Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bottom skills.

So much "how to BDSM" material is really "how to top."  Which is understandable, up to a point.  The top performs most of the obvious physical parts of the scene--they're the one who has to know how to tie a knot or swing a flogger.  The top is likely to also be dominant, which means that they're going to be the one in charge of planning the scene and directing it.  And the top is also expected to take more responsibility for a scene, because bottoms might be immobilized (or go off into la-la land) and need their tops to watch out for their safety.

There's also a certain bias in BDSM-land toward thinking tops and dominants should be the authorities and their experiences should be prioritized, because... well, partly because they're more often men.  And partly because they're in charge in their scenes/relationships so it's only logical that they be in charge everywhere, even though it's not like the community agreed to submit to them.  So the majority of kink community leaders, authors, and teachers are tops.

As a result of these factors, you can come away from a lot of kink books or conferences thinking that bottoming is... standing there.  (For advanced bottoming, you might kneel or lie down.)  It seems like a purely receptive thing.  Like a beanbag could do it, if you could teach a beanbag to moan and occasionally offer to get people drinks.

This is not the case.  Bottoming well, in a way that creates a great experience for yourself and your top, requires effort and skill.  We are not canvases for the art of BDSM; we are artists too.  Here's some of the things I've learned (or am learning, or need to learn) about being on the bottom:

• Know your desires.
If you don't know what you like, you're not likely to get it.  I've talked about this so much on the blog, I don't want to belabor the point.  Just... have some idea of why you're bottoming in a BDSM scene instead of back at home knitting.  (Knitting fetishists please disregard.)  (That is not entirely a joke.)  Or if you don't, at least be aware that you don't know, and able to say "I'm experimenting right now and finding out what appeals to me."

• Speak up for yourself.
When I first started playing, I had the idea in my head--maybe not in words, but definitely in feelings--that the best bottoms were the ones who were least demanding.  That for me to be an excellent bottom, I should take as much pain as I could stand and allow my top to do whatever they wanted.  I certainly noticed that I enjoyed some activities more than others, but I felt like asking for the ones I wanted would be rude or "topping from the bottom" or selfish or something.  So I just felt happy when I got things I liked, felt sad or annoyed when I got things I didn't, and never gave any external indication of either.

Eventually I burned myself out on the stoicism thing.  I could only suppress my specific desires and limited pain tolerance for so long.  So I became a really grouchy, persnickety bottom.  No, I don't like that.  Don't like that either.  Yellow.  Yellow to that too.  Maybe we should just take a break.  It was frustrating, but it was actually progress--being able to say what I didn't like without being able to say what I liked wasn't very fun, but it beat the heck out of not being able to say either.  My tops were stuck playing "Marco Polo" with my desires, but at least they weren't unwittingly hurting me.

And then--embarrassingly recently--I realized that asking for what you like isn't presumptuous or un-bottomly, it's something that a good top actually wants you to do.  Depending on the sort of scene you're doing, they might not give you everything you like (or they might make you earn it), but they still need to know.  Otherwise they don't know which parts are punishment and which are reward for you, and they're not in control of the experience they're creating for you.

• Look out for your safety.
This is a responsibility tops and bottoms share.  It's more the top's, because they have more control and because they're going to be at fault if the bottom gets hurt, but it's an important bottom skill to be able to help the top keep you safe.  This means knowing and sharing the limitations of your body and your mind, it means using your safewords when you need to, and it means double-checking the top when they do something potentially unsafe.  Your top should notice on their own if they're cutting off your circulation or positioning you in a way that would be disastrous if you fell, but even good tops can miss things, and it's a good idea to also do your own safety checks.

(If you're way off in subspace you may not be able, and then it really is the top's responsibility alone.  But it's a good thing to do if you can.)

• Play along.
This isn't a simple directive but a whole set of skills that depend on how you play.  This is the physical, immediate side of bottoming, and it's a whole lot more than standing there.  It's positioning yourself to assist with an elaborate rope tie.  It's being able to absorb blows.  It's knowing when to push back, when to yield, and when to stand firm.  This really depends on what specific kinks you do, and it's mostly stuff you have to learn "on the job."  And it is things you have to learn.  "Standing there" looks like a no-brainer, but standing in a way that makes it easy for your top to do their job and supports you when you go wibbly and looks good and feels good?  Takes a little bit of brain.

• Give good feedback.
In two ways.  There's the practical feedback, the "oh yeah just like that," the "wow, I'm really just melting away into the wall here," and the "okay, that was the bad ow."  And there's the feedback that tops appreciate and get off on, the... well, actually, the first two sentences above are pretty good examples of that too.  I'm not talking about playing it up and putting on a performance, but a lot of tops really like hearing how much impact they're having on you.  Giving them that, especially if they've asked for it, is good bottoming.

