Straight people tend to get a little hung up on titles and roles in queer relationships.
When it comes to gay sex, many people tend to think rigidly and a little too heteronormatively for their own good:
one person is the top (aka the giver or the more dominant partner during sex),
and one is the bottom (the receiver or the submissive partner).
It’s sort of a more prying version of the other severely reductive and incredibly problematic question queer people hear all the time:
Of course, as with anything related to sex, the binary relationship between tops and bottoms is a lot more complicated than that.
Sure, there are plenty of queer folks who almost exclusively bottom or top during sex, but there’s just as many who consider themselves versatile or switch
(And hey, sometimes, just like with straight sex, there’s no penetration at all. Sex is fluid!)
To dig a little deeper, we asked queer men about topping and bottoming, the stereotypes associated with both and how they choose to use (or not!) the terms in their own lives.
Though everyone is different, tops (or dominants) prefer penetrating and/or being in control in bed.
A bottom (or submissive) is usually the receptive partner during penetrative sex or the individual who cedes control.
While top-bottom terminology is mostly associated with gay men, queer women employ the terms, too. (Though a survey by queer site
Autostraddle found that most queer women identify as switches rather than tops or bottoms.)
What does it mean to top as a queer woman? It could involve fingering, performing oral sex,
or using a strap-on for penetration, among many other fun sexy time things.
More times than not, you can usually figure out if you identify more as a bottom, top or switch by thinking about what turns you on general.
“The way my clients have said they figured out if they are a top or bottom is by what they fantasized about during masturbation
and also by engaging in both to see what worked best for them and what aroused them the most,” Kort said.
And obviously, depending on the circumstance and the chemistry you feel with a partner, you might be game to switch
We live in a patriarchal society that prizes masculinity, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that bottoms get shamed for doing something associated with what women are expected to do during sex.
Topping is seen as preferable by some men who have sex with men because it doesn’t threaten their masculinity.
“The problem is that tops are almost always seen as more manly, virile and aggressive,
whereas bottoms are usually linked to effeminacy because we think they have a subservient position,” Madison Moore,
a cultural critic and queer studies professor wrote on Thought Catalog in 2014.
“This attitude is wholly cultural and deeply rooted in how we think about gender,” Moore wrote. “Like, men are supposed to be men. Like, men don’t take dicks up the ass.”
The issue speaks to a larger problem of discrimination of men demonstrating more femme traits in gay culture.
Don’t fall into the trap of assuming someone’s preferred sexual position based on how they present.
There are plenty of men who like to bottom. (And plenty of guys who are assertive at work or in public life who relish the opportunity to cede some of that control in the bedroom and play the submissive.)
There are also femme gay men who love topping.
“It’s absolute nonsense, not to mention degrading, to be put into a box based on your expression or physique,” said Bradley Birkholz, a YouTube creator and gay rights activist.
“Anytime somebody assumes you want something done to you in bed, there’s danger associated with it, regardless of your sexuality or gender,” he said.
“I think we have a culture that tells people that the way we talk, act, and dress means we want certain things done to us in bed ― which simply isn’t true.”
As with any sexual encounter, communication is key. You have to ask and find out what your partner is into, not just assume.
“You can be gay and not like anal sex at all, and that’s absolutely fine; and you can use the labels of top or bottom, and that’s fine, too,” Birkholz said. “
There’s nothing wrong with those labels — just don’t apply them to other people because you assume they identify with it.”
Verses or switches are what they sound like – people who like to top and bottom interchangeably during sex.
Verse folks are generally less concerned with labeling themselves and their sexual dynamic and more focused on keeping their sexual interactions fluid,
though some verses do lean towards the top or bottom side of the spectrum.
According to a 2018 survey by Autostraddle, switches make up over 50% of queer people who answered their call out.
It’s crucial to note that while these labels exist, all sexual dynamics between people look different. No two bottoms, switches,
or tops are going to look the same and have the same sexual dynamic with their partner.
“The bottom’s duties is to explain how he likes to be penetrated and how much control he wants or doesn’t want,” said Joe Kort,
a sex and relationship therapist who works with LGBTQ+ clients.
“And the bottom also makes sure he’s prepped and ‘cleaned out’ before sex
― my pet peeve about LGBTQ now being shown in non-porn movies is that they make anal sex look seamless and it’s not!”
