How Can a Bottom Top?

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September 1995

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1995 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I'm a 39-year-old woman who is neither a member of the Society of Janus nor a member of the SM "community." I came across your publication at the home of a friend, who has agreed to show me your response to my letter if you print one.

I am now in the fourth long-term relationship (more than two years) of my life that is centered on what I believe you would call SM or DS. But I never had any training or education in these matters: my boyfriends and I simply made it up as we went along. When I found out there was a name for what we were doing I was somewhat surprised, though pleased to learn we were not alone.

When I was in my early 20s my boyfriend seemed to take unusually deep pleasure if I attended and served him in a submissive mode: if I brought him his coffee, rubbed his back, and was generally obedient to his desires. I, in turn, took unusually deep pleasure from serving him this way. In addition, we both found our pleasure in any activity was greatly enhanced if I was naked or if he restrained me in some way, and we both agreed he should have the right to punish or discipline me whenever I displeased him. Though he did punish and discipline me by spanking and other means, I never felt that he abused me or abused his rights.

In time, two more relationships followed for me that were similar in tone if not in all their fine particulars, and I concluded that I was what you would call a "bottom." But away from my boyfriend I was, am, and always have been, pretty bossy. I met my new boyfriend on the job where he saw me act in that bossy kind of way, and now he wants me to "top" him. I really don't know how to do the particular things he wants me to do, but I can figure them out: spanking and whipping and being served are not so hard to learn.

My problem is that I don't really like to be in charge of my boyfriends, and I don't really like to be in charge in the bedroom. I'm not sure whether I would really be the top anyway if I'm just doing things because my boyfriend wants me to. How do I solve these riddles?

<A> Whether you're in the SM community or not, no one has the right to make you do what you do not want to do: that's what the "consensual" is about in the community motto, "Safe, sane, and consensual." You can, of course, choose to do things that do not ordinarily interest you, either as a form of experiment or to please a partner, but you really have to find value in the activities for yourself as well. Arguably, that's part of what the "sane" is about. If you engage in erotic activities "just" because your boyfriend wants you to, you will probably come – fairly quickly, in all likelihood – to resent the activities, and then to resent your boyfriend. If your boyfriend really wants to bottom, and if you've tried topping him and it really doesn't turn you on – or worse, if it really turns you off – you and your boyfriend may have divergent needs. Your question then will be what to do about the challenge to your mutual satisfaction.

As far as your other question is concerned, there's nothing wrong with a top pleasing her bottom. A problem only arises when the bottom starts to dictate what the top does, or when, or how, or how much, or why; or it arises when the top isn't doing plenty – or having plenty done – for her own satisfaction. If such a situation prevails for you, your boyfriend is "topping from the bottom," by which I mean he is running the scene covertly. If he really has a need to bottom, running the scene this way will not be satisfying to him, any more than it will be satisfying to you; but if he's really a top who likes to get done his way and is giving you instructions for his own pleasure, then you can just go right ahead and do what he says: you'll be a bottom who does her top as a way to please him.

I hope my answer doesn't sound too complicated, but if you want to learn more about the formal structures of SM play, consider applying to become a member of Janus, and/or take some classes through QSM, our local SM school. QSM also has a mail-order bookstore that carries most of the educational and how-to books that have been published in the past decade. For information, call them at (415) 550-7776.

Incidentally, since Janus is a members-only organization where confidentiality is of paramount importance, your friend really had no right to show you a copy of Growing Pains. You seem like a responsible person and I expect no harm will come from what she did, but it was a breach of trust nonetheless.

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