This is part 4 of my “Teaching (from) the Bottom” series, a group of posts about bottoms who teach and things that are taught to and by bottoms. Please see the first post for details on my language use and other introductory notes. You can find the other parts here (more links will be added when I publish the respective posts):
- Part 1: Why is BDSM education so often aimed at tops?
- Part 2: The risks of not educating bottoms
- Part 3: What are bottoming skills?
- Part 4 (this one): What is hard about intentionally using bottoming skills?
- Part 5: “But isn’t that ‘topping from the bottom’?”
- Part 6: Learning from bottoms: why, what, where?
- Part 7: Teaching as a bottom
Content note: This post contains two brief quotes of non-gendered sexual talk during a scene.
What can make it hard to intentionally use bottoming skills?
In previous posts of the series, I’ve looked at the reasons for all the top-centered BDSM education, the risks of not educating bottoms about safety and their own agency and responsibility in a BDSM context, and examined what bottoming skills are. Before I get into the topic of learning and teaching bottoming skills, I want to talk about the reasons that can make it hard for bottoms to consciously use bottoming skills in our scenes and relationships.
In conversations with other kinksters (bottoms, tops, and switches in different relationship constellations) about bottoming skills, I’ve sometimes encountered some hesitation, some resistance to the idea of bottoms deliberately using specific bottoming techniques. It seems that many of us are afraid our BDSM magic won’t work anymore if we take a look behind the curtain and learn the practical mechanics of it. That doing these things intentionally will make them less ‘real,’ less worthy.
Why though? Why does even naming bottoming skills as something we can actively learn and deliberately use in our BDSM seem to ruin some people’s idea of how it should all work? There are several reasons I can think of.
First of all, there’s simply the fact that many of us already use bottoming skills without consciously deciding to do so. That’s because many bottoming skills are extensions of various life and communication skills we’ve already developed elsewhere, perhaps to the point of them becoming unconscious. Or we’ve already done something in a BDSM/sex/relationship context so many times that we’re not even thinking about it anymore. Maybe we’re just such an exceptionally good match in terms of chemistry, communication, and kink with our current partner(s) and have yet to run into a place where things don’t work as effortlessly. Some of us even may have some degree of unexplained ‘talent’ for bottoming where we just seem to ‘instinctively’ know what to do in a given situation.
Then there’s the whole myth that a ‘natural talent’ for bottoming or submission is not just a requirement for being (or becoming) a skilled bottom, or that it’s all we’ll ever need, but that ‘talent’ is also worth more than the deliberate choice and conscious practice of bottoming skills. (Not that ‘talent’ and intentional choice/practice were mutually exclusive.) Unfortunately, ‘talent’ is also often misinterpreted as proof of a bottom’s ‘naturalness’ or ‘authenticity,’ whereas a bottom or submissive who has chosen to learn and use certain bottoming skills is seen as ‘superficial’ or even ‘fake.’ Well, this is nonsense. It’s irrelevant if we just ‘naturally’ do something bottom-y or if we do it intentionally; it just matters if it works and if it results in a dynamic that is beneficial for all those involved. In fact, I’d argue that choosing to learn and use a skill actually shows more dedication and ‘realness’ than just winging it on sheer ‘talent.’ (And after a bottom has practiced a while, I doubt anyone would able to tell the difference between their ‘natural talent’ and learned skill anyway.)
Another factor is the common cultural narrative of how sex is supposed to work: Magically, without words (except, perhaps, “I love you”), and in amazing synchronicity — like in the movies! There’s this idea that we’re supposed to be swept away in perfect romantic harmony or in an irresistible torrent of passion, leading to a crescendo of exactly synchronized fulfillment. The kink version of this is the top/dominant who ‘just knows’ what their bottom/submissive wants and needs and is able to give it to them without any of that pesky negotiation or limit-setting. Or the bottom who has no desires or needs of their own except to please their top and do whatever their top wants, also without any negotiation (or at least none that goes beyond, “Are you willing to obey me 100% or be punished however I see fit, no questions asked, yes/no?”). And while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying that kind of fantasy as a fantasy, it’s simply not how romance, sex, and/or kink work in real life. In real life, sex and kink (or at least good sex and good kink) often need quite a lot of words and deliberate actions, because none of us are always and forever in perfect sync with our partners in terms of when, where, and how often we want what kind of sex or BDSM. And that’s fine. That’s normal.
However, these fantasies are still powerful (and pleasurable!) for many of us. After all, many real-life bottoms/submissives eroticize not being in control; we get excited by a certain degree of mystery, risk, or even fear; we explicitly want to get to a point where our rational, analytical, thinky brains turn off for once. Some of us dream of being with a mind-reading, infallible top who magically knows what we want/need before we even know ourselves and who tells us exactly what to do with our messy lives. Some of us wish that we could be effortlessly submissive, able to endure and eroticize absolutely everything our top asks us to, and perfectly able to fulfill their every desire.
And even if we know this is not how it works in real-life BDSM, we may still be erotically (or otherwise) invested in these kinds of feelings and ideas. And, well, those fantasies usually don’t feature bottoms who process (or intensify) pain by using breathing techniques they’ve learned in a class, who routinely keep running a background check on the state of their hypermobile joints throughout every single scene, or who deliberately choose whether to loudly groan, “Oh, goddammit, will you fuck me already!” or sweetly whine, “Pleeeease fuck meeee?!” depending on what best supports the current dynamic and the preferences of the people involved. So it’s no surprise that we can find it hard to reconcile the images of BDSM perfection with the idea of being a bottom (especially a submissive one) who does use bottoming skills intentionally. Without losing any of our authenticity.
There’s also this idea that the bottom should be a blank slate, a mound of putty for the top to shape into whichever form they desire. For those of us who enjoy (and not every bottom does!) responsiveness over initiative, who get a kick out of our adaptability, who like pleasing our tops by way of becoming their ‘dream bottom’ as much as we can, who like attempting the impossible, this can indeed be a wonderful dynamic to play with. Those of us who are intensely into behavior modification (and not every submissive is!) might even find attempting this perfect malleability a worthwhile spiritual exercise in selflessness or flexibility beyond the scope of a BDSM scene. Nevertheless, real life has a way of imposing limitations on this boundless changeability (and not just if we already deal with chronic illness, neurodivergence, mental health issues, and/or physical disability — or with poverty, parenthood, or anything else that usually translates to extra baggage in the world we live in). Besides, perfect responsiveness and even complete passivity still require specific skills, so why not deliberately use them to get even closer to the desired ideal?
So, yes, it can be hard for bottoms to feel like it’s okay for us to intentionally use bottoming skills. Even after we’ve analyzed all of this, the idea of deliberately doing what we do can still sometimes mess with our headspace during play, especially if we eroticize or otherwise strive for a lack of control and predictability in our BDSM encounters.
However, in my personal experience, it’s absolutely possible to look behind the curtain and learn exactly which strings need to be pulled to have a particular effect and still feeling every single bit of the magic as if we’re experiencing it for the first time. In fact, I actually find that I sometimes can feel the magic and see behind the curtain at the same time and marvel at how the mechanics work so amazingly well together to create this emotional effect. And believe me, that’s as fucking real as it gets.
There’s one more potential obstacle I need to address in this context, though. It’s the one emotionally-loaded question that sooner or later always seems to come up in relation to bottoms being aware of what we do and doing it intentionally: “But isn’t that ‘topping from the bottom‘?” I’ll discuss what people mean by that term and why they use it in the next part of the series!
Image source: Pixabay, color editing and text added by me.