Prepping for anal sex might include douching, meaning using water and an enema or syringe to flush out the rectal cavity before you get down to business.
(That said, you don’t need to douche to have an enjoyable experience with anal sex, and some doctors even advise against it.)
And then there are power bottoms: A power bottom bucks “top-bottom” tradition by controlling the thrusting and rhythm below or in front of their partner. Think of it like topping from the bottom.
If you’re into both bottoming and topping, you would probably be considered versatile or switch.
If you’re not into penetration at all, you might identify as a “side,” which is someone who doesn’t enjoy anal sex but is down for other things (oral sex, rimming, mutual masturbation).
Men who have sex with men who don’t regularly engage with penetration are actually quite common.
In a study of men who have sex with men published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2011,
more than 60% of respondents had not engaged in anal intercourse during their last sexual event.
While this wide breadth of terminology can make finding partners easier on dating and hookup apps for some people,
the hyper-focus on labeling or types is a problem for many in the queer community
“I always cringe at the labels of tops or bottoms,” said Davey Wavey, a YouTuber and creator of the adult film site himeros.tv.
“As gay people, we’re already working with a pretty small dating pool.
To further restrict the pool to only tops or only bottoms isn’t doing yourself any favors.
Labeling our identity on the basis of a sexual position feels limiting.
ops, bottoms, and verses (or, “switches”) are terms that refer to sexual preferences within the queer community.
Tops generally like to be the more dominant person during sex, while bottoms follow their lead.
Verses generally like to switch between sexual positions of power with their partners.
If you’ve scrolled through Grindr, Tinder, or even queer sections of TikTok recently, you’ll have seen “top,” “bottom,” or “verse” in a bio or two.
The popular terms describe sexual preferences in the queer community.
While the terms were originally used to describe the sexual preferences of queer men in the 1970s, more LGBTQ+ people have adopted the terms to talk about what they like in sex.
Top/bottom/verse discourse has grown more visible lately on TikTok, where queer people have been making videos describing the unique struggles of each preference.
It’s important to note that each of these categories means something a little different to each person, so no one definition is perfect. Here is a general idea of what it means to be a top, bottom, or verse
Tops generally prefer to take a more active role in sex by acting as the person who penetrates, gives oral sex, or does other sexual acts.
For people with penises, this can mean wanting to be the person penetrating rather than receiving.
For people with vaginas, it can mean preferring to give oral sex rather than receive, according to queer publication Autostraddle.
Because queer sex can look many different ways, being a top doesn’t necessarily refer to the specifics of how sex is had. Instead,
it refers to a power dynamic in which one person is in control and the other person takes the lead.
Within the category of “top,” there are subsections that may refer to the specifics of how people like to have sex.
A “stone top” refers to someone who only likes to “give” during sex and not receive. This can mean penetration, oral sex,
or other acts and comes from the term “stone butch” which was a common masculine gender expression in lesbian spaces
in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and is still used today by some people within the community.
“Touch me nots” fall within “stone tops” as they refer to queer people, often transmasculine people or lesbians,
who do not like to be touched during sex under any circumstances and instead only like to give.
Bottoms typically like to receive during sex, whether that means oral sex, being penetrated during sex, or other sexual acts. However,
like with tops, the specifics of the sex aren’t as important as the power dynamic.
Generally, bottoms are people who relinquish control during sex and follow the lead of the person topping them.
But that doesn’t mean bottoms can’t be assertive and active during sex.
“Power bottoms” refer to bottoms who direct their tops exactly how to please them during sex and are very vocal when they are doing it wrong.
“Bratty bottoms” are similarly vocal and generally tease the person topping them in a demeaning and playful way.
While some bottoms may be open to topping every so often, there are categories of bottoms who never like to be the person penetrating or giving oral sex.
Like stone tops, “stone bottoms” are firm about their boundaries on touching their partners and not like to be the person penetrating or giving oral sex.
Sometimes referred to as “pillow princesses,” stone bottoms face the brunt of the jokes in TikTok videos like this one directed at people for specific sexual preferences within the queer community.
People often insinuate stone bottoms are “less gay” or “pretending to be gay” in TikTok videos if they are firm about not wanting to perform sexual acts like oral and penetration on their partners.
This kind of harassment in TikTok videos like these is called “bottom shaming.