Do Some People Really Only Top or Bottom?


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ASK THE THERAPIST

April 1999

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1999 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I'm a switch and see only true balance between dominance and submission. Do some people really, truly stay in one role or the other?

<A> You know how sometimes people say they feel split between their hearts and their minds? In this case I feel split between my beliefs and my experience. It's my belief that no one can be all top and no one can be all bottom: that every one of us has the desire, if not the need, to run The Show sometimes, and also has the desire, if not the need, to sometimes give it up. I'm even inclined to let my belief take refuge in that wondrous territory Dr. Freud discovered, The Unconscious, and claim that anyone who doesn't know about hir switch inclinations just hasn't looked deeply enough into hirself to find 'em but that they're in there somewhere, lurking around like a gang of delinquents picking their teeth with switchblades on a nighttime streetcorner in the rain beneath the broken lamppost of some wicked complex, waiting to wreak havoc with hir sexuo-erotic BDSM life.

My experience suggests my belief is wrong, and that I've taken an observation about a slightly Bigger Picture and tried to apply it where it doesn't belong. Moreover, my experience suggests that I've extrapolated bottom-switch behavior and tried to apply it to top-switches where they may not be.

Out in the civilian world every bottom I've ever known wants on some occasion to choose hir dinner menu, dress, or partner; now and then every bottom I've ever known wants to time at least some bathroom visits on hir own, to breathe and swallow on hir own volition, and to go to sleep when tired. Running a life is a complex business, and we tend to get used to it growing up. Besides, animal programming calls for us to be in charge of ourselves as soon and for as long as we are able.

But then, when I want to say, Likewise, every top I've known would rather take direction from time to time, I can see that isn't so: I've known tops who didn't want to run their bottom's lives from time to time, but that is not the same as knowing tops who didn't want to run their own. Of course, we haven't gotten to BDSM behaviors yet, but in large measure I think my answer is the same: many – not all – tops I've known like to get done from time to time, but that isn't the same as bottoming. Some tops are dominant masochists, for instance: "Please Mistress, please may I hurt you?" "No, slave, not yet. Grovel some more." Also, some tops like to play games. I'm a switch, but the people I top I only top, and the people I bottom to I only bottom to – that's the way I'm wired – so I'm really both a top and a bottom, rather than a switch. And I used to top someone who wanted to top me, and I would let my bottom do so – for about five minutes at a time, as long as she was collared and leashed.

Without generalizing, extrapolating, or specifying from some broader activity, I have certainly known players, both tops and bottoms, who really and truly preferred to stay in one particular role. I've known tops who wouldn't bottom because they didn't trust any other tops, I've known tops who wouldn't bottom because they didn't trust themselves to bottom, and I've known tops who tried to bottom and found the experience drier than plain shredded wheat in Death Valley in August. Similarly, I've known bottoms who'd become quite eloquent in their abilities to top but who only exercised those skills to please their switching tops, I've known bottoms who tried to top and weren't very good or happy at it, and I've known bottoms who had no desire at all to swing a whip, tie a knot, or be in charge of anything in their BDSM lives.

Balance is a funny phenomenon: what's in balance for me may be 'way out of balance for you, and it may take both of us – a top and a bottom, say – to create a balance in the bigger sense. Perhaps in a sphere that requires more than one person to make a match, one person cannot be in balance by hirself. But now I'm waxing philosophical, and the floors ain't even dry.


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