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Topping from the Bottom

Updated: NOVEMBER 24, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Laura McGuire
on November 23, 2021

Topping from the Bottom is a term used to describe the potential reversal of roles in a BDSM scene. It is not seen as a desirable situation.

In a Topping from the Bottom situation, the submissive attempts to manipulate or control the actions of the Dominant through verbal or physical cues. In typical BDSM relationships, it is understood that the Dominant partner is in charge of all aspects of a play session or scene, and the submissive has agreed to follow their desires and directions. Topping from the Bottom breaks away from that protocol and can make the scene difficult for the Dominant.

It is different from bratting, where the sub is willfully obstinate and must be brought to hand by the Dom as part of the agreed upon scene. Topping from the bottom refers to the sub not conforming to the agreed upon roles.

BDSM scenes, and the assigning of roles as Top and bottom can be very particular to each person. Some people only identify as a Top or Dominant, and some people only identify as a bottom or submissive. Some people also identify as Switch, meaning they can identify as either a Top or a bottom, depending on their desire at the time.

BDSM relationships are enjoyed by people of all sexualities and genders, so those factors do not factor into issues relating to Topping from the Bottom.

Typically, before commencing a BDSM scene, players will agree and consent to their identities and roles in the scene. For many, a significant part of enjoying the scene is relishing these roles and the power dynamics agreed upon.

Some of the ways someone can attempt to Top from the Bottom are: offering verbal cues that change the dynamics and control the play; suggesting different types of play mid-scene; moving their body in ways to guide physical touch; and, resisting cues from the Dominant.

The undesirability of Topping from the Bottom should not be confused with issues involving consent. Anyone can choose to remove themselves from a BDSM or sex scene from anytime and that should be respected without question from the Top, this is a separate issue from a sub disrupting the power dynamics in an negotiated scene .

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More About Topping from the Bottom

BDSM relationships and scenes are built on a foundation of trust and mutual understanding. The opportunity to play with another person in a way that can be mentally or physically challenging—mixing pleasure with varying types of “pain”— is not to be taken lightly. A typical connection between a Dominant and a submissive, during a scene, necessarily involves a hierarchy of Top and bottom. This is negotiated and understood beforehand. Breaking from that relationship, that hierarchy, means that that negotiated agreement has been breached.

For those who aren’t into BDSM scenes, this concept might be a challenge to understand. Non-BDSM relationships are also built on a foundation of trust and mutual understanding that does also include the room for the opportunity to change a sexual situation midstream. And yes, if a BDSM scene is not working for the submissive and they want to stop a particular action or the scene altogether, they absolutely have that right to speak up. However, Topping from the bottom is, more likely, a situation where the bottom may not fully understand or respect the role of a submissive.

If you and your partner(s) hope to enjoy a BDSM scene with these defined roles, but the submissive partner accidentally or purposefully Tops from the Bottom, be sure you discuss the situation before the scene. Communication is critical in BDSM scenes.


Establishing comfort levels and responding to changes either partner wants during the scene is of the utmost importance for maintaining safety and enthusiastic consent. It is crucial that "topping from the bottom" not be used against a sub who isn't comfortable with a total power exchange (i.e. they want to give up some, but not all of their control.) Healthy BDSM allows for nuance and negotiation.

Players can agree to physical or verbal consequences of Topping from the Bottom such as slaps or spanking, verbal humiliation, and bondage and can actually work the situation into the scene’s play. If the situation occurs during the scene and these punishments have not been agreed to beforehand, remember that Dominants can also use safewords or actions to stop the scene or a particular act. Discuss the situation so that everyone can understand how the power dynamics and enjoyment of the scene are being strained.
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