• Know how to cook what you eat.
I don't think this is a requirement for everyone (well, nothing here is required, we're all different and all learning, please don't take this post as a list of "things bottoms must do"), but it's something I value for myself.  I like to know how to perform all the skills that I enjoy having done to me.  I hardly ever top, but I know how to tie a rope harness and where to aim a flogger.  Having this knowledge helps me communicate better with my top, know what I can do to make their job easier, understand and process the sensations I'm receiving, and it gives me a whole lot of appreciation for how much energy my top is putting into the scene.

• Process the experience.
This is the internal work of bottoming, and I don't know what I'm going to write in this section, because it's... magic or neurology or something.  Also a lot of deep breathing.  This is where you take in pain, discomfort, fear, and/or humiliation, and you turn them into something wonderful for yourself.  And very often it is an effort.  It can take focus and intention to turn a spanking from "my butt hurts, ow, my butt hurts again" to "my butt hurts in a way that is giving me the most amazing pleasure."  Or when it isn't pleasure, "my butt hurts and I am strong and I am taking it."  It's almost a kind of meditation.

Everything else on this page is about bottoming.  It's all the logistics around bottoming.  But this part?  This is bottoming.  This is why you aren't home knitting.  And there's nothing easy or passive about it.

•Give aftercare.
Tops drop too.  Tops (at least a lot of them) also get into an altered state when they're playing and they can also come down hard.  So tops might need cuddling and talking after scenes, or they might need to drink water and stretch out and cool off, or they might want to mellow out and enjoy the lingering buzz.  It's good bottoming to be attentive to their aftercare needs as well as your own, and to check up on them a bit after the scene.

Just standing there? Bottoming in BDSM is goddamn hard work, and it deserves to be talked about.


  1. I have absolutely nothing to add as far as bottoming goes, but I love the idea of the FetishWool administrators tracing back this sudden upswing in traffic!

  2. Thanks for the article! I wish you could have said some more about how to prevent topping frm the bottom. I feel there are quite a few "bottoms" who simply want to be pleased in exactly some certain way, who will constantly nag the top to do something specific and I find that very difficult to deal with as a top. Can you say a few things about where you draw the line between communicating desires and toppibg from the bottom?

    1. I dunno. My personal experience has always been the opposite--that "topping from the bottom" is this bugaboo that makes bottoms neurotic about saying anything besides "whatever you like, Sir/Ma'am."

      But then again, my personal experience is with being a horribly neurotic and shy bottom, and I don't always get a real intimate look into other dynamics.

      I guess what I'd say for that is:

      1) Tops have desires of their own. "Negotiation" means negotiation, a two-way exchange; it doesn't mean you're at a restaurant placing your order. You're trying to find the best intersection of your desires and your top's, not just tell your top what to do.

      2) Some tops are service tops who enjoy doing only the best happiest things for you. Some are not. Some will consider what you think is best, and do not want to violate your boundaries, but they are also going to want to challenge you a little, or do things that are about their desires and not yours. Know which kind of top you're dealing with before you start playing, and if you really just want a service top to give you exactly what you want, don't play with someone who isn't.

      3) Speaking up during a scene because something is dangerous, triggering, or really distasteful: always allowed. Speaking up to make micro-adjustments to your top's technique? Great if that's something you'd agreed to do and you want this to be a workshoppy, experimenty scene. But consider holding your comments if it's not. Going "three millimeters to the left... no, no, that should be a bowline" mid-scene can fuck up a top's concentration and confidence. Again, don't endure something bad because of this, but keep it in mind before more minor criticism.

    2. Okay, my knowledge is purely theoretical here, but doesn't it sometimes happen that so-called "bottoms" are not, in fact, bottoms? Because my understanding is that not everyone who's into BDSM is actually into the dominant/submissive part.

    3. Irene - Top/bottom and dominant/submissive are two different things. Top and bottom are about play; they're the hitter and hitee, binder and bound, and so forth. Dominant and submissive are about power; they're the boss and the bossed.

      So someone can be a bottom and be dominant, or be neither dominant nor submissive. They're still a real bottom. But they might not play well with a top who wants to dominate them.

    4. Ah, okay, I see. I must admit I'd always thought of the term "bottom" as sounding inherently submissive, and hence not a term I'd ever want to use of myself (any more than I think of myself as "bottoming" when being penetrated or receiving oral sex). But that could be just me.

    5. As far as I'm concerned, the entire concept of topping from the bottom needs to burn and die. It's entirely a manifestation of 'it would be so much nicer if my partner just went with everything I wanted and I didn't have to deal with any of their preferences/desires/boundaries at all', it's full of domism and often male privilege, and it makes people feel guilty and anxious about communicating their wants and needs in really harmful ways. (I'm one of these people - reading about 'topping from the bottom' everywhere found lovely fertile ground with the anxiousness I have already, and having as much trouble asking for things I want as I do, or having all my fantasies accompanied with so much anxiety I can't even think about them, is really not nice).

