Who's Really the Top?

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January 1995

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1995 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I'm a novice Top playing with a novice bottom. I especially like to have him serve me, sometimes as my houseboy and sometimes as my pleasure slave. It seems to me that he is eager enough to do whatever I say when I'm ready for sexual service, but when I ask or demand that he do something he doesn't like, such as wash my dishes or clean my bathroom, he becomes sullen and resentful. I've begun to feel that I'm the bottom, and that I'm supposed to Top him the way he wants to be Topped. If this is the way SM relationships go, who really is the submissive one: the Top or the bottom?

<A> The submissive one is whoever submits to the other's requests, demands, or requirements. Nominally, submission is the bottom's privilege, but Tops often accommodate their bottoms, too. This give and take is part of what makes well executed dominance and submission such a courtly dance.

Based on the information you've provided, and assuming there are no other issues waiting in ambush behind the whipping post, this marriage can be saved; but saving it requires that you go back to renegotiate your Top-bottom interaction.

It sounds to me as if your playmate is topping from the bottom, punishing you with his surly behavior when he doesn't like your scene so he can get what he wants. It also sounds as if you've been accepting his routine and reciprocally bottoming from the Top: doing him the way he wants to be done in response to his behavior, thereby rewarding his passive-aggression in order to get him to be the nice guy you started to play with. The resentment you have begun to feel toward your bottom and toward your whole relationship is likely a direct outcome of this unholy combination of unspoken manipulations on both your parts. The question I have is, why are you playing this way?

When he agreed to bottom to you, did your houseboy and pleasure slave agree to be submissive too? Or are you assuming that he is submissive just because he bottoms? When you got together did you tell your bottom his duties would include washing your dishes and cleaning your bathroom? And did he agree to do such chores? Or did you have a general agreement that he would do what you told him to, without clearly negotiated limits? What proportion of your bottom's labor is pure grunt-work for him, and how much does he take pleasure in?

If you had a clear agreement, and if you are keeping your end of the bargain, your bottom's behavior as you describe it is inappropriate and should be strongly discouraged; if he is unable or unwilling to change it, you must consider whether you want your bottom to Top you or you want a different bottom.

If you did not have a clear agreement, and your bottom is washing lots of dishes and toilets, but serving you sexually and getting done infrequently, he may not be getting his needs met. His behavior may simply be a coded way of telling you that he feels abused by your demands. In this case, scrap your contract, oral or written, and begin afresh with clear lists of both your needs, wants, limits, and offerings. See if you have a match or not before you play again.

If the only problem is that your bottom isn't having a good time and doesn't know how to let you know directly, practice clear communication together during your straight time, and learn to translate it into play space. You can also make a lot of drudgery more palatable for him and more amusing or you by giving it an erotic cast: for instance, cleaning the Top's house in a butt plug and collar feels different than cleaning house in old jeans and a t-shirt.

I'd hesitate to generalize about "the way SM relationships go" from any single SM relationship, especially one between two self-proclaimed novices. In my observation SM relationships go every which way, just as vanilla relationships do. SM relationships just have a special kind of twist to them which can make their interactions easier or harder than otherwise, depending on the partners involved. Right now the twist seems to have made yours harder, but that doesn't mean you have to throw in your whips. If you value your relationship or your bottom, see if you can untangle some of the snarls instead.

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