Learning from bottoms: why, what, where? // Teaching (from) the bottom, part 6

Graphic of a woman in a white shirt and dark skirt. She holds a clipboard and points at the headline 'Teaching from the Bottom, Part #6.'

This is part 6 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:

Content note: This post mentions the existence of manipulative and abusive kinksters (both tops and bottoms), names some brief examples for not-so-skilled topping, and lists different kinds of pain. It also mentions a variety of BDSM activities, including sexual ones, with no or very little detail. Some of the footnotes talk more about abusive dynamics and name some red flags and possible risk minimization strategies.

I’m finally getting around to finish this series! In previous posts, I’ve talked about BDSM education that is centered on tops and the risks of not educating bottoms. I’ve also explained bottoming skills and looked at what can make it hard to intentionally use them and explored the question whether doing so is the same as ‘topping from the bottom.’ Now I want to look in more detail at why both tops and bottoms can benefit from learning from bottoms, what bottoms can teach each of those groups, and where we (might) do so [1].

What can bottoms learn from other bottoms?

Why should a bottom learn from other bottoms? Won’t their top/dom/domme teach them everything they need to know and mold them to their liking? (I mean, sure, this is a hot fantasy or role-play idea for some of us, but let’s stick to real life here.)

Most obviously, perhaps, other bottoms can teach you about bottom experiences and bottoming skills. After all, we are the ones who can most likely relate to much of what you’re experiencing as a bottom because we’ve been there (or somewhere similar). We’re the ones with whom you can trade stories about how a particular BDSM activity or dynamic feels from the bottom/submissive side and we can tell you what bottoms do during a scene to make it all work. We can also tell you how to handle the crash that is likely to happen when you ignore that advice. Other bottoms tend to understand why it can be hard to express your needs and desires, and we can tell you that doing so doesn’t make you a bad bottom. Other bottoms have likely been through one or more ‘kid in the candy store’ phases (where one wants to do all the kinky things right now and where one frequently throws caution to the winds in all the enthusiastic ‘frenzy‘) and can tell you to slow the fuck down and leave some unexplored kink for when you’re in your 30s/40s/50s/60s. We may also know and tell you which tops require a warning label — and if so, for what [2].

In my experience, (well-educated) bottoms are sometimes more likely than tops to give other bottoms accurate information about activities, people, and the risks involved with them — simply because we’re not trying to get you to play with us and (unconsciously) glossing over any risks in the process. That doesn’t mean that all bottoms are automatically trustworthy (they aren’t — manipulative and uninformed bottoms exist) or that you should never trust a top who offers to explain things to you or mentor you (although I would advise extra caution and careful assessing of the real-life power dynamics at play if ‘mentoring’ very quickly turns out to be ‘doing BDSM with that top’) [3].

And finally, no matter who you are and what your role is, you should never just have one person (or group) as your single source of information about anything, including your top/dom/domme, no matter how much you love and/or trust them. If you use just one source of input, it’s a lot easier for other people to selectively withhold information from you or give you wrong information to begin with, to non-consensually manipulate you, and to potentially even abuse you (which is also true in non-kinky circumstances) [4]. Especially when you’re new to BDSM in general or to D/S dynamics that aren’t scene-based. So make sure you have more than one source for your input on possible play types and relationship styles and about the potential risks and suitable safety precautions associated with the things you want to do [5].

What can tops learn from bottoms?

So, yes, bottoms should absolutely learn from other bottoms. However, I also strongly believe that tops should learn from bottoms, including but not limited to the bottoms they actually play with. Why? Because, while solo BDSM also exists, BDSM is generally thought of as a partnered activity (or a team activity, if you play with more than one other person at a time), and everyone involved in it has valuable information to offer and experiences to share. To wholly dismiss the perspective of bottoms as irrelevant to top education or to assume tops can’t learn anything valuable from us (including some topping skills!) is to be naively uninformed at best and arrogantly ignorant at worst.

The paragraph about not relying on a single source of information in the previous section also applies to tops, of course. Unfortunately, manipulative and abusive bottoms/submissives exist as well, and tops may want to put up some shields against them, too.

