4 ways to avoid topping from the bottom

Topping from the bottom

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Topping from the bottom is when a person who has agreed to relinquish power in a power-play dynamic attempts to take back control by making decisions on behalf of the dominant partner. 

The practice is frowned upon in BDSM as it subverts the power dynamic that has been consensually agreed upon, where the Dominant is in charge, and the submissive relinquished control. 

Topping from the bottom often happens when there is a lack of trust between the Dom and sub.

The submissive may believe they know best, perhaps because they have more experience. Maybe they aren’t happy with how the Dominant is playing with them, or want the Dominant to do a certain activity in a certain way, and so they start to ‘top from the bottom’.

If you’re worried that you might be topping from the bottom, then read on!

In this guide I’ll give you 4 ways you can avoid topping from the bottom. I’ll also discuss situations which you might at first think of as topping from the bottom, but in fact are part of a healthy D/s dynamic, and the bottom SHOULD be doing.

But wait, what is a top and what is a bottom?

Top, bottom, and switch are BDSM lingo describing who has the power in a given situation.

  • Top: The one who has the power.
  • Bottom: The one who has consensually given away power.
  • Switch: Someone who enjoys being a Top sometimes and a bottom other times.

In a Dom/sub relationship the Dominant is the Top and the submissive is the bottom.

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Topping from the bottom: what does it look like?

Topping from the bottom can happen in a few ways, but ultimately it boils down to the bottom giving instructions to the top whilst.

If a couple has agreed who will lead play, and the other partner tries to override them by instructing them on exactly what to do, this is be topping from the bottom.

Examples might include:

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  • The Rope Bunny telling the Rigger to use a specific knot during rope bondage.
  • The bottom asking the top to have sex with them in a specific position.
  • The submissive asking to be spanked by the Dominant with a particular implement during impact play.
  • The submissive disagreeing with the Dominant’s choice of restaurant to eat out at.
  • The submissive giving the Dominant exact instructions on how to peg them throughout the process.

Topping from the bottom is the submissive micromanaging the Dominant during a scene. In the end, neither party will get much from the experience.

The Dominant won’t get the sense of satisfaction of being in control and doing a good job, and the submissive will come away wondering why they never felt relaxed or got into the submissive mindset.

What topping from the bottom isn’t

Now, you might have read the above and think, “Isn’t that just communicating clearly and asking for what I want like you always advocate on this website?”.

The difference between clear communication, asking for what you want, and topping from the bottom is the context in which you are asking for something.

When you are in the midst of a BDSM scene, both people are expected to be within their roles. This is when the bottom can try to become the top.

However, if you are in an everyday setting, or are checking in with your partner and have dropped the power dynamic (as we always suggest you do when communicating) outside of a BDSM context, then you aren’t topping from the bottom, you are just communicating.

For example:

  • You ask your partner if they can spank you in your next play session. That’s communicating your wants.
  • You ask your partner to spank you with a paddle instead of their hand whilst you are playing. That’s topping from the bottom because you are in the middle of a scene. Instead, wait for the scene to end, and raise it in the debrief (because you are doing a debrief right?)
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The exceptions

There are exceptions to the above guidelines when it comes to consent and safety.

These are NOT topping from the bottom:

  • Using a safeword to stop a scene. Never be afraid to use your safeword if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Informing the top they are getting close to one of your limits. For example, that the spanking is reaching your pain threshold.
  • Limits or boundaries are crossed. Speaking up because your partner is doing something you have not consented to, has crossed a boundary, or broken a hard limit. It’s best to use your safeword in this situation.
  • When the top is doing something dangerous. For example, they tie a knot too tightly and you notice a tingling in your arm because the blood circulation is being cut off. Or they strike a sensitive area such as a joint or organ during impact play. Again, this is why you have a safeword and traffic light safety system in place, so you have ‘yellow’ or ‘red’ out.
  • Giving feedback (within reason). Personally I am fine with receiving feedback during a BDSM scene, and don’t consider this topping from the bottom. Others in stricter dynamics may. This is why it is important that you have negotiated the type of dynamic you want with your partner before you begin to play.

If the Dominant tells you that you are topping from the bottom if you use your safe word or in any of the above scenarios, then I regard this as a HUGE red flag.