      Yes, there are bottoms who want specific things that please them. There are also a lot of tops who want specific things that please them. Except, for tops this is seen as totally OK and they can just go do it, needing only to make sure they aren't violating boundaries (and often that part gets left out too), while bottoms are shamed for it.

      Now, some people have the specific desire of 'I want you to do what you want', because that's their kink. But that isn't everyone, and acting like it's supposed to be everyone is not OK.

      Negotiation is definitely the way to deal with thing, but it needs to start with the idea that both people have equal rights to their desires, boundaries, etc. "When you make comments in the middle of a scene, it messes with my concentration and confidence" is a totally valid thing to bring up. But it isn't in any way more valid than "I need a way to tell you what is working for me and what isn't". (Note that if something isn't working for the top, or if they need the bottom to move a few inches, most people will think it's totally OK for them to change what they're doing or ask the bottom to move). Negotiation is then the way to resolve issues - "OK, maybe person A can check in with person B every X minutes, and then person B can make the comments they need to, so that A is prepared for them and not getting interrupted in their headspace'. Or negotiation is the way to discover that the two people just aren't compatible. But it needs to start out with equality, as opposed to the idea that the top's preferences are default while the bottom's can maybe be submitted for consideration.

    6. I was starting to think I was the only person who hated that expression.

    7. Can I say that as a service top, mapping out the scene with the guidance and feedback from the bottom is absolutely what gets me high? It's essential. I can only play once or twice with people who are still struggling to articulate their bottoming or masochistic desires before I start to feel uncomfortable about my ability to reliably and safely run a scene. A good bottom makes you feel like a genius top. I've always hated how BDSM people don't respect it and I think it ties into misogyny and the view that someone who is receptive must also be passive.
      To the original poster who wants to "prevent topping from the bottom" - this is based in your failure to negotiate. People who aren't in power are reduced to nagging and begging. You are not meeting your masochist's needs, so either listen to them better or don't play with them. Asking for what you want is not topping from the bottom. I sometimes encounter masochists who are also tops - now THEY top from the bottom. Sometimes if they're new at things, they are a bit confused about how to ask for this, but I it's a sexual preference, not a mistake. It's also uncommon, so if you have this problem a lot, it's probably you. From the way you describe it, you're equating topping with 'why don't I get to do whatever I want?' for which I'd reply 'because that's assault.'
      To comments below about not doing to others what you haven't tried for yourself, I've always interpreted that to mean that you should learn on yourself first instead of inflicting your mistakes on others. Medical students practice on each other, tattoo artists are their own first customers. It's a common learning tool, especially when testing physical skills and stresses. If you haven't bothered to try out that whip on your own forearm, at the very least, or sat for half an hour in bondage, how will you know what happens on even a minimal physical basis when you do that? You can learn from a book or a workshop, but learning by doing is solid. Plus, it deepens your smile when you get to watch someone who actually enjoys that kind of thing.

    8. Nope. There are most certainly bottoms who top-from-the-bottom. and not surprisingly, they tend to be men.

      As someone who likes to bliss out and be spontaneous as a top, it's f--king annoying.

      I am not talking about, "whoops, I have an old shoulder injury, forgot to tell you, please don't do that," or, "ma'am, that other sub over there is very cute, maybe we could play with her later?" ...I had an experienced sub who was already in-protocol-subbing to me make full-on scene suggestions when we were already playing. Yeesh. I've stopped playing with him (though it took a few instances of this highly annoying behaviour... as he is spectacularly good looking and very fun the rest of time), because his topping-from-the-bottom ruins the scene for me.

      If as a bottom, you're not getting what you want, learn to negotiate BEFORE a scene, learn to work with your top's energy instead of nagging (within reason of e.g. safety), and stop playing with someone if their style doesn't suit your needs.

      That being said, I check in with new play partners frequently if they aren't already giving me feedback, especially women, and especially-especially new-to-the-kink-community women, who may because of socialization not express how they really feel about a scene.

    9. Med students don't practice on each other! I mean, things like taking vital signs they will, but they spend most of their time in teaching hospitals caring for actual patients. (Under supervision, obviously.) There's a limit to what you can practice on people who aren't actually ill, and actual patient interaction is being stressed more and more because of how often diseases present in non-"textbook" ways and how complicated real people's medical status can be.

      I'm a nursing student right now and we practice most procedures on mannequins, then on patients. (With an instructor over our shoulder.)

      I know I'm nitpicking a metaphor here, but I think it applies; guidance from a good top will help your skills a lot more than bottoming to them.

      On the "topping from the bottom" thing... I think it's one of those things that's not all one way or the other. I don't want to say bottoms bear no responsibility for the top's experience, but... it's their ass on the line, often literally, so you can't ever say "you've set too many boundaries today, sorry, you don't get to set any more."

      I think a lot of "topping from the bottom" is just failure to let a really bad scene or pairing end. I'd stop the scene, not to punish the other partner, but just because it's clearly not working and we need to get our expectations aligned--if possible--before going again.

