“Topping from the bottom” is a phrase that you will inevitably hear if you spend any length of time in the kink scene. You will most likely hear it coming from a Dominant lamenting about this behavior and informing potential players that they do not tolerate it. While some understand what is meant by this phrase, I have encountered many – including seasoned players – who do not.
The first thing to understand is that the phrase “topping from the bottom” is actually a misnomer. It’s not really a bottom attempting to top (that doesn’t actually make sense), but a submissive attempting to Dominate. Because of this, it could more accurately be called “Domming as a sub”.
What does that mean, exactly?
To understand, you need to know the difference between being a top and a bottom and a Domme and a sub.
Top and bottom are positions. Someone in the top position is the one who creates sensation. Someone in the bottom position is the one who receives it. It infers nothing about who is in control of whom.
Dominant and submissive are, to put it simply, roles. The person in the Dominant role exercises control. The person in the submissive role relinquishes it. It infers nothing about what position someone assumes.
When someone agrees to relinquish control, it means they are not providing it. If you attempt to control your play partner(s) when you have agreed to give up that control, you are the equivalent of a back-seat driver. “Put your hands at 10 and 2…go that way…drive faster…” You distract the driver away from driving. You annoy them. You may get them to pull over and ask why the hell you wanted them to drive in the first place.
People often are confused about how this figures into scenes. They ask, “How do I tell my Dominant what I like without ‘topping from the bottom’?
As I discuss in my article, “Sharing Your Interests Versus Giving a Script”, explaining what you enjoy is how we establish what we’re going to do together; it’s a necessary part of scene negotiation. Saying you enjoy rope bondage and floggers isn’t the same as telling someone how to tie you up and flog you. Of course, I’m not talking about establishing boundaries, also called “limits”, in order to feel comfortable and safe, such as “I can’t handle any more than two-point bondage” and “I only enjoy flogging on my butt”. That is something you should always do.
Once the scene begins, if you have agreed to assume a submissive role, what you have agreed to do is…submit! Though there may be minor adjustments which need to be made during a scene, such as letting your play partner know if you have reached a limit (something that might not be immediately obvious to them), assuming a submissive position means you are relinquishing control to your Dominant(s) for the activities you have negotiated.
What happens if you don’t want to submit?
Then it may be that you actually want to be the Dominant yourself, or you do not want a scene which involves power exchange.
In my experience, it’s actually pretty common for people who think that they are or want to be a submissive, in fact, are not or do not want that. They don’t usually realize this because they think that submitting and bottoming are synonymous. What I believe they truly want is a top — specifically, a service top. They want to instruct someone how to do things to them. This is where you will see “topping from the bottom” acted out.
Because this is so common, it’s why you will regularly hear exasperated Dommes exclaim, often in their first breath, “No topping from the bottom!” which you now know is really them saying, “Don’t say you want to be a submissive and then try to control me!”
The more you understand what it is you’re looking for and how to negotiate it, the less you will have this problem!