A somewhat common phrase within kink is “Topping from the Bottom” which is also presented as being a bad thing.
I do agree that it is, if not consensual – and can be bad for both the Dominant and the sub in scenes.
However, I also feel that it’s a term that gets misused. It can leave subs afraid to speak up or communicate. It can also send the Dominants on the wrong path. But, worse, it can be used as a tool to get away with abuse.
First off. What is Topping from the Bottom.
A simple explanation would be anything that attempts to control a situation you’ve already agreed to give up control in.
Examples could include deliberately making mistakes or ignoring orders for the purpose of getting a certain type of punishment.
Telling the Dominant what to do during a scene.
Negotiating an already agreed scene.
Using safewords unnecessarily (i.e to avoid something agreed that you don’t like in order to move onto something you do like).
Context could also apply depending on the nature of your relationship and agreed dynamics. Pre-agreeing funishments as part of bratting is completely different.
Subs should also never be afraid of using safewords or saying no, even if something IS already agreed – but there is a difference between just not feeling you can do something at this time, which is a concern you should address; and trying to take control to get your own way.
Why is it bad?
It’s manipulation. Be it agreeing to something there was no intention of doing, or, trying to direct the scene to their wants.
It can also be very tiring to the Dominant if something they had planned in their head is being constantly subject to change or constantly being undermined.
But, also, the sub themselves probably isn’t experiencing the full experience of “letting go”, submitting, being lost in the moment if they’re redirecting things.
What isn’t topping from the bottom?
My main crux of this post is how it’s a term that is often misused. Whether this is from the Dominants own inexperience or lack of understanding; or whether a deliberate attempt from the Dominant to manipulate, silence or abuse the submissive.
It’s very important for Dominants to also understand this. As well as for submissives to identify when something a Dominant is saying/doing isn’t right.
Before play there’s usually a negotiation, sometimes this can be easier than others. If you see a Lady with a whip in a club and say “Hey, Mistress would you be so kind as to whip my back” and she says, “Yes” then couple with the house safeword you likely have a negotiated scene.
But if it’s another form of play scene you might otherwise discuss interests, levels, limits – and it’s important to communicate what is important to you.
Obviously a sub being too demanding in negotiation may be off-putting. But from the sub perspective, if you have specific likes and are worried about witholding them through fear of being seen to be too demanding then you risk getting a scene you don’t enjoy.
A good practice should be following up a scene or meeting with feedback. Ideally two ways (it’s not seeking validation for the sub to make sure they’re on the right track, although that’s potentially another blog).
Whilst this feedback should hopefully be the sub saying how wonderful the Dominant was – they could have a good time but still have things they want to steer. There also should be no shame in things being raised if, in that instance, the sub didn’t enjoy the experience.
So, things like
“I enjoyed that, can we do it more?”
“I’m not enjoying a certain activity that much, can we give it a little rest for a while?”
“I’m glad we tried, but I hated it, I’d rather not do that specific activity again”
or even, “You said you would do something with me and you didn’t and I’m disappointed, even if I understand”
None of those are topping from the bottom.
Of course, some of these do have scope for the future direction and it might be that means things aren’t going to work – if the feedback is a constant “can we do more of my favourites and less of yours?” that could be heading into Topping-from-bottom but moreso scenes should be something BOTH people enjoy. If either aren’t enjoying time together then it doesn’t make sense to continue.
RAISING IDEAS / WOULD LIKE TO TRY
With there being so much in kink it’s possible at any time to suddenly read about something, or see an idea or hear how someone else does things and feeling this is something you want to try or incorporate into the relationship.
Obviously, of course, the answer doesn’t have to be “Yes”. But in a health situation the sub should feel comfortable to raise suggestions, particularly if it’s something that can be fun to do together or potential benefit the relationship.
In turn, this would surely relieve some of the emotional labour from the Dominant to not feel like they have to constantly come up with new ideas.
RAISING CONCERNS/STRUGGLING WITH SUBMISSION
You can be happy but have things you’re unhappy with. A lot of subs have the intention but do struggle a little bit in relationships especially if, for example, protocol seems full on. Not knowing how to act in certain situations. Any emotions or feeling one way or another and possibly even asking for some things to ease slightly.