      Maybe there are bottoms out there who love screwing with tops by being super duper fussy and demanding, but:
      1) I'm sure there are tops who are into that, so it's a matter of "find someone who's into that and negotiate that this is your bottom persona" not "silence yourself."
      2) I'm also sure this is often used as a bugaboo to make bottoms say "I've set too many boundaries today, I don't get to set any more" to themselves.

      So. I basically agree with you. (And I think in my first comment I was giving a little too much credence to the bugaboo, in retrospect.) Except about the med students.

    10. My objection to saying "don't top from the bottom" is that it's often presented as a moral absolute instead of a preference. Yes, lots of tops - me included, when I top - don't like to have the bottom choosing every element of the scene and directing it while it's in progress. This preference is neither more nor less legitimate than that of the bottoms who want to be hit in exactly the right spot. I also loathe the phrases "true dom/me" and "real submissive", for similar reasons.

    11. @Pervygirl:
      "If as a bottom, you're not getting what you want, learn to negotiate BEFORE a scene, learn to work with your top's energy instead of nagging (within reason of e.g. safety), and stop playing with someone if their style doesn't suit your needs."

      Thing is, this is exactly what I'm saying is a domist, unequal standard. It says that the top's desire/energy is absolute, while bottoms have to do their best to work around it, instead of the two being equal.

      "I had an experienced sub who was already in-protocol-subbing to me make full-on scene suggestions when we were already playing."

      Here's the thing. If in a scene a top suddenly starts feeling that they would really like thing X (say, they realize they have a really strong desire to have the bottom say "please may I have another", or have the bottom's hands tied together) then as long as this doesn't violate any boundaries, they can do this. If a bottom starts feeling like they would really like thing X (say to have their hands tied together, or to have the top say "the rules are in place to be obeyed"), the only way they can get this is to ask the top. So saying that them asking the top is not OK is putting the two sets of desires on unequal footing, with the top's desires being more important. And yes, some people have a kink specifically for that, but not everyone, and enforcing this on people without that preference is a problem.

      Now, boundaries obviously take precedence over desires. So, for instance, I have a boundary that people may not do things to me that they have not asked me about first. So someone playing with me couldn't just do something spontaneously, unless they asked first. And if this makes me incompatible with someone, then we shouldn't play together.

      Similarly, if a top doesn't like getting suggestions in scene, that's also a boundary, and they can express it and if it's an incompatibility with someone, then that top and that someone also shouldn't play together. But being incompatible with someone doesn't make their preferences/desires wrong - it just makes them better suited for someone else.

      I've definitely heard a lot of Dommes I know complaining about men who just want to have their fantasies fulfilled, and don't care about the Domme's at all. But, I think that's basically the same problem in the opposite direction - the issue is that both people's desires are equally important, and people (on either side) acting entitled and like their desires are more important by default is bad.

      @Indigo: Totally agreed, whoot!

      "I'm also sure this is often used as a bugaboo to make bottoms say "I've set too many boundaries today, I don't get to set any more" to themselves."

      As someone who has experienced exactly this - yeah. That's why I'm so mad about it, really - because it does harm.

    12. I actually have experienced topping from the bottom--or really, more like mansplaining from the bottom. I'm female and I got involved with this guy when I was young and knew nothing about BDSM. He proceeded to tell me he wanted me to boss him around in bed. This was pretty much the extent of the negotiation. I didn't know better but he, ten years my senior, almost certainly did.

      So...we tried to play. I tried to give him some orders. He kept stopping the scene to go, "No, no, that's not how it works, dommes are supposed to do X, Y, and Z, not A, B, and C!" What made it mansplaining was that he didn't frame this as "I personally don't like A--let's take a time out and renegotiate what we're doing," but "A is objectively a wrong way to practice BDSM, and a stupid idea to boot, and No One Who Is Anyone really does that." In retrospect, I think he brought a fully scripted fantasy to the encounter but utterly failed to tell me what it was, so when I tried to wing it, it threw him out of the fantasy. (And no, I did not press the issue when he told me he didn't want to do that stuff.)

      It's been fifteen years and it's kind of funny now.

    13. It is a real thing, though I think 'topping from the bottom' is a bad way to phrase it.

    14. Anon #1 from above ...when I meant that med students practice on each other, I was including basic skills you can practice on healthy people, like learning blood draws, taking vitals and doing physical exams. If you don't practice them on each other (which is fairly standard here) the point is that you do try to practice, right? Moving slowly up the chain towards an actual person who could be harmed by your actions. So, whether it's oranges, cadavers, professional patients you need to examine and diagnose... as interns following someone around who can say "listen to this" and "what do you think that is" without you hurting anyone. That's kinda my point. Because, as in BDSM, there are physicians who never learned to do a pelvic exam on an actual person who wasn't unconscious. And, as in BDSM, the lack of having that learning feedback makes them painfully inept.
      Having read the other comments on topping from the bottom experiences, I still think I'm hearing about masochists who aren't bottoms at all, but don't know how to say what they want to have happen. I have always thought that perhaps these are 2 different dimensions being conflated into one confusing mess.

