I Don’t Talk About Topping Much
Partly, that’s because while in practice I switch, I identify more as a bottom. Partly, it’s because, even writing pseudonymously, my spouse prefers that I not talk about what I do with her as a top. What I do as a bottom is personal to me, and I can talk about it as I see fit; what she does as a bottom is personal to her, and she doesn’t want to see the details in the blogosphere.
People who top in various aspects of BDSM play do so for a variety of reasons, and I’m not going to attempt a typology of topping. Since our experiences are highly individualized, it’s tough to say much more than, “this is what I do, this is how I feel about it.” And my freedom to do that is limited, so I tend instead to talk about my experiences bottoming.
I did, however, run across someone saying a lot of things about topping that resonated with me, and that I will share for that reason. Over at Cuntlove, Cleofaye writes about her shift from bottoming exclusively to topping female and male partners. She started out as a bottom — a common though not exclusive pattern and one that I suspect but can’t demonstrate is more common among women. She says:
Then I met K. K was a girl in my women and gender studies class who I fell in love with hard… She was a sub, but only interested in the Bondage and Domination, but not in any sort of erotic pain. From K I learned that I loved control, much more than I thought I would.
Being a top was hard work. Yes, I had all the power, but as they say in the spiderman movies, with great power becomes great responsiblity. Now, having sex wasn’t about me anymore. I wasn’t allowed to be selfish and I wasn’t allowed to lose control anymore. Everything I did had to be carefully thought through to make sure I wasn’t making my sub uncomfortable, overstepping her limits, or putting her in danger. …
[…] Giving orders and making demands were something I had never been very comfortable with, but the second I saw how excited and turned on those orders made K, any feelings of guilt or hesitation were gone. It became a game, a job; figuring out what I could do that would turn her on. How I could top the last experience, how I could take her to the next level, how I could push her limits even more without crossing the line. Her needs became my needs. Learning her desires and limits made me feel closer to her then I had ever felt to anyone.
Almost 20 years ago now, Professor Ralph Bolton said in a conference session, “you should never intellectualize sex unless you’re topping an S&M scene.” (He’s spent much of his career doing academic anthropology around sex, so I expect then and now that he meant you should never intellectualize it while it’s happening.) But topping, for me, has always meant being in my head: planning, reading, thinking, adapting, constantly adjusting to keep my partner on the journey she was seeking, often while consciously avoiding the obvious route. For that reason, even when I do something as a top what involved genital stimulation for me (and I often don’t), it’s hard to come. I have too much to do and too many other things to pay attention to. Getting off is not really on my priority list.
(My partner’s orgasm isn’t necessarily on my priority list — whether BDSM need be “sexual” is contested terrain among BDSMers ourselves, and to the extent it is, often it is sensual, erotic, sexual, but not genital-focused or not orgasm focused. In fact, I’ve told my spouse that I’d like to orgasm less as a bottom, but she gets a sense of completeness out of making me climax when she’s topping.)
Cleofaye says she has had one partner that she could let go and go a bit heavy with, a man:
knowing that we would both be into S&M play was the main reason we started hooking up in the first place. The first few times I was with him, I underestimated both him and myself. I’m a pretty strong girl, and I’ve learned to hold back most of my life. I never use all my strength to do pretty much anything. I held back hitting him, scratching him, I stopped myself from using all my strength, every time.
He took me aside and told me to stop holding back, that I hadn’t come close to his pain tolerance. For one of the first times in my life, I could let go, stop holding back, and I let myself go. It was a wonderful feeling. Spanking him, slapping him, hitting hit with a riding crop, he would get harder and harder. He would break his usual stoic sexual behavior to grunt and groan and scream in that way that tells you they are the border of pleasure and pain.
I don’t think that holding back as a top is exclusive to women, but I think it is a more powerful force to overcome. Tops have limits, too, and there are things that I’ve had partners want to do that I was not prepared to do as a top. But my spouse has had to work much harder with some mental blocks as a top. When I first said I wanted her to kick me in the testicles, she couldn’t do it. She didn’t refuse. She liked the idea. So there I was, naked, kneeling, breath hot with anticipation. She went to kick me and … stopped, as if an invisible hand grabbed her foot. It took a lot of practice to make that invisible hand go away. A lot of wonderful, wonderful practice.
I do really appreciate that I’ve been playing with the same person for over a decade now. There’s a pattern of evolution with regular partners, from “this does nothing for me but she wants to try it,” to “she loved it last time, so maybe I can amp it up a bit” to “this gets her so hot that it makes me hot to watch her react to it.” I savor that evolution.
In the end, something is true for me as a BDSMer that I would certainly never claim as a universal. For me, topping or bottoming, BDSM is intimate. Which is not to say that I only ever play with romantic partners or even with people I know well; but it is to say that doing BDSM creates in me a powerful sense of intimacy with a partner. And while I wouldn’t claim it as a universal, there again I’m not alone:
A BDSM session would leave us giddy and light headed. We would lay in bed, catching our breath. We actually fell deeply in love very quickly, which I think is one of the real dangers of BDSM. You have to trust each other and learn to read each other, something that leads to intimacy that you may not have intended. It connects you to your partner quickly and intensely, it’s an adrenaline rush and it’s a release of physical energy that’s like nothing else.
Thank you, Cleofaye, for saying it so well.