4 ways to avoid topping from the bottom

Now you have a clear understanding of what the phrase ‘topping from the bottom’ means, let’s discuss four ways to avoid it happening.

1. Negotiate pre-play to build trust

As discussed, you might feel the need to top as the bottom when you don’t trust the top completely.

To avoid this happening, make sure that you have discussed what is going to happen during play with the top, and that the top understands what your hard limits, soft limits, and boundaries are.

You should also alert the top to any medical conditions you have.

You might also want to discuss what you are worried or nervous about.

By getting all of this out in the open before play, you can judge the reaction of the top. If they don’t seem to care, then don’t go any further. If on the other hand they listen, reassure, and agree with what you are saying then you can be more reassured they care about your wellbeing.

Knowing the person you are playing with has your safety in mind will help you relax into the scene, and you’ll be less likely to want to start topping them.

Things to discuss in the pre-scene negotiations include:

  • What activities do you want to try?
  • What activities do you NOT want to try?
  • Are there any medical issues we need to be aware of?
  • Fears, phobias, limits and triggers.
  • What particular fantasies each party has.
  • The rules and limits of what is acceptable during play.

2. Don’t ignore instructions from the top

Ignoring commands, instructions, or requests from the top/Dominant counts as topping from the bottom.

If you enjoy brat play, it’s important that you’ve discussed this and the limits of it with the Dom prior to play. There’s a fine line between being bratty and topping from the bottom.

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This doesn’t mean you have to do everything the top says. If you’re not 100% comfortable with an instruction, or you believe it breaks the agreement you made during pre-scene negotiations, then use a safeword.

Remember: giving feedback and using safewords shouldn’t be classed as topping from the bottom.

3. Start slowly and build up

It’s normal for some submissives to have difficulty entering the submissive state of mind, especially if they have a dominant personality in normal life.

Start scenes slowly with an activity that involves a light exchange of power, like subtle spanking, light bondage, dirty talk, or hair pulling. Jumping straight into heavy pain-play or aggressive dominance can cause the sub to panic.

I’m not saying never do this (for example, consensual non-consent is often full-on from the start), I’m just saying avoid jumping in the deep end if you are now or have a tendency to top from the bottom. 

Every time a new type of play is brought into the scene, it’s important to start small and then build up. This will increase the trust between you and your partner and help you overcome your  natural resistance to submission. The more you practise, the easier it will become to relinquish control.

4. Communicate after play

Debriefing after play is vital as it allows both partners to communicate how they felt during the session, and what they liked/didn’t like during the scene.

Some questions you may wish to ask include:

  • What did you enjoy the most?
  • What should we change next time?
  • Have your desires and wants changed, or do they differ now you’ve experienced the thing?

If topping from the bottom did occur, the Dominant may want to ask the submissive about it.

  • Why do you feel the need to give directions when X, Y, Z is occurring?
  • Is there anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable letting go during this play?

As a Dominant, don’t become angry if your partner is topping from the bottom. Learn to communicate with them and help them overcome this challenge.

Regular debriefs allow you to work on your BDSM play together as a team, and will make you both feel more comfortable and trusting during play.

Final thoughts

Topping from the bottom is when the bottom (submissive) takes control from the top (Dominant) during a scene. 

It’s frowned upon in D/s relationships because it defeats the entire point of having a powerplay dynamic in the first place! And it can leave both people feeling unsatisfied.

So, to avoid it happening, make sure you have built up a good deal of trust between yourself and the person you are playing with.

Before the scene you should negotiate what is going to happen in order to alleviate any anxiety. And the Dominant should help the submissive relax and get into the submissive mindset during the scene by starting slowly. Afterwards remember to debrief and talk about situations where topping from the bottom might have happened.

And always remember that using your safeword to stop play, or alerting the top when an activity feels unsafe, too much for you, or you want to provide some feedback (not telling them what to do, just alerting them to how you are feeling) is NOT topping from the bottom and is actively encouraged.

If you’re in a dom/sub relationship where topping from the bottom regularly occurs, then something has to change. It may be time to find a new partner who is better suited to your desires and fantasies,  or to seek out a BDSM mentor who can help create an environment where both partners feel comfortable.

Have fun, get kinky and enjoy exploring BDSM!

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