    15. "I still think I'm hearing about masochists who aren't bottoms at all"
      "Bottom" isn't a preference, it's a role. The word you want here is "submissive".

    16. So.... I'm hearing about masochists who aren't submissive? Who don't want to bottom but think they should? Whatever words you want to use, my point is fully made. If you invited definitions of this lexicon and got people to vote on their correct usage, it'd be a pretty mess. I've had people say to me "I'm a bottom but I'm not submissive" "I'm submissive but not a masochist" "I'm a masochist but not submissive" and so on. But if you really want to communicate what you're into, you need to give a more complex explanation.

  3. I think we are overloading the Fetish Wool site, because it keeps timing out and not loading. Although I did get to the page with the motherfucken amazing rainbow striped knit wool pants that I totally WANT NOW!!!11!!1!

  4. The article was excellent. I think it was about time someone made a sensible, down-to-Earth article about bottoming.

    I would like to add that I want a Mohawk hat from FetishWool.

  5. A way the bottom-as-passive-receptacle-of-kink model has been bad for top!hriðfrið is that it's difficult for me to convince myself that my partner enjoys it, that she's not just participating for my benefit. And this in turn makes it difficult for me to negotiate very specifically (for fear that if I tell her what's coming, she'll not just say no but refuse to engage in kink at all -- I didn't say it was rational) and difficult to bring up other things I'm interested in (since in my mind it's all things I have to talk her into).

    The flipside of asking for what you like isn't presumptuous or un-bottomly, it's something that a good top actually wants you to do is that asking the bottom what zie wants isn't untoply, a good bottom wants to answer, and a bottom orientation isn't merely the lack of a top orientation.

    The way I need to learn to think of it is that the roles are the roles and the dynamic is the dynamic, but the people are equal. The top isn't superior, or even in charge in the metacontext, zie's just ... the top. A scene is a collaboration, with all the people involved participating, even if this participation doesn't take the same form for everyone.

    On a different note, I like "cook what you eat" even though I find the "golden rule of BDSM" ridiculous.

    1. What is that "golden rule"? I googled the phrase and got like five different explanations, from "always play SSC or RACK" to "never touch someone else's toys."

    2. "Do not do unto others what has not been done unto you."

    3. Ah. Yeah... I think there's some validity to "you should know what your toys actually feel like," but I don't think that means necessarily going through a whole scene as a bottom. And someone who's not a masochist can't really know what things feel like to a masochist anyway. And there are some activities (like those involving anatomy you don't have) where it's completely impossible.

      So yeah. I get the general "know what you're doing on the other end" concept, but it's not something you can always take literally.

    4. "Do not do unto others what has not been done unto you."

      Does anyone actually try to do this? Because the more I think about it, the more it scares me. It makes BDSM something you have to be initiated into, like a mystery religion. And of course the way you get initiated is by being a bottom. Bottom = initiate, top = teacher (and I'm sure this has nothing to do with tops more often being men...). This sets up a hierarchy based on who has done stuff to whom, kind of like a prison gang.

      (And if you're monogamous, then you're completely excluded. No, you can't just say to your spouse "Hey, can I tie you up and spank you?" First you have to join up with whatever your local BDSM scene looks like, and get some creepy neckbeard guy to spank you, because The Rules. Yuck.)

    5. And also it logically excludes anything truly new from being done.

    6. Mark, I can't say I'm a fan of using "neckbeard" as an insult, but otherwise, yeah.

    7. I don't like the idea of it as a rule AT ALL, but it's really, really important to me personally to know what things I am interested in doing to someone feel like from the receiving end.

      As Cliff pointed out, if you aren't a masochist, obviously you won't be getting the same thing out of it, and there's the anatomy issue, and there's also the issue of personal tolerances and preferences -- what isn't bad pain to me might be bad pain to a bottom I work with in the future, because maybe they don't like how caning feels at *all*. And, yes, if you don't want to find someone at a club to do these things to you, and you have one partner you want to work with, that is obviously a major problem.

      So it really, really shouldn't be a rule, because there are lots of reasons it wouldn't be a great idea or wouldn't work, or people who just don't want to do it because "I don't want that" is reason enough to not do anything in a sex/kink context.

      Now, I'm eager to seek out new experiences, because that is a personal like of mine. I love that part of it for so many reasons, and I love what I get out of it. I get information I can use with other people when I am Doing Things to them. I get information I can use when I am writing. I get a hell of an endorphin rush. But I'm comfortable asking people at my local club to indulge me from time to time with a new thing, so that I can learn and build up my "What it's really like to do X" library. Some people aren't comfortable doing that, and their reasons are very good reasons, and I totally support them in that. Some people just don't WANT to do those things *at all*, and that's fine. And I think that saying they're doing it wrong is unfair and silly and lots of other bad things.