So what is it that tops can (and should) learn from bottoms? Most importantly, tops can learn from bottoms how we experience the things we do together because even when we’re really expressive during a scene, there’s always a part of our experience that isn’t visible from the outside. Then, there’s the whole range of what it is that we do during a scene (and before/after a scene) to make things work and feel good for all involved. I’m sure that observant tops can deduce several of these things on their own, but bottoms (and switches who bottom) still have first-hand, internal experience with these things that, again, isn’t always visible. Tops can also learn from (and with) bottoms what signs and signals to watch out for in reading us and how to communicate with us during a scene.

And finally, bottoms can also teach tops quite a few topping skills, even if we’ve never topped a scene in our entire life. However, many people don’t want us to do so. A while ago, Kinky Lotus exasperatedly wrote on Twitter:

“Experienced bottoms are still only seen as being able to help new bottoms learn to stretch and communicate about nerve issues.”


“New tops want new bottoms who won’t tell them how bad their rope is & experienced tops want new bottoms that will fawn all over them and tell them how amazing they are. Nobody wants a bottom that will tell you your TK is shit & you didn’t look them in the eyes once the whole tie” [6]

While Kinky Lotus has expressed these issues in rope-specific terms, the underlying principle is also true in other forms of BDSM. In my experience, few tops (sadly especially experienced ones) want a bottom who will tell them their aim is consistently off and their flogger strands keep wrapping in ways that clearly aren’t intentional. No matter if it’s done during a scene or sometime afterwards.

I am occasionally annoyed by my own reluctance to criticize a top about their topping technique, especially when it’s something ‘objectively’ wrong (e.g. “you rarely hit the spot you aimed for and it didn’t seem like you did that on purpose” or “you repeatedly hit my back hip bones”) and not just a matter of taste or compatibility (e.g. “I would have preferred more/less thud than sting” or “I would have liked a slower/faster increase in intensity”). More so when it’s a casual partner I don’t have an established friendship or other relationship with already. Nevertheless, even if it makes us uncomfortable, saying these things is important so these tops can become aware that they’re continuously missing the spot or failed to do a basic safety check (feel/ask where the pelvic bones are located on this particular person’s body). And even if you’ve already decided not to play with that top ever again, please take one for the team if you can, and tell them for the benefit of their next bottom who may be newer and more clueless than you [7].

Why would bottoms know anything about topping?

But why would bottoms know anything about topping to begin with? Aren’t we speaking outside of our area of expertise here? Nope.

First of all, as bottoms, we are the recipients of topping and therefore the ones who know best how things feel from that side of the interaction, whether we play with pain/sensation, power/control, restraint, service, or a mix thereof. More generally, we often have first-hand knowledge of what type of impact toy will feel stingy, thuddy, or burning, which will reverberate deeply or stay on the surface, which will feel concentrated or dispersed (thanks to Xan West for that distinction in terms), often even if we’ve never played with that particular toy before. Bottoms can describe nuances of pain (or humiliation or devotion or…) that many tops can’t even sense because — as more than one sadist top has told me — to them “it all just hurts” when they try a toy on themselves (or imagine themselves in the bottom position). And bottoms can tell you what part of an implement actually landed where because, well, it’s our body it landed on. We know which top actions support us, which challenge us in welcome ways, which harm us, which annoy us, and which just do nothing for us, both inside and outside of a scene [8]. Especially if we’ve been doing this stuff for years. Or decades, even.

Aside from that, there isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a magic barrier that keeps bottoms from learning stuff about topping, whether it’s in a workshop (which we may attend even though it may not be aimed at us, if only to serve as a training model for our top), from a book or blog post, from a conversation with a top (or a switch who tops), during a scene, or in a reflection of one afterwards. Also, just like tops, many of us have physical and/or mental skills from our non-kinky life that we can draw on to understand and explain how certain topping techniques work. I’m thinking of a wide range of skills and related occupations and hobbies here: racket sports, yoga or acrobatics, martial arts, partner dance, physiotherapy and medicine in general, sex work, acting, coaching or teaching (of humans and/or animals), caregiving, household/office/event organization, management skills, military or law enforcement, and so on. While none of these things are the same as BDSM, we can still often transfer our respective skills from one area to another.

