Saturday, April 9, 2011

power motive behind tops and bottoms

A few days ago I wrote an article about that one question in the gay scene that can make or break that one hot passionate encounter or that one possible romantic relationship. (Read Part 1.)

Are you a top or a bottom?

Scientists have studied these sexual self-labels and their meaningful correlates on sexual behaviors and personality. (I have summarized it here.)  Among other correlates, studies have showed that tops desired sex where they were dominant and in control whereas bottoms desired sex where they were overpowered.

Will Damon interviewed 20 gay men -- 10 tops & 10 bottoms who reported that they have had penetrative anal sex with a man in the last six months and who reported a consistent and strong sexual role preference. He asked them what turned them on about their preferred sexual role, what they disliked about the other role, and if there were any situational factors that influenced their preference. Results were published in the Canadian Journal of Homosexuality (2000). 

Tops were asked and these were their replies:

What are the things about insertive anal sex turn you on?
"Dominance ... I like that. Like when I'm slamming into them, I have control over them. I can hold them down and fuck them."
 "With a guy on his back with his legs on my shoulders, I feel great control over him. It is me grabbing his legs, me engulfing him with my mouth, me pulling him to me, me devouring him sexually."
Is being the insertive partner a natural outgrowth of who you are and is being the receptive partner unnatural?
"It's more natural for me ... more comfortable. I would never feel comfortable getting fucked. It feels wrong. I never fantasized about it. I thought I had to do it at one time. When I realized I didn't, I was relieved."
"I'm aggressive in every part of my life ... being a top is just part of that."
What do you dislike about being the receptive partner in sex?
"I don't like the idea of surrendering to anyone. The few times I've been fucked, I was definitely a ‘top bottom.’ I was aggressive and totally in control."
"When I have been fucked, I put myself in the top position of the guy who was fucking me. It's almost like, if I'm not in control, I'm not interested in it, so I mentally put myself in that position."

On the other hand, bottoms were asked and these were their replies:

What are the things about receptive anal sex turn you on?
"I like strong, aggressive, dominant men. The feeling of dominance over me turns me on."
 "I like feeling more submissive. I like feeling overpowered. I like a guy who is really into fucking. There is a masculinity about the ability to fuck. That masculinity turns me on."
What other factors other than sexual pleasure influenced you desire to be the receptive partner in sex?
"I have to be in control of things all day. In sex, I can give that up."
"I'm a very controlling person, and I take control in all these other areas of my life. In sex, I like to give up control. Someone else is taking care of me. Someone else is calling the shots. I do it every other minute of the day. I don't want to do it in sex too."
What do you dislike about insertive anal sex?
"With being a top, comes a role with it. I wouldn't get a rest from being dominant. You have to be aggressive in all domains. I don't want a wimpy top, so I have these expectations of a top. I wouldn't want someone to have those expectations of me."
“With men, I can get what I want ... the masculine energy ... instead of having to be that--hypermasculine, buffed, pumped up--all the time. It was so much pressure to have to be that."

Although with a small sample size, many of their responses were related to themes of power, either desiring it or surrendering it. Tops reported liking the power, dominance, and control aspects of being the insertive partner whereas bottoms liked the idea of being overpowered during sex. Tops felt natural about their role and felt uncomfortable with the loss of control they experienced in receptive anal sex. On the other hand, bottoms want to give up control in sex to achieve that sense of balance since they are already controlling in other aspects of their life. Also, they reported being uncomfortable with the role that came with being the insertive partner.

So if someone asks me if I am a top or a bottom, my answer is a question, “why, what turns you on?” 

Call me romantic or naïve, but good food, great conversations, and lots of mutual affection turn me on!

Damon, W (2001). The relations of power and intimacy motives to genitoerotic role preferences in gay men: A pilot study. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 9(1) 15-30.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

what's in a name: tops, bottoms, and versatiles?

There is one question in the gay scene that can make or break that one hot passionate encounter or that one possible romantic relationship. The question is:

“Are you a top or a bottom?”