      The whole try it out thing is important to me, and to a lot of other people, and it can be really helpful, yes, but I think that contributes to this idea that it's a universal "rule" of some kind, when it's really just a personal rule, part of the person's limits and preferences, and it's a part that they may or may not share with someone else.

      Ultimately, yes, it can be a neat experience for people who don't mind what it entails, but I think the most useful things are always going to be these fabulous things called "practice" and "good communication." Focusing on those and developing those skills is more important, IMO.

    8. To take the golden rule to another level...Do not do unto others what has not been done unto you, and don't compare your top's technique to your own mid-scene!

      As a switch, I love both sides of the coin, but the more I top - the better I get at teasing with taper candles or giving a good spanking- the more I wish those who top me would do it exactly the way I would do it for someone else.

      Cliff's post talks about not surrendering too much, looking out for safety, and communicating expectations. My problem is not surrendering enough. I have a very hard time going into the meditative space where I can simply accept the sensation. Do other people have this issue?

    9. For an inexperienced kinkster, or for someone who wants to get into edge play (e.g. needles), it's a REALLY good idea to know what's going on. It doesn't have to be a full-on scene, or a scene with submissiveness as well as bottoming, or even a scene with someone else (e.g. you can try that TENS unit on yourself).

      But if you don't know what you're dishing out, you don't know what you're doing... and yes, sometimes it's impossible to know -- when I'm doing "mean" things to anatomy I don't have, I check in frequently. For that matter, doing particularly mean things to any anatomy requires a realization that different people feel things differently, which I suppose is the flipside -- no pun intended. ...I'm not a masochist, but I can be a heavy bottom when I'm "just trying" something, and so I am occasionally surprised when someone reacts strongly to something I consider not-that-painful. But still... good to know what you're dishing out.

      I will make exceptions for experienced heavy bottoms/masochists who say they want something that I'm unwilling to experience myself. I guess I just talked myself into basically agreeing with everyone... just don't like the "dom dudes" who have no idea what their bottoms are really taking.

      Also, agree that it's so AWESOME to push someone to a place you know and have them smile at you through the pain... ;-)

  6. Some of the One True Way BDSMer types take it a bit too far, but I have to say that I am sympathetic to the idea that ideally participants in BDSM should go through a process of vetting via the larger local community. I don't think one needs to be initiated (as a bottom) to be a top but certainly they should at least be mentored.

    That said... Issues with proposal:

    1) Obviously there is no way to actually enforce it. The only way to do this is through teaching from example. It necessitates giving visibility to resources to people who are not yet involved in the scene. Some people who are into the cloak and daggers stuff for its own sake might get a bit annoyed by it. Tough.

    2) This is the anarcho-commie talking, but IMO it's best to organize the mentoring scene as a skillshare rather than having a hierarchical teacher/student thing going. Also we must value teaching top skills to bottoms (who have a desire to learn). Cliff already touched on that part. Since this is not about playing in a scene, I don't see any reason to have doms (almost never dommes) bossing people around. Again, anarcho-commie talking, but in my book the fact you know something makes it a *responsability* of yours to teach it, not something that you should be getting cookies for deigning to do. ALL the examples of abusers being coddled by the community, underneath it all revolved around the fact that the abuser was a key person in the scene because they had expertise that they trickled down around and jealously guarded, and people were loath to kick them out of the scene. A community should safeguard against this issue by proactively seeking to tear down any such problematic concentration of knowledge. If there's three dom(me)s who are good at suspension in your local community instead of one, and one of them has shitty behavior, then you can go to someone else and not have to feel you need to compromise either your values or your growth as a dom or bottom by getting rid of the shitty people.

    3) "The community here is shitty" isn't an argument against newcomers needing to be vetted or mentored by a community, it's an argument for the non-shitty kinksters to build up dual power and crowd out the shitty community and to provide the needed mentoring and vetting services. It's easier said than done, of course.

    1. I would add 4) some people want privacy in their sex lives. I like my local scene and I go to a lot of their social events but I don't want anyone mentoring what my boyfriend does with me because they think the fact that we share kinks gives them a right to assess our sex life. It's really none of anyone else's business.

    2. I'm reluctant to ever bar anyone from saying "that looks dangerous, if/unless you _____, because of _____."

      With the assumptions and reasoning out in the open, and no force or authority behind it, at least.

    3. If someone does not want to be in social "scene" it should not preclude them from experiencing what fulfills them in the sexual or romantic areas of their life.

    4. I think there are some activities you really, seriously need in-person one-on-one teaching for. Suspension, for instance, or serious D/s--there's stuff that's just not safe to do by the seat of your pants. But there's a lot that falls under the BDSM/kink umbrella that isn't nearly as complicated and dangerous. So it really depends on what you plan to do.

