Figuring out queer sex — or kink — can be intimidating; it may feel like everyone else knows things you don’t. It’s possible you’ve seen memes or jokes about tops and bottoms floating around the internet, or heard people reference them on dating apps; it can feel like you’ll always be seen as inexperienced if you don’t feel an immediate connection to these terms. It doesn’t have to be that way! You can get situated and learn some key context quickly and easily. Here’s what I think you need to know about what it means to be a bottom.
What a “bottom” means in vanilla sex
Much like how a top in specifically queer sex is someone who takes on the role of doing or performing sexual actions to the other person, a bottom is someone who is “passive” in that they’re on the “receiving end” of sex. If the sex they’re having involves penetration, a bottom is generally being penetrated by a top. Of course, not all sex involves penetration, but in very broad and oversimplified terms, the top is someone who does in sex, and the bottom is someone who is done to.
Sometimes calling it a more “passive” role gives the impression that bottoms do nothing in bed, or are lazy or selfish — like the term “pillow princess” when used derisively. This shouldn’t be assumed; queer sex is more than penetration, and bottoms can often be incredibly active sex partners. The concept of being a bottom isn’t about being inactive; it’s about deriving pleasure from allowing someone else to lead the sex acts involved, much as a top gets off on pleasing someone else.
It’s especially important to remember not to conflate bottoming with selfishness or helplessness because of the strong identity angle some people bring to the ideas of topping and bottoming. Being a bottom is about what you like in bed, not who you are as a person; regardless of the memes, bottoms aren’t childish, powerless, or incapable. It’s also helpful to remember that bottoming can be a verb in addition to ‘bottom’ the noun; it’s okay to just think through what you like or feel interested in right now, rather than getting hung up on who or what you are.
What a “bottom” means in kink
Being a bottom has a related but unique meaning in kink contexts for both straight and queer people. Within the power dynamic of a kink relationship, a bottom is someone who willingly gives up some control, letting the top lead the interaction with prior negotiation and enthusiastic consent. Since kink can involve a huge range of activities and dynamics, bottoming in a kink dynamic can look like a lot of different things: being spanked, being given instructions, being tied up, having what may look like fairly vanilla penetrative sex while being reassured that you’re a good girl.
Psychologically and emotionally, bottoming in a kink context may also take on meanings and connotations that it doesn’t in vanilla sex: letting someone else have control may mean the bottom gets to take on a persona of being delicate, small, or vulnerable; it may feel like the bottom gets to “let go” or release control and anxiety, even getting to a feeling of “subspace.” Crucially, unless the people involved in the kink dynamic have agreed otherwise (which does sometimes happen!) this roleplay is only for the duration of the scene/sexual encounter; being a bottom, even a kinky bottom, doesn’t mean your partner is in charge 24/7, or that they have control over the relationship itself.
Bottoms also sometimes identify as “submissives” or “subs” — this is related to being a bottom, but also has its own unique connotations. Someone involved in a Dominance/submission dynamic may have more investment in and get more satisfaction from the psychological elements listed above than the literal sex acts — to them, being a submissive is mainly about embodying their role as someone who gives away power in their dynamic, more so than the individual scenes or sexual interactions that comes out of that. Following instructions, using honorifics or titles for their partner, rituals to honor or demonstrate loyalty and submission to them, or receiving consensual “punishments” if rules aren’t followed might be more of a priority over literal sex acts.
Are there different types of bottoms?
Absolutely — although it isn’t necessary to memorize a full glossary of terminology, and many people don’t use them or feel invested in them, there are many subcategories that people might identify with to clarify the “type” of bottom they are.
For instance, you may have heard the term “power bottom” before — something that can refer to someone who is a bottom in bed in that they want to “receive,” but still wants to control and direct the sex acts they experience, sometimes also called “topping from the bottom.” A “bratty bottom” might be someone who wants to be dominated and led by an experienced top, but they also get pleasure out of pushing back somewhat on that control, intentionally “acting out” or breaking the rules they’ve set to intentionally receive punishments or goad their top into “earning” their submission. Reading and learning more about kink and BDSM culture can help clarify some of these distinctions.
How do I know if I’m a bottom?
Again, it’s important to emphasize that you don’t necessarily have to think of being a top or bottom as a fixed, immutable identity that you discover about yourself or can be right or wrong about. However, if you’re wondering whether bottoming is something you’re interested in trying, here are some questions to explore.
When you fantasize about sex, what are you usually doing in these fantasies? Do you love fantasies, movies, romances, porn, or erotica about being “won over,” or people who are naturally gruff or dominant? If you don’t figure as the main character in your own fantasies, or you’re imagining a more removed scenario, do you feel especially aroused by the person taking action or “in control?”, and enjoy thinking about what they’d do to you? If you think about early sexual awakenings or fantasies, did you feel especially fascinated by scenes where people were tied up, made vulnerable, or roleplaying about being helpless or needing to be rescued? When you think back to sexual experiences you’ve had in real life, are there any trends or throughlines between the specific parts that are most thrilling to you?
Remember that these are questions that can remain open, and you can continue thinking about this (and experimenting with it in your sex life) indefinitely!