Topping from the bottom is a feared act for novice submissives because it holds a negative connotation that the person is somehow not submissive if they top from the bottom. It's often whispered and sometimes screamed about in all of the online forums dealing with BDSM, and most of them talk about it with disdain, and they shame the people who they think are bottom-topping according to their own definitions. I know that topping from the bottom is a heated and hated topic among submissives (and probably Dominants), but that doesn't mean we should all stop talking about it and forming our own opinions.
Let’s break down what topping from the bottom is, why it’s so bad, how it can be good, and learn some tips to stop the poor behavior in its tracks that leads to it.
What is Topping from the Bottom and Why is it Bad?
This exchange at the checkout counter is a real example of topping from the bottom.
A hungry sub asks their Dom:
Sub: "May I have a candy bar please?"
Sub: "Please? I promise it won't ruin my dinner."
Dom: "I said no."
Sub: "I'll be extra good later and give you that massage you've been wanting. Please??"
Sub: "Aw, but I really want it (insert pouty face and stamping foot). Please?"
Dom: "Fine, just get one already." (sigh)
The submissive here decided that a candy bar and only a candy bar would solve their hunger and pushed that decision when the Dominant said no. While this example is exaggerated, you can see that the submissive in this situation wouldn't take no for an answer and had already decided to force the Dominant to give in.
The term topping from the bottom aims to help submissives understand their role and the authority transfer. Topping from the bottom is when you simultaneously adopt both roles. Examples could be giving commands, refusing requests, pushing back on a Dominant’s decision, or moving to control the location of impacts during play. Generally, it is frowned upon to force the Dominant's hand to do something they do not wish to do or have already made a decision.
While researching this topic, I encountered an excellent list of types of topping from the bottom that I wanted to showcase here. Arcane Advice has a thorough article on topping from the bottom, and they list four types of bottom-topping that make sense and will help you understand why there is so much variation in opinions of what makes topping from the bottom bad and how it can be good.
The Four Types of Topping from the Bottom (modified from Arcane Advice):
- Completely Inappropriate - Completely inappropriate topping from the bottom is demanding or commanding behavior from the bottom toward a Top who has NOT agreed to receive such behavior. This type is the most common negative perception of topping from the bottom, in which the behaviors tend to be devoid of any sort of good BDSM etiquette and are generally seen as rude.
- Mildly Inappropriate - This form of topping from the bottom has the bottom saying or doing something in the moment that goes against general BDSM etiquette but is not intended to be any sort of seizure of power over the Top. Topping from the bottom in this way can be accidental or even intended for humor's sake.
- Negotiated & Consensual - Negotiated bottom-topping is when the bottom takes control of a situation the Top has agreed to, like taking instruction from the bottom for specific reasons, such as a new Top learning from a far more experienced bottom. This kind of topping from the bottom occurs in a calm, non-confrontational manner because both people understand that there is a good reason and purpose behind this temporary role reversal.
- Completely Consensual - Purposeful bottom-topping that is highly aggressive and quite confrontational for the sake of the very specific kink known as “ Resistance Play.” Completely consensual topping from the bottom also includes the relationship style of brat tamers and brats.
If you want to read the in-depth explanations of the four types of topping from the bottom listed here, read the Arcane Advice article!
The Truth of Bottom-Topping
Ask one hundred submissives why they consider topping from the bottom is bad behavior, and they will likely come up with something relating to "forcing the Dominant's hand." They'd be right. The real, honest-to-goodness truth is that forcing the Dominant's hand is the only way you can bottom-top. How you do that is situational and different for different people or reasons. But the root of the issue is in the power of decision-making.
In any D/s dynamic where there is a power exchange, the submissive entrusts the Dominant to make the best decisions for the relationship and to have authority over the submissive in some or all things. When a submissive tops from the bottom, they break that exchange by trying to take control. Submissives topping from the bottom have already made a decision that contradicts what the Dominant wishes. Instead of complying with their Dominant’s authority, they often reject it and force their decision until they get what they want.
What does this look like in everyday exchanges?
- A submissive with a bedtime rule decides to stay up later so that they can watch their favorite program.
- A Dominant requests their submissive to refill their coffee cup, and the submissive continues scrolling through their phone, responding, “Yeah, just a minute.”
- A submissive is ordered to go clean the bathroom, and they refuse, thinking, “What’s in it for me if I do that?”
- A submissive intentionally fails to write in their journal as directed because they know they’ll get a spanking for not doing it, and they really want one.
- A Dominant commands the submissive to stand up and come to them, and the submissive replies, “Why?”
- Negotiating and agreeing to punishments for bad behavior, then calling "red" every time because the submissive doesn't want to be punished.
With these examples, interpretation can always change based on your experience, so not all of them may feel like topping from the bottom to you. That’s why you may want to talk to your partner about this topic to develop your own understanding.
The Effect of Vilifying Topping From the Bottom on Novice Submissives
Referencing the four types of bottom-topping from above, you can see that there are instances where topping from the bottom is a good thing, so we’re not going to challenge the behaviors that are negotiated, consensual, and a part of a relationship dynamic or playtime. As a community, we tend to get stuck on the “bad behavior” of new submissives or brats looking for partners who enjoy it.
