“This rope is pinching. Can you move it over a few inches?” she said to her top.
“What?!?” he roared, and everyone in the dungeon stopped what they were doing to look. “What are you trying to do, top me from the bottom?!?”
This scenario, or something like it, happens far too frequently in the BDSM community. The top in question was referring to a phenomenon where the receiver – usually known as the “bottom” – tries to give some kind of direction to the giver – the “top” – in order to make the scene more pleasurable for one or both of them.
The problem, especially in a public play space, is that this is sometimes interpreted as being bossy to the top, or worse, implying that the top isn’t competent enough to handle things. Tops already have a lot of pressure as the ones “in control” of a scene, and when the bottom speaks out like that, sometimes it can be implied as criticism. Instead of hearing “”This rope is pinching. Can you move it over a few inches?” the top hears something like “Jesus, you’re killing me! I can’t believe you put this rope there – didn’t you know better? If you don’t move it soon, I’m going to scream, safeword, or die!”
The problem lies not in the rope, or the top, or the bottom. It lies in the false idea that the top is totally responsible and entirely in control of the scene. Some call this idea “domniscience” and it’s not only untrue, it’s dangerous.
What the bottom was actually doing was communicating. She was giving the top more information about what was happening with the ropes and her body. The fact is, more information equals more power, and so she was giving him the ability to control even more of the scene.
More than that, it was followed by a question, not a demand – “Can you move it?” The answer may be “no” – whether for practical purposes or simply because they are doing some kind of sado-masochistic scene, in which case the answer is something like “Too bad! Suffer!” It all depends on what kind of negotiations went on beforehand.
But the answer from a secure top is usually something like “Oh, really? Sure, I can fix that…” and the scene goes on. The secure top knows that information like that is valuable, and a pinch dealt with now is often keeping a scene from being safeworded later. A “domniscient”, though, takes that information as being the first sign that perhaps they are not in control after all – and they panic. If they missed that one thing, what else did they miss? How did the bottom notice it? What else has the bottom noticed that has gone wrong? What if everyone else sees…it becomes a panicky spiral and in the end no one is happy.
While that kind of communication and feedback is not “topping from the bottom”, there is occasionally a bottom who will decide that they know better what the top should be doing, how they should be doing it, and where and when and even why. They will instruct the top on what to do, severely criticize any mistakes (real or perceived), and then get upset when the top finally gives up and safewords (yes, a top can safeword too).
There could be many reasons for this kind of behavior from a bottom. Perhaps they don’t actually feel safe with a particular top, and by giving directions they are establishing a locus of control for themselves. Or they may just have such a solid idea of how their BDSM fantasy should play out that they must explain every detail, step by step, allowing no room for deviation. Or they may simply be feeling very selfish, and insist that everything in the scene be done exactly the way they enjoy it, regardless of how the top is feeling.
If any of these have been negotiated ahead of time, there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, sometimes “topping from the bottom” can be very useful, especially with an inexperienced top and an experienced bottom (or switch). “Can you move the rope two inches” becomes a useful lesson for someone who is new to their passion. This kind of guidance could be termed “bottoming from the top”, because while the top still gives the activity, they are following the suggestions of the bottom as much as they can.
Contrary to popular belief, switches do not have a tendency to “top from the bottom” more than anyone else. Most switches are completely bottoming or topping as they choose, and rarely mix them up unless that’s the kind of play going on.
Wondering if you are experiencing the phenomenon, either doing it as a bottom or receiving it as a top? There’s only one way to really know: ask your partner. “Are you trying to tell me how to tie?” said in a calm voice is perfectly reasonable. Remember that anger is much like your other BDSM toys; hot when appropriately used, but dangerous when it’s out of control. If you don’t like the way your partner is communicating, it’s best to simply open a dialogue and talk about it. Then you can get back to the hot and sexy play all the faster.