People who are new to BDSM may feel confused about how they fit in. They don’t know if they’re a top, bottom, or both (sometimes called “versatile”). They aren’t sure if they’re a Dominant, submissive, or a “switch”. Let Me attempt to help you figure it out.
The terms “Dominant” and “submissive” (conjugated: “Dominate”/”submit”, “Dommed”/”subbed”) are about power dynamics. Let’s call it your “role” for the purposes of this article. If you are assuming control and giving direction, then you’re acting as a Dominant (not DominATE, which is a verb). If you relinquishing control and are receiving direction, then you’re acting as the submissive. To be a “switch” indicates your ability to either control or be controlled.
The terms “top” and “bottom” (conjugated: “topping”/”bottoming”, “topped”/”bottomed”) relate to the positions of “giver” and “receiver”. If you are the one providing the sensation(s) – such as being the spanker, fister, fucker, or otherwise taking the “active” position – you are assuming the role of a “top”. If you are the one receiving the sensation(s) – such as being the spankee, fistee, fucked, or otherwise taking the “passive” position – you are assuming the role of the “bottom”. Someone who is “versatile” can assume either the top or bottom position. (Some use “switch” here, too. If you can both Dom/me or sub but not both top and bottom, i.e. only one or the other, you may want to not use them interchangeably to avoid confusion.)
Which position you take is not necessarily the same thing as your role. That is, being in the “top” position does not necessarily mean you are in the Dominant role (although it is more likely). You can top and NOT be Dominant, just like you can bottom and not be submissive. A person who is in the top position but whose role is to receive direction from another is sometimes called a “submissive top” or “service top”. A person who is in the bottom position but whose role is to give direction could be called things like “Dominant bottom”, or the more pejorative “pushy bottom”.
Positions and power roles can be situational. Let’s say a man does not like to take the top position during sex and penetrate another with his cock but prefers to be the bottom and be penetrated anally (guys of any sexuality can be like this; it does not mean you’re homosexual), you could be considered an “anal bottom”. If you also did not like to take the top role with kink and do things like tie someone up or flog them, but prefer to be on the receiving end of these activities, you could call yourself a “bondage” or “rope bottom” or a “flogging bottom”. These can mix and match. One could be submissive (i.e. not liking to be in control), an anal top (i.e. liking to penetrate but not be penetrated), and a rope bottom (i.e. wanting to be tied up but not enjoying tying up others).
People’s position and role can vary depending on the characteristics of the person/people they are with. Sometimes a person’s sex, gender, age, ethnicity, body type, sexual orientation, relationship status, etc. influence the way we feel erotically. One person might feel very submissive with women and very Dominant with men. Another might feel Dominant with thin, Caucasian women and submissive with African Queens. One might be a strict Dominant top with nearly everyone except older, muscular Latino men with accents, in which case they become quivering puddles of submissive bottom-y goodness.
The possibilities are endless!
This was originally published on FetLife in 2010. I have updated it slightly.