Topping from the bottom.
Bratting from the bottom.
Topping from below.
I’ve heard it called many things. This discussion bores me but I think it’s crucial to identify the flaws embedded within it. In my opinion, this phrase is possibly one of the most misunderstood in the entire BDSM lexicon and a useless phrase that people have essentially misused to death.
What is ‘topping from the bottom’?
Topping from the bottom refers to the bottom/submissive/s-type in a BDSM scene “manipulating” the Top to do what they want instead of what the Top might choose to do without this “help”. This can also look like anything where the bottom is giving instructions to the Top on what they are doing. This occurrence is generally viewed as a very negative development. Topping from the bottom is not something a submissive usually strives to achieve, yet it happens quite frequently, many times to the surprise of all involved.
What does ‘topping from the bottom’ look like?
It can manifest a number of ways. A submissive could attempt to control the play, the dynamic or the relationship from their submissive position using seduction, persuasion, provocation, puppy-dog-eyes, etc.
Or it can look more specifically like:
- Being a brat on purpose
- Offering unrequested opposing opinions
- Casual/frequent non-emergency use of safe word
- Attempting to direct scenes prior/during/or after play
- Interrupting directions, play, or commands to offer feedback or “correct” the Top
- Micromanaging the overall experience with the dominant
- Expecting a dominant to cater to their fantasy
- Obstinate refusal to play until the dominant guesses what they want
- Fetish smuggling
- Purposefully plotting their way out of tasks, punishments, tasks, and chores
- Deliberate manipulation of the direction of the scene
There is no one-size fits all for topping from bottom. Not sure what types of behavior constitute topping from the bottom? It can happen in a variety of subtle ways, but it all comes down to one main thing. Miscommunication. To me, topping from the bottom isn’t expressing your desires, it’s not even being selfish about what you want to do, it’s starting a scene as the sub and then not letting the dominant drive, it’s telling them how they should be doing what you already negotiated. Aside from the issue of whatever behavior you call “topping from the bottom”, it should be seen as a symptom, not a root cause.
How does ‘topping from the bottom’ make a dominant feel?
Pretty shitty honestly.
Planning and executing BDSM scenes or the dynamic itself is mentally and physically draining for a dominant, and it can feel like the s-type doesn’t appreciate that hard work and effort if they interrupt or manipulate the scene or the relationship. At it’s core though, topping from the bottom receives a spotlight because it means that the submissive has failed to carry out their role in the scene or dynamic.
The actions and words from my subs I consider acceptable might not fly well with other dominants and their submissives. I have a Puppy who is a brat. He “brats” pretty much every day in some way. Sometimes I have to “make” him comply, sometimes I don’t. It was hard for me but ultimately, I’ve come to accept this is his brand of submission. What I won’t accept is that same behavior during play, a scene, in the dungeon, at a party, or intense situations. For some kinksters brats are their favorite kind of s-types to engage with. While on the flipside some dominants consider this type of behavior deeply disrespectful and counterproductive at all times in all ways. I ride the line but definitely prefer obedience.
The person who thinks they want to submit but isn’t actually letting go of their own judgments can be hard to engage with. They may start finding passive aggressive ways to criticize their partner’s choices, undermine their decisions, and “correct” their way of doing things, which is a drag. Having someone negotiate to serve my every whim, but then open the floodgates to a stream of criticism, complaints and “helpful” suggestions make it pretty clear that they are not serving my preferences and instead operating from a hidden agenda.
What isn’t ‘topping from the bottom’?
A dominant shouldn’t attempt to control a submissive by specifically removing the voice of the submissive. Bottoms shouldn’t be frightened that if they say anything to their Top that they will be ‘topping from the bottom’. Things that I wouldn’t consider topping from the bottom are:
- Discussing limits and setting boundaries before or after play
- Safety feedback during play (harder, slower, softer, etc.)
- Using a safeword when you feel genuinely in danger physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually
- Scene co-creation if negoitated format of play or dynamic
- Redefining the parameters of a relationship or dynamic at will
- Requesting space with/without dominant to think or process the dynamic or scene
Expressing needs and boundaries is not a way to control something — it’s a way to get your needs met as a submissive. There are ways you can talk that are more D/s in nature, like, “I think I could take more” vs. “don’t hit me at that pace it’s too slow”. Dominants are not mind-readers and s-types aren’t doormats to be treated non-consensually less than.
What can a dominant do to curb this?
The first step is to identify WHY THE BOTTOM IS ATTEMPTING TO TOP. I don’t consider ‘topping from the bottom’ a taboo phrase, rather a natural expression of a submissive’s complex humanity when engaging in kink. I expect some initial resistance when I first start playing with someone, and surely throughout our time together. But, when my pattern of attempts to step into a place of power is ignored, it can be easy to want to heavily reinforce that power but I urge you not to.
Instead have talk and communicate.
It could be an indication of a lack of trust in the person leading the scene, nerves or jitters, anxiety about new experiences, a “test” for their dominant, or something more. But you won’t ever know without a conversation about it.
Trust is especially fundamental in D/s and anytime when engaging in kinky, potentially dangerous activities. If this behavior is happening, it could be a sign that the bottom is not in the right headspace to continue playing. Pause the fun, discuss if anything could be improved for you both, listen to each other and be sensitive. I like to build up scenes and general dynamics slowly for this exact reason.
And, remember don’t assume that all bottoms are submissives. If someone negotiates for you to slap them, and you don’t touch on inherent D/s dynamics, then don’t be blindsided or offended if they start telling you exactly how they want the slapping to go. I know it is for me so, if it’s important to you that you be in the driver’s seat, it’s your job as a dominant to make that clear.
What can a bottoms/s-types do to address this?
I often equate a D/s dynamic to driving on a new journey together. Topping from the bottom is the equivalent of backseat driving. If the passenger (sub) keeps trying to steer the driver (Top), instead of the other way around, it will be a lot less fun to travel together.
Isolate the areas where you’re unable to let go of control and add that to your pre-scene negotiations. Don’t overlook details like keeping undergarments on while being tied, or not putting lubricant on toys before insertion, take special care to think about not only which things you like, but how you want them manifested and what needs to be done for play to be pleasurable for you. Really be mindful to take into account your deep desires, personal limits, and risk profile.
When you’ve agreed to let someone else drive, notice if you keep reaching for the wheel. Try and understand why that’s happening and address it in a direct, loving, respectful way rather than continuing to say “I am yours to use” while waging a stealthy war to take control of the dynamic.
There is a lot of introspective work that goes into BDSM. A huge amount of time goes into soul searching and self evaluation on both sides of the slash. Submission takes time and is more than a one-off. Communication is essential not just from the dominant but from the bottom. An unwillingness or inability to surrender and submit doesn’t negate someone’s role, it may just mean there’s more internal work that needs to be examined before proceeding in a healthy way.