What gets mixed up in debates about what is and isn’t topping from the bottom is that there are ways to do similar actions that are not topping from the bottom because of negotiated consent. Outsiders from the relationship may consider it rude BDSM etiquette simply because they don’t know that consent exists. These people set a hard line for topping from the bottom and don’t see the flexibility that various relationships put on the behaviors. Remember, what one person considers topping from the bottom could be another's way to guide a new budding Dominant into their role, a mutually agreed playful banter or brat play. There is so much personal interpretation to topping from the bottom, and that’s the cause of arguments everywhere.
Novice submissives will likely have difficulty seeing what could be topping from the bottom since they don’t have all the experience to pull from. That's OKAY. You will learn what your Dominant is okay with and what they don't like through negotiation and building the foundations of a relationship. You will learn where their authority lies and to avoid pushing their decisions in your favor just to get your way.
Ways to Stop Topping from the Bottom Before It Starts
Before we take on the mantle of Dominant or submissive, we have needs and desires, preferences and opinions. That's what makes us unique individuals. In a D/s relationship of any kind, we embrace all of that and hopefully share it with another person. However, with the stigma of topping from the bottom, submissives often hide desires, needs, and preferences if they don't align with a Dominant out of fear their requests or needs will make their Dominant do something. Take, for example, using belts as play tools. Say you really hate belts for one reason or another but haven't shared that information because you are afraid they will be unhappy and disappointed that you don’t want belts as play toys.
Not telling your Dominant something important like that is topping from the bottom. You are withholding information that would help the Dominant make the best decisions. I understand you’re afraid to make your Dominant unhappy, but keeping that information from them isn’t helping you build trust and will ultimately make you unhappy.
What if they stop when you tell them how you feel about belts? They've consciously decided to listen to your concerns about belts, and they have decided to stop. Let me emphasize that again. They decided to stop using belts to respect your boundaries. Because they care about you. You didn’t force their decision on this at all. It’s about give and take. They want to build a happy, healthy relationship with you. In doing so, they will decide what’s best when you present information to them.
What other outcome could there be? If they really like using belts, they could ask you to work through your hesitation with belts, perhaps together as a form of training. They could tell you that they only used them because they thought you liked them, having not said anything to the contrary, and don't mind not using them during playtime. Whatever the case may be, open communication is more important than withholding information because you fear you will cause your Dominant to change what they are doing because of it. Remember, topping from the bottom is the intentional forcing of their hand, negating their decision in favor of what you want. It is not healthy communication about wants and needs that results in respecting boundaries.
For submissives who may want their Dominant to consider something that the submissive wants, pushing your desires in an aggressive way that ignores a Dominant’s decision is not the way to go. Now, my email inbox is full of requests for advice from submissives, and I always get the question, "How can I make him do X, Y, or Z?" The honest answer is you can't and you shouldn’t. But you can talk to them about why you'd like them to do X, Y, or Z and find out where they stand. Talking about it will allow you to mutually decide how to handle the situation. Don't force them into it.
Use those healthy communication skills! Not sure what those are? We have articles on Submissive Guide that will help you.
The key to avoiding topping from the bottom is discussing your needs and desires and being transparent about things from the start. Some of what I see in topping from the bottom is the submissive being unable to express themselves appropriately, so they try to push what they want or need aggressively or reactively. That example above, from the checkout line, could have gone something like this instead:
Sub: "Sir, I’m hungry, and we have 3 hours before dinner. May I have a candy bar please?"
Dom: “I’d prefer you not have a candy bar. Can you pick something healthier for a snack?”
Sub: “There aren’t many options here in the checkout, Sir, but I see there is a trail mix. It has chocolate pieces in it. Is that okay?”
Dom: “Yes, that’s fine. Thank you for letting me know you were hungry.”
Now, in this instance, the Dominant took the added information to make a decision that helped the submissive satisfy hunger. They could have easily said no, too. And a compliant submissive would have to accept that answer without rebuttal.
Recognizing when you are prone to pushing your Dominant’s decision can take time, and I suggest all submissives keep a journal for things like learning how to self-reflect on your feelings and what submission looks like. Researching topping from the bottom and how to be a better submissive can help you identify when you’re feeling extra pushy or where your mood isn’t quite what it should be for submission to be easy.
Once you’ve journaled about it, you should talk with your Dominant about where you’re struggling to surrender control and see if there are things they can do to encourage good behavior and discourage the behavior they don’t like. It won’t work if you leave it to the Dominant to highlight the issue. You must make intentional steps to improve your awareness of when you slip into controlling or making decisions. Always be open with one another, and you will build the trust and communication needed to learn and grow.
I hope you've learned the truth behind a term clouded with false information and personal judgment. You must build trust and open communication to have a healthy relationship. That will develop your authority transfer dynamic, and you’ll both know where to tweak behavior and make things work best for you.
What is your stand on topping from the bottom? Come talk about it on our Discord server!