn.)
There’s an assumption, not just from the rest of the world but also in our own community, that “gay equals anal” and that’s very far from the truth. Studies have found that many gay men’s sex life does not always or ever include penetrative anal sex. And let’s not forget that many, many heterosexual people also regularly enjoy some backdoor action.
So where does this leave us? Perhaps with the idea that we should relax a little and not be too obsessed with restrictive and binary views of sex roles in the bedroom. It’s not intended to be a formula; it’s meant to be fun!
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being proudly top or bottom (if and when you choose to do anal), it doesn’t have to define you in any other way. You don’t have to fit into any category or role that doesn’t seem right or comfortable for you. After all. we get enough pigeonholing from the rest of society, so let’s not impose it onto our own community.
So, are you a top or bottom? Who cares, just be you, baby, and maybe see where the moment takes you…