And while I’m sure there are some topping skills that need a lot of practice and that are genuinely hard to teach if you didn’t put in that practice yourself (e.g. stuff like advanced Florentine flogging), there are a lot of things tops do that really are not that hard, technically-speaking. Which doesn’t mean they’re any less fun or effective [9]! Furthermore, lots of aspects of a partnered activity can be taught from either side, whether that’s partner dancing, foot massage, or different types of BDSM. We’re not always used to seeing that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. And if tops can teach bootblacking or deep-throating to bottoms (which hardly anyone ever questions they can!), then bottoms can surely teach fundamental impact play technique and safety, how/where to attach and remove a bunch of clamps, or where to place rope to minimize the risk of nerve damage. Oh, and (bottom-leaning) switches exist, too.

So, yes, many bottoms can explain — and often demonstrate, too — (at least) the basic handling and function of a toy/technique and relevant safety considerations just as well as tops can. I would even argue that a high conscience of one’s own body, a theoretical understanding of the forces (physical, anatomical, and mental) involved with a specific BDSM activity, and the ability to explain and demonstrate these things in a way someone else can understand are actually more important skills in teaching (at least) basic topping skills than extended topping experience. So there really is no reason why bottoms categorically shouldn’t also be able to teach some topping skills.

Where can you learn from bottoms?

Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you that you, too, should learn from bottoms, where can you do that? This learning from bottoms can take place informally, like in a chat between friends, or in a conversation at a munch, or of course by observing and and talking to your own bottom partner(s) (including professional submissives if you work with them). I actually believe this is a very common way to learn about kink, not least because it’s a lot more accessible than a workshop or a demonstration for many of us. The drawback to such informal teaching is that it’s harder to plan for, and that the information given is often less carefully selected and well-structured to enable effective learning compared to a good book, video, or workshop.

You can also learn from bottoms in a more ‘formal’ setting, such as a workshop or demonstration. With the caveat that many workshops still don’t include much input from and about the bottom perspective, I’m still a fan of them and encourage you to participate in them if you can. They offer the opportunity to get input from the presenter(s), exchange experiences with other attendees and hear different perspectives, try out a new technique in a non-scene setting and get immediate feedback, and of course to meet others who share your interest in that type of play. That said, in-person workshops aren’t accessible for all of us, and not everyone learns well in such a setting. What I’m saying about workshops, however, often also applies to other formats of ‘formal’ BDSM education (such as books, blogs, podcasts, videos, or online workshops). I also would count sessions with sex workers/professional submissives here when they are primarily used for a teaching purpose.

There’s also an area of overlap between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ teaching, such as private one-on-one mentoring, either in person or, to a degree, online. For example, you might find an experienced bottom friend or acquaintance who agrees to teach you something in a sort of ‘mini-workshop for one’ [10]. I know more than one experienced bottom who delights in explaining to a new top how something is done and then serving as their practice model, whether that’s in a more ‘workshoppy’ context or in an actual scene. While some bottoms may find this type of teaching incompatible with their own submissiveness, others are either fine with teaching from a non-submissive headspace or they frame the teaching as a service they perform for their dominant or the community at large. (As with every other BDSM activity, it’s not the activity as such that determines one’s role, but the way the participants frame it.)

Over the course of a kinky lifetime, I recommend that you find a variety of bottoms to learn from in different contexts. If they/we charge money for our services, pay what they/we ask or find someone better suited to your budget. If we don’t charge money, try offering something else in return for our efforts, from a heartfelt “thank you,” to a cup of coffee or a nice dinner, to some knowledge of your own, to a task you can do for them/us. Bottoms and our skills and services are unfortunately still too often taken for granted, so explicitly acknowledging and honoring them (and yes, paying for them, if applicable) is a good way to help change that. (This is an excellent place to link to my Patreon, right?)

As you can see, there are many reasons why both bottoms and tops should learn from bottoms, many things that can be learned from us, and lots of ways to find and access our educational offers. The next post (the final one in this series, at least for the time being) will discuss the issues that can come up for bottoms who teach, especially when we teach while we bottom. It will also look at collaborative learning and teaching done by bottoms and tops together.


[1] A disclaimer first: Not every sentence in this post applies to every single bottom (or top). Of course, the expertise and teaching skill of an individual bottom (or top) is as varied as the range and duration of our experience with BDSM, the variety and expertise of the partners we’ve shared it with, our level of interest in reflection and explanation of kinky matters, and our communication skills in general. Not every bottom (or top) who is amazing to play with is also good at explaining things about that experience. Not every bottom (or top) who has a lot of accurate theoretical knowledge always has the same range of experience as well. Not every bottom (or top) knows every type of BDSM technique or relationship. So please make your own assessments of the people you meet and/or read about (myself included) and potentially want to learn from.

