Okay, we know what it means to be a top and a bottom — but is it really a simple binary with only two options? Of course not! If you’ve seen terms like “top” or “bottom” in the discourse, on dating apps, or in memes, you also may have seen the term “switch” — as you can maybe guess, a switch is someone who, in simple terms, does both. But how does that actually work? Here’s the simple, one-stop comprehensive explanation you need on what it means to be a switch in terms of both queer sex and kink.
What does it mean to be a switch in queer sex?
We know that within the context of queer sex, the fact that there aren’t the same “default” roles as there are in straight sex means that historically, sex partners might choose to explicitly label themselves with a role they prefer – like “top” or “bottom.” A top in queer sex is someone who prefers to “do” to their partner rather than be “done to;” if they’re having sex that involves penetration, they prefer to be the one penetrating. A bottom is someone who likes to be “done to” during sex, whether that means being penetrated, made to orgasm, or just generally getting to take a follower rather than a leading role in the interaction.
A switch, it follows, is someone who likes both being “done to” and “doing to” others — they don’t necessarily have a fixed preference where they know they’re only interested in one. That’s it! Being a switch doesn’t necessarily mean you like both exactly the same in a 50/50 split, or that you have no contextual preferences — for instance, maybe you like topping in some scenarios but bottoming in others, or have one partner you really enjoy bottoming with but in general, prefer topping with new people until you really trust them. Maybe your preferences change over time! Maybe your preferences change within the same sexual experience — you might enjoy being taken charge of for a while, and then decide you’d like to take a turn penetrating your partner. All of these are completely normal and common ways someone who identifies as a switch might enjoy sex.
What does it mean to be a switch in kink contexts?
These terms have a slightly different connotation when we talk about kink than when we talk about vanilla sex. Whereas topping and bottoming in vanilla sex is more about logistics of who’s doing what during sex (although there are of course elements of character, sexual persona, gender, and more that inform that preference), these roles during kink are more about a power dynamic: one person who consensually gives up control, and one person who consensually agrees to take it on.
A switch, in this context, is someone who’s interested at times in both giving up control to others and taking control of the sexual dynamic with others. Usually, these different dynamics might occur in different circumstances, depending entirely on the individual person. Someone might be turned on by bottoming for masc people/doms, but not with more femme people, or prefer one thing in more intimate relationships and another in more casual ones.
While topping and bottoming don’t have to be fixed identities that remain in place permanently for someone, that can be true for some people, and is maybe more likely to be true in kink contexts, where topping or bottoming might be reflective of someone’s baseline sexual turn-ons; as such, kinky switches are in a truly exciting and interesting position in the dating world, able to move between many different dynamics and possibilities.
Wait, switches are real?
They are! If you don’t know why we’re talking about this, there can be some incredulity or skepticism around switches, much as there can be with almost any “in-between” identity — think about how often people secretly suspect bisexual people must eventually “choose a side” or that they’re “really” either gay or straight.
Similarly, you might have been told that there’s no such thing as a “real” switch, or that people who say they’re switches are really just bottoms. Regardless of why people believe this and continue to repeat it, the fact is switches do exist! Questioning this is at best unproductive and at worst rude and alienating to others.
What’s the difference between a switch and a vers?
You may have heard people describing themselves as “vers” or “verse” in the same context as “switch” — are these interchangeable? Kind of. Vers is short for “versatile,” meaning someone can literally “go both ways” — it has its roots in gay male sexual subcultures, where someone might be communicating to a casual sex partner what sexual role they want to play. It has a similar meaning to switch in terms of vanilla sex between people of the same sex specifically, where it connotes that someone is interested in both “giving” and “receiving.” It doesn’t translate as well to kink contexts, though, where “top,” “bottom,” and “switch” have slightly different meanings — “vers” is a more literal word.
How do I know if I’m a switch?
You might be a switch if, after hearing talk about both being a top and being a bottom, you don’t quite get what all the fuss is about — both of those things sound good to you; don’t they sound good to everyone?? If you think back on your most fulfilling, erotic, toe-curling memorable sexual experiences and the list includes both giving and receiving in significant ways, that might be a sign also.
If you’ve been thinking “do we need to pick one? Can’t I just do whatever I feel like and figure it out with my individual partner?” that might be a sign as well! To be clear, ascribing to “top/bottom/switch” frameworks isn’t in any way a requirement; it’s an optional way of self-identifying that you can absolutely opt-out of. The same behavior and interests that define being a switch can also describe someone who just doesn’t really resonate with all this, and that’s more than okay!