Sex talk
Speaking of Tops and bottoms

Simon Sheppard,

Okay, so who does what to whom? The traditional notions of "active" and "passive" becomes blurry here.

So deciding who does what to whom might be a more useful basis of the distinction between "tops" and "bottoms," but it's a distinction that can obscure as much as it enlightens. When it comes to good ol' buttfucking, the difference between top and bottom is pretty damn clear - the top is the one who screws, the bottom's the who gets screwed. But when it comes to blowjobs, matters get cloudy. To be consistent, the "top" should be the insertive partner, right? Yet often he's the guy who kicks back, semi-passive except for moans and squirming, while the cocksucker does the work. It's the difference between "fucking face" and "getting sucked," this question of who's "in control."

SM defines "top" and "bottom" rather differently - the "top" is the one who has the power to dish it out, whatever "it" is. But that's when things start to get ambiguous. Experienced players know that submissive bottoms are often the ones who are really> in charge of a scene. If a bottom just loves to be spanked and gets a top to spank him till his hand hurts, which one's really in control? And if a top ties a man down and rides the bound guy's hard-on, who's the bottom then?

Okay, so this really shouldn't matter. But the cliche is that tops are more masculine, bottoms more femme. You'll find guys describing themselves proudly as "total tops," as though there were some sort of superiority involved. And some of the adjectives used to describe bottoms, such as "pushy" or "greedy," are unflattering ways to imply that there's something wrong with trying to get what you want out of sex. It's as though those who want to get fucked should know their (presumably inferior) place; some of this is disturbingly reminiscent of women's traditional role in bed.

The frequent disjunctions between what sex looks like and what's really happening have led to some interesting self-definitions. Guys who love to take charge and> get fucked describe themselves as "aggressive bottoms," for example, though you'll have to look hard for men calling themselves "passive tops."

As understandable as mankind's fondness for either/or definitions can be, when it comes to sex, these simple binary distinctions can hurt more than help. There's nothing inferior about enjoying the intense pleasure of getting boned; thinking that there is can be a barrier to enjoying it fully. Neither is there anything wrong with a top, whether vanilla or kinky, feeling tenderness and vulnerability - it doesn't make him less of a man, just as where his dick is going doesn't make him more of one.

Variety, yes, is the spice of life, whether over the course of a relationship or during a single fuck session. "I don't do that because I'm a top (or bottom)," just puts whole big chunks of possible pleasure off-limits. It might be better all around to approach the top/bottom thing as a sliding scale, with "total top" and "absolute bottom" as the endpoints - most of us falling somewhere in the middle - and with the whole top/bottom dichotomy taken with a grain of salt. After all, those of us who know the pleasure of getting our faces fucked hard wouldn't say it's an inferior thing to do, and those of us who have to get it up and keep it there while fucking know the grave responsibilities and hard work taken on by the poor, hard-working top. (Maybe that's why it often seems that there are so many more bottoms than tops out there.)

So whether top, bottom, both, neither, or some mishmash that defies definition, maybe we should all admit that sex is a complex, wonderful, dirty job, but somebody has to do it...

Simon Sheppard is the co-editor of Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex, and Power (Alyson Books)

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