[2] Some examples of what bottoms may tell other bottoms about certain tops: This top has bad aim but is great with psychological play. They’re a hot fuck but bad with power dynamics. They often push limits that people don’t want to have pushed. They’re a great partner for a scene but not-so-great in a relationship. They have major jealousy issues. They’ve repeatedly violated people’s boundaries despite being told to stop. Each of these things are probably good to know, even if they’re not necessarily a dealbreaker for all of us.

[3] If only to avoid the kind of “submissive training” offered by some tops/dominants that really is just manipulation, exploitation, and (emotional) abuse of (often) young and/or inexperienced bottoms who don’t know enough to understand what they’re getting into there (which makes their consent questionable at best).

[4] I want to emphasize that abuse is of course never the fault of the one who is/has been abused. However, as someone who has been emotionally abused and gaslighted by a former intimate partner (not a cis man, by the way), I still find it helpful to think of strategies that may reduce the risk of such abuse happening again and to acknowledge that I still had some agency during that relationship (even though I was making choices based on the highly distorted information and often outright lies I received from that partner). The abuse was still entirely the fault of my ex. And if you (or I) experience abuse in the future despite taking lots of precautions, that will still be the sole fault of the abuser.

[5] And then think about whether the information you’ve received even makes sense at all, whether it actually applies to your situation, and who is giving it to you for what purpose and with what agenda. Yes, that sounds terribly distrustful and not sexy at all. Nevertheless, this is simply part of your job and your responsibility as an adult who wants to engage in activities that are potentially risky (and all kink is, although to different degrees) and need both your and your top’s informed consent. You’re a bottom/submissive, not a mindless robot (no shame on robot role-play, of course!).

[6]  ‘TK’ is short for ‘takate kote‘ (aka ‘box tie’ or ‘gote shibari’), which is a common type of chest harness tied with rope that can either be used on its own or as a foundation for other ties.

[7] I’m assuming that the top in question is making genuine mistakes they’d want to know about so they can rectify them. Most tops will indeed be that person. However, it’s possible that a top already is aware but just doesn’t care (which probably is a sign that they’re not a trustworthy partner to play with at all). And if you have reason to believe it’s genuinely unsafe for you to make this top aware of their shortcomings yourself, I’m all for keeping yourself safe first. But maybe you can tell other bottoms so they can do their own risk assessment about this top? Or maybe you can ask another top to casually mention the issue in an unrelated conversation to see if the person is more receptive to the criticism then? Or perhaps there’s a party host or dungeon monitor who can keep an eye out for that person at the next event? Because if you don’t even feel safe in offering this top some constructive criticism, there may be a bigger issue at hand than just bad aim, and it probably shouldn’t stay a secret. Then again, I don’t know your situation, so you’re the one who needs to make the ultimate judgment of what you can and can’t do.

[8] Of course, these things are not universally the same for all bottoms. However, there are some things that are fairly universal in their effect. E.g. both irregularity and a fast increase in sensation intensity will get more adrenaline going and create more mental overload — which can be very exciting —than regularity and easing into a sensation very slowly, which is likely to feel more floaty and meditative — or boring. Whether a given bottom likes either of those effects and what emotions and reactions each of them brings up in us is a completely different question, though. As with any other BDSM information, nothing can replace actual communication with the person you want to play with. Still, the basic information “X will do Y” remains the same, and it’s something that bottoms can teach tops because we have experienced it in our own bodies (and brains), while other tops have only witnessed it from the outside.

[9]  To be highly enjoyable for all involved, topping (or bottoming!) really doesn’t have to be an exceptionally athletically accomplished thing whose looks will awe any spectator. In fact, I actually would argue that more often than not it gets less enjoyable the more performative it becomes, unless the pleasure comes from the shared performance as such.

[10] Just like a more experienced top might agree to meet a less experienced top to show them how to handle a specific toy. Or how they might agree to give a bottom a short demo of how a toy feels, in a way that isn’t considered a scene by either of the participants.

Image source: Pixabay, color edited and text added by me.

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