Sex, Relationships & Love

Tops, bottoms and switches: What flavour are you?

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On Jan 17, 2023

art, illustration, erotic art

Sex is dance. There are people who lead, some who follow, others who can’t dance and people who don’t want to be on the dancefloor at all. One of the ways to do the naked tango is by figuring out roles and in the queer and kink communities there tend to be three categories: Tops, bottoms, and verses (or, “switches”, which is used more commonly by women and femmes).

These terms that refer to sexual preferences within the queer community.

Even though they were originally used to describe the sexual preferences of gay men in the 1970s, more and more queer folx are using them to chat about what they want in bed. They’ve evolved into more of an ‘everyone’ thing. You can now find this lexicon in a bunch of spaces: the gays are using it, the TikTok lesbians are about that life, BDSM circles, and gender non-conforming (GNC) folx are getting in on the vocab. 

What is top, bottom and versatile?

With being a top, bottom or versatile, power dynamics are at the centre of it all (as opposed to solely the acts). It’s all about where one person gives over control (which is a power play in itself) and the other person takes the lead (or both).  

Top: This role implies that the top is more dominant during sex, often the one to penetrate their partner(s). Tops generally prefer to take a more ‘active’ role in sex by acting as the person who penetrates, gives oral sex, or does other sexual acts. As with all sexuality, tops fall on a spectrum. Some tops will be happy to receive some of the time, but prefer giving. Some tops don’t want to receive at all.

Because queer sex can look many different ways, being a top doesn’t necessarily refer to the specifics of how sex is had.  There are even some subcategories e.g. a “stone top” refers to someone who only likes to “give” during sex and not be touched sexually at all.

Bottom: A bottom tends to receive during sex; they are the ones being penetrated by their partners. A bottom is perceived as being more submissive when engaging in sex (taking more of a ‘backseat’ in bed). In terms of receiving, it can be about oral sex, penetration, or related to other sexual acts. However, as with tops, the specifics of the sex aren’t as important as the power dynamic. 

The idea of receiving pleasure and being a ‘bottom’ sometimes comes with unfair negative connotations.

Sometimes  bottoms are looked down upon and folx assume  they are automatically ‘pillow princesses.’ There’s also ‘bottom-shaming’ , where folx think of tops and bottoms as  a hierarchy, viewing bottoms to be passive or weak. But this isn’t the case. There are bottoms who are out there serving, winding, moving, bringing the absolute magic. A power bottom challenges the top-bottom relationship by controlling the thrusting and rhythm below or in front of their partner. Think of it like topping from the bottom, a bottom in control.

Switch/Versatile: If you’re into both bottoming and topping, you would probably be considered versatile or switch. If you’re not into penetration at all, you might identify as a ‘side’.  Just like the other categories there is a spectrum, some switches are bottom-leaning, some prefer topping, but all are happy to swing either way.

Like we said, top/bottom/verse discourse has experienced a resurgence ‘cause of the funky youths on TikTok, where queer people have been making videos describing how things go down with each preference.  Of course labels can be pretty helpful. However, when it comes to queer sex there are many people who  navigate sex in a super rigid and heteronormative way. There are folx out here who firmly believe that one person is always the top , and one is always the bottom and partners are not allowed to switch and change.

This really limits the way in which you can experience sex, you sexual tastes and skills may change over the course of your life. And like anything related to sex, the binary relationship between tops and bottoms is a lot more complicated than ‘you are what you are and can never change.’

Sure, there are plenty of queer folks who almost exclusively bottom or top during sex, but there’s just as many who consider themselves versatile or switch. There is space for everyone to find themselves and move from one label to  another. It really is OK to identify with different labels at different times or with different partners. Make sure to have conversations with partners, experiment with them (with consent), with porn, with toys, and explore to see what gets you off. You don’t have to be any one thing if you don’t want to, sexuality is beautiful and fluid.


Check out the Basically…Life Podcast (on all platforms) and our YouTube series We Are F**kin Here for other vibes that show how queers are living, lovin’ and f*ckin.

For more info about all things gender and sexuality download our Touch Manual which has a bunch of info about dating, sexuality, gender, sex and much more!

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