Asking for help or expressing concerns isn’t topping from the bottom. Neither is asking for aftercare if this is overlooked.
DISCUSSING NEW RULES
Relationships aren’t fluid and in one that often has “rules” it may be that new rules need to be introduced.
These could be in response to potentially changing/correcting a subs behaviour, taking the relationship to the next level or changes in the Dominants circumstance or ambitions.
I few articles I read on Topping-from-the-bottom suggested that disagreeing with, or trying to negotiate/barter rules was topping from the bottom. I largely disagree, but feel this comes down to context.
Firstly, I think rules should be set out and agreed at the start of any relationship – this might be a non-negotionable take-it-or-leave-it. It might be something bespoke the Dominant has made for the sub, again on a take-it-or-leave-it basis : it might be something mutually or bespokely agreed.
But, 6 months or so later, some further take-it-or-leave rules might be acceptable if for example they’re required in response to a sub taking the piss or pushing boundaries. Where you need them to comply for the sake of the relationship.
However. Let’s say that so far into a non-sexual relationship, a Male dom said of their female sub that he wanted sexual contact as part of the relationship in order to continue it. That would be manipulation – so if the sub disagreed or tried to say “Well, I’m going to want more out of this” that wouldn’t, to me, be Topping from the Bottom.
Or perhaps a relationship with a straight male sub who is so far into the relationship he was to do forced-bi on demand – again, this is a manipulation and the sub would have a right to disagree or state this is way above what was originally agreed.
Or any other form of D/s relationship where the Dominant introduces a new rule that increases the finances, the workload, or the pressure onto the submissive – I think it’s right for the sub to evaluate if they even can, it would be massively unfair to end if they couldn’t, or for them to use this as an opportunity to raise areas they may wish to change.
Which on one hand might seem like trying to manipulate a situation, on another – tying in with my prior points on “raising ideas” or “raising concerns” this may seem like an appropriate prompt.
A fair few blogs I’ve read gets very messy around “saying no” and withdrawing consent, implying it’s a form of Topping from the Bottom in some circumstances (i.e. refusing a certain activity potentially to move onto the next)
I disagree wholeheartedly.
Someone can withdraw consent at any time for any reason. Dominant or submissive.
If someone is frequently withdrawing consent or safewording then possibly wider discussions around the play/relationship is needed as something isn’t right, which could even be the submissive struggling with trust or letting go.
BE WARY OF THOSE THAT TRY TO SHUT IT DOWN
If you are having a discussion it’s important for the sub to avoid topping from the bottom; but it’s also important to avoid using that as a go-to-accusation if the sub isn’t responding with exactly what you want to hear.
It also doesn’t mean your Dominance is weak. There’s more strength in listening to what is being said.
Of course – the word “no” is always available.
sub : I want to try…
Dom : No, that doesn’t interest me
sub : I would like to…
Dom : That is something we can work towards, but it will take time.
sub : Can we…?
Dom : Yes, but you’ll have to earn that. Let’s discuss how you can earn it.
However telling people they are topping from the bottom is a bit more aggressive. It’s an uber-Domly “I am the Dom and you do as I say” and tries to manipulate the sub into think they are a bad sub for raising questions, for having feelings, for wanting to ask things of you.
WHAT IF THE SUB IS TOPPING FROM THE BOTTOM?
Nobody is obliged to play with, or be in a relationship, with anyone else. And if a sub is displaying behaviours that are being disruptive to play, trying to influence play and – ultimately – not being fun… then you’re not obliged to do anything with them.
Context could apply based on the level of your relationship.
Dominants should avoid responding with anger, or getting frustrated in a scene. Unless agreed as part of a dynamic, shouldn’t hit harder to “teach a lesson”.
While I hate to infantalise the situation, subs tend to respond better by encouraging the behaviours you want to see and making positive steps to discourage what you don’t want to see.
If someone is playing for punishment then punishing them is giving them what they want.
I mentioned above about Feedback and this being two-way. I think it’s important to try to highlight to the sub as part of this where you feel they are splitting and this can be part of the reflection and aftercare for both.