      (The word "mentor" in a BDSM context feels like kind of a poisoned well to me; I've seen too many gross "I want to mentor young hot newbies, if you know what I mean" situations out there and not enough genuine ones. I like the idea of "skillsharing" better.)

  7. @Emma: Maybe I misunderstand what you're saying, but you seem to have misread "mentoring" as "monitoring".

  8. I've been reading Pervocracy for a while and this is the first time a post has really resonated with me so I wanted to comment. Mainly to say "thank you" to you, Cliff, for such a thoughtfully written piece on play from the bottom's POV.

    I consider my rather lucky to have a Service Top for my Dom* and she asks me for my ideas before we start a scene. I'm also usually the one to initiate and ask for us to play. It's given me a lot of confidence to be able to ask for what I want and know that she will respect my wishes and not consider it too much of a critique of her or her skill.

    Now, to be fair, when we're actually playing, she is the one controlling things like the positioning and pacing. And if she hits on something good that I haven't specifically asked for, I'm totally happy to go with it, encourage her, and more than likely ask for it again in the future.

    I know that the exact balance of the relationship depends on the people in, but yes, like in every other sexual relationship, both/all parties should feel comfortable with asking for what they want from their partner(s).

    Oh, and I agree with your assertion that tops need after care too! After we're done, we both need time to just catch our breath, cuddle, and decompress.

    *(Yes we know about the Dom/Domme convention, but she likes to use Dom and I use it out of respect of her wishes.)

  9. I'd like to get rid of the idea of "topping from the bottom" entirely. I know it violates many people's ideas of sexy, rigid role definitions, but the problematic behavior has the same source on both ends of the hitty object:

    If the scene is all about you, then you're probably being an asshole.

    And I think this is true even when you're playing with someone who plays as a service top or someone who wants to bottom and be used entirely for your pleasure. It doesn't always have to be complicated, and often the way you make it not-'all about you' is partner selection for someone whose desires match up well with yours. Seeking out a service top, rather than demanding your partner-of-choice behave as one, is often the primary way one fulfills the 'not all about you' requirement. So is seeking out someone who really wants to service bottom. (Also, hey, can we make that a term and stop assuming that bottoming always defaults to service bottoming?)

    I think we end up talking about service tops as some kind of exception a lot of the time. As someone who enjoys being a service top I just want to point out that such a role doesn't make me available for general use either. If I'm in that role it's because I'm enjoying the process of giving you something that you want, and that requires some collaborative effort on your end too. (I'm not a mind reader) That effort at selection and collaboration is something I need to enjoy a scene, and if you don't care enough about my experience to do those things... you are being an asshole.

    For the most part I find that anyone who cares enough to worry about whether they're 'topping from the bottom'? Almost by definition already cares enough about my experience that they're in no danger of being an asshole. (We may still end up having play styles that are wildly incompatible, but having *trouble* getting the communication right isn't the same as not caring to try.)

    1. Okay, yes, everything in this comment? Very well said and YES.

  10. Sometimes tops need physical as well as emotional aftercare.

    I play with someone who has some physical disabilities. When I bottom, after I catch my breath a little at the end of a scene, I usually ask "would you like some ice?" If the answer is yes (often), I go into the kitchen and get icepacks to ease my partner's joint pain.

  11. I found a lot of this post to be so triggering. E.g., "Or when it isn't pleasure, 'my butt hurts and I am strong and I am taking it.' It's almost a kind of meditation."

    A lot of what you wrote about how to be a good bottom is stomach-turningly and frighteningly familiar to the experience of having to take abuse because you are disempowered.


    "And it is things you have to learn. 'Standing there' looks like a no-brainer, but standing in a way that makes it easy for your top to do their job and supports you when you go wibbly and looks good and feels good?"

    Looks good? Really?

    1. The difference between BDSM and abuse is consent, mainly.

      I've been abused, and I've been the bottom in a BDSM scene, and the two bear no relation to each other whatsoever. I can't speak for other masochists, but I don't experience pain as pleasure; I experience it as 'good pain'. My boyfriend throwing me across the room because I woke him up? Bad pain. Not necessarily because it hurt any more than a heavy scene, but because it was scary and out of control and I didn't know if he was going to stop, if he was going to sit there and scream at me, if he was going to stomp into the kitchen and grab a knife.

      A scene might hurt just as much, physically speaking, but it's my decision to take the pain, and if I can't or don't want to, I say the word and it stops. That's the difference.

    2. What the person above me said.

      I have been abused. I have also been in BDSM situations where I purposely asked my partner to act verbally and physically abusive towards me, and where uttering a single word could stop everything and make said "abuse" devolve into cuddling and reassurance. They're not the same. At all.

