What Does Top and Bottom Mean?

Some people like to top and bottom when they have sex, but what is this, who does what and do you have to do it?

The simple explanation is that the top is who puts their dick in someone. The bottom is the person who has a dick put in them.

It is a lot more complicated though. Someone can be a top without putting their dick inside someone. Also someone can be a top without having a dick. For example a woman could be a top or a bottom (or both).

It can mean who is ‘on top’ in a sexual position.

What’s the best sex position for you?

On top sex position

It can also be who is more active (top) or passive (bottom) during sex.

It can also be about control. The top might have control over the other person about things like; what kind of sex that they have, how they do it, or the relationship as a whole. This can be done with consent and can be totally fine (ie the bottom agrees to this). It can also be done without consent and so is not fine and is just abusive.

Do you need to top and bottom

You don’t have to do this top and bottom thing – I’m just explaining it. A lot of people really aren’t into this. For many people sex is much more of a sharing kind of thing where they do lots of different kinds of things together rather than one person taking charge for a bit. Many people find that they either do a little bit of topping or bottoming, or a bit of both or are a bit neutral – this is known as being ‘versatile’ or a ‘switch’. Also it’s totally fine for this to change over time.

For a lot of people, sex isn’t really about the dynamic but just the kinds of sexual activities they may enjoy and working out what they do, when they do it and how they do it.

If being a top or bottom isn’t for you, fine, but if you’re interested please read on.

See all the posts about how to have more enjoyable and consensual sex

Who is the top and bottom

Sometimes I get asked about how people work out who is the top and who is the bottom. The answer is, it depends. I think the top and bottom thing is strongly linked to power and the power dynamic that is going on between the people having sex and the relationships in general.

Like I say in this post about power there are usually differences in power in relationships and one person has more of it than another.

This power comes from their identity: things like how old they are, their class, their abilities/disabilities, their race, their sexuality, their gender. For example it’s often just assumed that with a straight couple the man will be the top and the woman will be the bottom. Another example could be that with two women the more experienced woman might be the top (because she knows what to do).

a lot of this stuff is based on some pretty big assumptions and stereotypes that you might not agree with

Sometimes people also decide who is the top and bottom by thinking about their different personalities. Often people who are kind, caring, compassionate, quiet, a sharing type are seen as being ‘the feminine one’ and so the bottom. Often people who are active, a leader, opinionated, outgoing, loud, a provider are seen as being ‘the masculine one’ and so the top.

As you can see a lot of this stuff is based on some pretty big assumptions and stereotypes that you might not agree with. Me either, but I’m just explaining it. Don’t get cross at me!

Who ‘should’ top and bottom

So people often rely on stories for who ‘should’ be the top and who ‘should’ be the bottom. The man, the most masculine, the person with the penis, the dominant one, the more confident one or the one who has done it before will be the top or will ‘top’. The woman, the most feminine, the person without a penis, the less confident one, the person with lesser experience will be the bottom or will ‘bottom’.

Some people actually find that this works out for them pretty well. Often people find that if they just follow this script then it’s easier because they don’t have to talk about it. Often people are just fine doing what is expected of them in this way, even if they are aware that they are relying on stereotypes. It can lead to them having the kinds of sex that they enjoy anyway and it can be spontaneous and exciting.

However, not everyone who is supposed to top will want to or will enjoy it and not everyone who is supposed to bottom will want to or will enjoy that either. For example: a lot of men find that they don’t really enjoy ‘taking charge’ but find that this is just expected of them so they have no choice. So if people don’t check in that this is what they want then it may well be non-consensual sex. Even if the sex was consensual it may well just be rubbish sex because they were both not really doing the kinds of sex that they actually find hot.

“For the first few weeks of the relationship I was topping him and it was okay – it was his first time and didn’t really know what to do so I took the lead. When we got talking about it though I realised that actually that doesn’t even really do it for me and he’s not really getting a lot out of bottoming or even penetration at all. So we started to do other stuff like wanking, stroking and grinding which we’re both really enjoying and it’s much easier just to kind of take turns and switch around a lot.”

