You know what topping, bottoming (and even switching!) are now — and maybe you’re feeling super excited to top (or to know more about the vocabulary for something you’ve already been doing for years). But there’s more to sex than knowing the right terminology. You know you want to top, but how do you make sure you’re a good top?

Sex and romance are subjective, and every encounter with every person is a little different; what makes the dreamiest, most mindblowing sex of one person’s life might be a total snoozefest for someone else. While there may be no objective standards for “good sex,” I do think there are some ground rules for what individual people can do to be good in bed — and if you’re choosing sex with a power dynamic, here are some of the things you can do to work toward being a good top.

Do your homework


One way to think about topping someone else during sex is to imagine you’re going on a road trip: as the top, you’ve volunteered to take on the task of doing (most of) the driving. That doesn’t mean you’re doing “all the work” — the person in the passenger seat is likely navigating, organizing snacks and drinks, changing the playlist, and finding new routes when the exit you needed is closed; they may well have done all the research and planning for this trip, called ahead, made motel reservations, etc. But inarguably, taking on the bulk of the driving is a huge task with a very specific set of responsibilities, and the stakes for not taking them seriously are high; there are things on this trip that could go seriously wrong. 

Topping means that you’re taking on the logistics and skilled labor of the sex act, and also that you’re committing to having some knowledge and skills up front. After all, most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable on a road trip if the driver disclosed in the first ten minutes that this was their first time driving. 

Thinking about what’s potentially on the menu for you and your partner — any activities, toys, or kink activities you’ve talked about trying or know you or your partner are into — how confident do you feel about taking charge with them? This isn’t about being the best or most impressive top in the history of sex, but about basic competency skills as best you can build them. Some of this has to come with practice, but a lot you can practice and be as comfortable as possible with on your own. If you want to try using a harness and strap-on, you can practice taking the harness on and off at home, inserting and taking out a dildo, and even walking around with it on to get more comfortable. If there are any impact toys you want to try in a kink scene, you can practice trying them out on a pillow or on your own thighs to get comfortable with using them and figure out how much force you want to use. Even though you may not have ever driven the route of a particular trip before, you can at least familiarize yourself with the car you’re driving: the dashboard, signals, handling, and even basic repair. Your passenger will be glad you did.

Communicate even about your communication


Most of us know that communication is key in any kind of romantic and sexual context, especially with any kind of kink scene. But even when communicating is our intention, it’s harder to do clearly than we may expect. Especially if you’re with a new partner, the ways that each of you communicates about what you want or don’t want may not be obvious or easily legible to the other person. Think of a sudden fork in the road that you don’t expect, and having your navigator in the passenger seat shout out that you should go “north” when you were listening for left or right.

If you’re topping, some of your jobs as a communicator are to let your bottom know what’s happening and what to expect, and to ask them about their choices and capacity for what you want to do with them. For the former, think about the ways you might be used to partners checking in or asking for consent in a sexual encounter without a power dynamic. “Can I kiss you?” might become something more like “You were a good girl at dinner, so you get a kiss,” or “if you want a kiss, get on the bed on all fours.” You can also alert your partner to what you’re planning to do with/to them: “I’m moving you to the edge of the bed so I can spank you now.” 

When asking about consent, it’s often easier to give a set of choices rather than asking open-ended questions: “What do you want for a reward tonight?” or “Ok, you’re done being spanked; what do you want instead?” might be challenging to answer, as is the broad instruction to “tell me if you need me to stop.” Even if we know our partner wants us to communicate directly, straight up saying “no” to something can feel challenging, especially in a kink dynamic; asking someone to stop can feel like you’re “ruining things.” Think about what choices can be offered instead, like a multiple-choice question instead of a paragraph question on a test: “Do you want me to go harder, keep going, or stop and do something else?” You can even invite your bottom to signal their consent instead: “If you want to be spanked tonight, you can go lie facedown on the bed; if you want to be tied up, you can go kneel next to the chest where we keep the rope.” 

Some scenes might mean that someone is gagged or has something in their mouth, or people may just be overwhelmed and have trouble verbalizing things; it’s good to think about ways your partner can communicate in every situation, and make sure that you and your partner are on the same page about them. “I’m going to gag and blindfold you; if you need a break for any reason, you can use your hand to tap me and I’ll untie you right away.” For bonus points, have your bottom demonstrate their “no” communication to you as practice and to establish your dynamic.

Remember that it’s your job to communicate, too! Tops also have limits and boundaries and can say no to something for all the same reasons a bottom can. If you’re not feeling something, even if your bottom is asking for it; if something makes you uncomfortable; if you aren’t feeling respected by your bottom, or if you just aren’t physically or emotionally up for something that day (topping is hard work!) remember it’s your responsibility to communicate that.

Work with what’s in front of you, not in your head


If we’re entering into a scene with a power dynamic, you (and your partner) likely have years of fantasies fueling the moment, and maybe weeks or months of sexting and planning too. It’s very tempting to go from zero to 60, hitting the ground running with every fantasy and activity you’ve ever had. 

Sometimes this is totally possible! Other times, this is just a starting point, one that needs to be adjusted from. There are dozens of factors going into what’s realistic or a good idea for any given scene: how well you both know each other, whether your chemistry and communication are fully developed, the mood you’re both in, how you’re physically feeling that day, the environment — the list goes on. It may be that you and your partner had both hoped to do a spanking & face-slapping scene and then have loud, rough penetrative sex all night — but her roommate is home unexpectedly and you had a small fight at dinner, so slapping now feels too sensitive and being loud is off the table. 

Think again of the road trip metaphor: the plan may have been to follow a certain back road for 20 miles to skip traffic and then stop at Culver’s when you get back on the highway, but then it begins snowing, and the back road isn’t plowed. Your job as the driver isn’t to follow the plan to the letter; it’s to get both of you to your destination safely, even if that means changing routes or even pulling over and stopping.

Expect to have fun, and also plan to adjust


In that vein, it’s important for tops to be aware that the planned route for a sexual encounter, especially one with a power dynamic, might change drastically, and be prepared if it does. Sex is a complicated and charged experience for all of us; even casual sex outside the context of a relationship can bring up powerful feelings both good and bad. Especially if we’ve had any history of sexual assault, sex can sometimes feel like a minefield. 

That’s all to say that even if everyone does everything “right” — communicate their boundaries and limits, check-in and get enthusiastic consent for every act, only do sex acts that both of you have enjoyed before — it’s still possible for someone to get triggered, have a flashback, feel like something went wrong, or even get physically hurt (some kink activities do have risks, but also, it’s easy to throw your back out or get carpet burn!). 

Part of your job as a top is to be able to roll with it if these things happen — it doesn’t mean you need to like or enjoy them, or that you’re solely responsible for managing the fallout; your partner is an adult, too. However, part of signing up for sex with a power dynamic in a responsible way is tacitly agreeing that if your partner gets upset, triggered, or feels distressed about something that happened during sex, you can make space for it and help provide support for them in that moment without freaking out, making it about yourself, or self-flagellating until they feel they need to comfort you. 

It’s important to remember this applies to yourself, as well — as we talked about above, tops also have limits, and can also be triggered or harmed during sex. You have the right to stop or withdraw consent from sex at any time, and also have the right to feel bad about something happening during sex; if that happens, you’re entitled to support and space from your partner as well.

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