      I'm terribly sorry that you've been triggered and I hope you are feeling alright now, but this is actually... pretty tame for a BDSM blog, to be honest. Maybe it's not a good idea for you to be on a blog that is clearly labeled to contain BDSM talk when mentions of any activity that bears any surface resemblance to abuse is triggering to you? The stuff you pulled out was pretty easy to scroll past, as well, if you're just here for the more feminism-oriented bits and you'd rather skip the kink.

      Again, it's terrible to be triggered. I get that. I am triggered by some relatively banal things, and I once had a freakout at a friend because they used the phrase "now now kids" and that phrase contains a lot of bad, bad stuff for me. But the fact that I was triggered, while awful, wasn't their fault; they didn't know and there was nothing they could've done differently not knowing.

      Which brings me to why I take issue with this comment; I'm unsure what you want Cliff to do here. It's a little unreasonable to ask someone not to talk about BDSM/how they experience BDSM on a BDSM blog because it triggers you.

    3. Consent is the difference between BDSM and abuse. Between eating a meal and being force fed. Between going on a journey and being exiled. Between sex and rape. Training for a marathon and being sent on a death march.
      Consent is the big brick wall between these experiences and remembering that can really help quiet any reverberations between them. Because yes, refugees probably do pick up travel skills, endurance runners experience some similar physiological changes as forced labourers, and having some basic knowledge of how reproduction works will at least answer some of questions someone might have relating to both rape and sex. The surface similarities are just the surface.
      One small addendum here - BDSM that you didn't consent to is abuse. Just because you asked for a spanking doesn't mean that you get your hair pulled, for example. One reason I object to the 'BDSM is abuse' concept is that it silences anyone into kink who complains about their boundaries being violated. You never lose your right to give or withdraw your consent.

  12. Replies
    1. Arabic spam? But I thought pork was haraam.

  13. Hi, I'm fairly new to BDSM but what do you mean by this? "because bottoms might be immobilized (or go off into la-la land)"

    1. Well, immobilized is simple: I might be tied up.

      La-la land is the issue of going into serious sub space. Which didn't clarify really either I'm sure. I don't want to assume my experience is universal, as this can describe any number of altered states. For me this is a point at which I get giggly and out of it due to endorphin production.

      I may be spacey and even unfit to drive for an hour or more.

    2. What Jamie said, pretty much. For me "sub space" is a very detached state of euphoria followed by a very "whee I'm flying" drug-like high. It's sometimes hard to know exactly what's going on with my body or to communicate clearly when I'm in that space. (Not impossible, and I can still tell when I'm being hurt and still safeword, but I'm definitely in a state of impaired awareness.)

      I remember once asking Rowdy to drive me home from a party because I was still out of it, and as luck would have it, we got pulled over by the cops. I tried very hard to look normal while my head was going "woooo flyyyyinnng" and I think I failed completely. But the cop just figured Rowdy was my designated driver (and in a sense he was), so that ended okay. Damn good thing I didn't try to drive, though.

  14. Thank you very much for the discussion here. It was so odd trying to find a word for what I enjoy the most. I'm not submissive, but I don't like to go against what the bottom wants as mercilessly as the doms I talked with seem to play.
    I love when it becomes a dance, yes, one leads, but the other follows eagerly and enjoys it just as much. I was beginning to doubt that I had any place in the D/s dynamic at all. Before this discussion here it had always been painted as black and white, either or, nothing in between. Now it looks a bit more like a spectrum where I could call myself "a domme, mostly service oriented, who enjoys to bottom on occasion". Much more comfortable this way.

  15. Thank you for this.

    I have a lot of the same problems with S/M 101 books and classes, although I'm coming at it from a different perspective. As a dominant top, I find that those resources that make bottoming look like "something a beanbag could do" make topping look like it's entirely about facilitating the bottom's experience, rather than *having* an experience, yourself.

    Thank you for talking about processing the experience and giving good feedback. That, right there, is the difference between a "do-me" bottom and a "collaborative" bottom. The latter means the top "gets something back" for the all energy she's putting out through managing the scene and operating the tools, and it matters a LOT. It means the difference between spending a lot of energy on, well, a bean bag... and creating something awesome with another person.

  16. As the partner of someone who requires far more aftercare after topping than I do after bottoming--thank you for bringing up top drop. It's really hard to find information or even acknowledgement of it, which makes it feel like much more of a Big Scary Thing.

  17. Hey all, you seem like a great group of people. I am brand-spanking new to the BDSM scene, and by that I mean I've only fantasized about bottoming. I'm also pretty young (over 18, don't worry), so I am nervous about just getting introduced to the scene. This helped a lot in getting a sense of what bottoming is all about. But what I was wonderig was: what kind of social scenes are there for people who want to just talk and figure out where they stand and don't want to jump right in?

  18. Hi, like the person above me, I have very little knowledge about BDSM, but a lot of it seems like something I would enjoy. The only issue is that I have a pretty low pain threshold, and the idea of being hit really turns me off. Is there a way to engage in BDSM without including hitting?