When people talk about top and bottom with sex it often just assumes that one person is going to be penetrating another person – even if this isn’t something that someone likes. There are, of course, lots of different kinds of sex that people find more enjoyable – more about this here.

Talking about who tops and who bottoms

Some people like to talk about who tops and who bottoms or even whether this is important for them at all. Like I was saying before – topping and bottoming can be about a particular activity

“Before we first had sex we had a quick chat via text about some of the things that we both like doing and how. For example I said that I really like f******g (vaginally) but that I like to be on top for that so I can control how deeply it goes in and how fast we go. He really liked that.”

Or it can be about the whole sexual experience:

“It’s a turn on for me that the other person really takes control. There was this one time when the other person stopped at the beginning and asked if everything was okay – I was just lying there and she was worried that I wasn’t into it. We had a quick chat to say that it’s specifically hot for me that the other person takes control. I said that I would tell her really clearly if I wasn’t into a thing and also that she will be able to tell if I’m enjoying it – I kinda make a lot of noise when things are going well.”

Or it can be about the whole dynamic of the relationship:

“In my relationships I really like to be the person who is making most of the decisions generally – just quite basic stuff about what we do, where we go, what we do around the house. It can be super hard to do because I have to be really aware of my partner’s needs at all times. Even though they specifically consent to this and are really really into it, I have to remember that they might find it harder to tell me if anything is wrong. So I constantly have to pay attention to them to make sure they’re cool with it. It’s weird because even though I’m making all the decisions I feel like they have more power than me – which is how it should be really. It’s called topping from the bottom.”

How to top and bottom consensually

So if you can talk about who tops and bottoms first then that is great. But even if you do it’s important to keep paying attention to consent – remember that consent in an on-going thing. Even if you’ve talked about everything before hand, or if you’ve not really talked about it before it’s important to be constantly paying attention to what is happening. So like I explain in this post, it’s about looking for all the ways that people communicate throughout the whole experience. Look for facial expressions, eye contact, noises, words or phrases (OMG, mmmm, um, ugh etc), how their body reacts (or doesn’t react) to things, whether someone is tense or relaxed, or how you both respond to each other.

I have a new book! Pre-order here (or any good bookshop)

Thinking about on-going consent is super super important if you are the ‘top’. As I wrote in the example above (yeah, totally made those quotes up) if you have more power than another person in a relationship it’s harder for them to say what they want. So if you are the top or have more power generally it’s on you to make sure. This means paying attention to them but also occasionally checking in “how are you feeling?” “need a minute?” It’s also about finding ways on neutral ground (ie, when you aren’t sexing) to ask open questions about how they are feeling about things and finding ways to keep that conversation open at all times.

Want more?

Gender – how to work out your gender (it’s not just ‘man’ or ‘woman’)

How Consent Feels – and a simple way to practice it

Fifty Shades of Sex Ed – the sex ed guide to ‘that’ book

© Justin Hancock, 2021.

I have a new book! Pre-order here (or any good bookshop)

If you like could you please share it with your peoples. BISH is also on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. No I’m not on TikTok.

Do leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add or if you have questions. I moderate all comments before they go live. You can also ask me questions here. If you want to leave me some nice feedback please do here.

BISH is sponsored by Durex UK, thank you Durex. It’s also funded by your kind donations. If you’re an adult with cash, please consider supporting my Patreon or chip in directly via my PayPal. So if you could help with that I’d be very grateful.

If you want to teach about this stuff, don’t just show people a website – that’s kinda boring! Check out my very popular RSE resources at bishtraining.com

Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here

5 thoughts on “What Does Top and Bottom Mean?

  1. Usually I don’t write comments but I just must tell you that I’m really impressed about how you reacted to this in my opinion very rude comment. I mean most people would just be mad about the comment and be also unpolite theirself but you even offered to explain it again for this person. And I think that you already did a pretty good job with this article.
    It’s very interesting

    1. I did say it was complicated because it has several meanings (which I cover at the beginning). I can give you an answer more relevant to your situation if you want to give me a bit more info?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Out now!