To the heterosexual scene, some might interpret this as who is the dominant or the submissive partner, the king or the queen. But for people like us, we know that tops are those people who get more pleasure (or perhaps suffer less anxiety or discomfort) from acting as the insertive partner during anal intercourse whereas bottoms are those who get more satisfaction from acting as the receptive partner. Versatiles, on the other hand, have no strong preference for either the insertive or the receptive role since they derive pleasure in doing both.

In my mind, I often answer, “Does it matter?” 

Jesse Bering, an evolutionary psychologist and a writer for Scientific American, said in his article “Top scientists get to the bottom of gay male sex role preferences” that there are logistical problems when two tops or two bottoms are in a monogamous relationship and they are most likely to encounter conflict than those who have complementary sexual roles.

I was surprised how scientists have already studied the top-bottom-versatile self-labels and their meaningful correlates on sexual fantasy, behaviors, sexual satisfaction, physical preferences of partners, and personality. So I have summarized some interesting results here:

1. Self-labels meaningfully predict sexual fantasies and overall sexual patterns (i.e., oral and anal sex). It means that those who identify as tops fantasize and are indeed more likely to act as the insertive partner, bottoms are more likely to fantasize and engage to be the receptive partner, and versatiles occupy an intermediate status in sexual fantasy and behavior (Hart et al., 2003; Wegison & Meyer-Bahlburg, 2000, Damon, 2000; Moskowitz, Rieger, & Roloff, 2008).

2. But even if one identifies as top or bottom, their sexual behaviors are not mutually exclusive to being insertive or receptive. Among the 205 participants of the study by Hart et al. (2003), 41% of tops have engaged in receptive anal intercourse and 39% of bottoms have engaged in insertive anal intercourse at least once in the last three months. But when it comes to oral sex, majority reported engaging in receptive oral intercourse despite of their sexual self-label.

3. Tops reported that insertive anal sex was significantly more sexually pleasurable than did bottoms whereas bottoms reported finding receptive anal sex significantly more pleasurable than did tops. With regards to oral sex, bottoms reported finding receptive oral sex significantly more pleasurable than did tops but there was no significant difference between groups on their assessment of the sexual pleasure involved in insertive oral sex (Damon, 2000).

4. If age, height, weight, hairiness, and penis size are indicators of masculinity, tops seek out sexual partners with less masculine features -- younger, smoother, shorter,  lighter, and less endowed penis while bottoms seek out sexual partners with more masculine features -- older, hairier, taller, more solid, and more endowed penis (Yee, 2002; Damon, 2000). 

5. Tops desired sex where they were dominant and in control whereas bottoms desired sex where they were overpowered or "taken" in their narratives (Damon, 2000) and more likely to prefer rough sex than the other categories (Yee, 2002). (More of this here.)

6. Tops, compared to bottoms, were significantly more likely to want to "show off", be "worshipped", and display their bodies by their partners during sex, and they were significantly more likely to desire a sex partner that looked up to them as a guide or mentor (Damon, 2000).

7. Tops were less likely than bottoms or versatiles to identify themselves as gay and are more likely to have had sex with a woman in the past three months (Hart et al., 2003; Carrier, 1989; Doll & Beeker, 1996).

8. Tops manifested higher internalized homophobia— the degree of discomfort about one’s homosexuality, than versatiles and bottoms (Hart et al., 2003; Ross & Rosser, 1996).

9. Bottoms report childhood feminine behavior and gender nonconformity and may choose to engage in sexual behavior that is more consistent with traditional feminine gender norms in adulthood (Weinrich et al., 1992; Damon 2000).

10. Versatiles pursue higher levels of sexual excitement and engage in novel sexual experiences and, thus, are more flexible in their sexual activity. They seem to enjoy better psychological health with lesser anxiety than the group who does not want to put a sexual label on themselves and lesser internalized homophobia than tops (Hart et al, 2003). 

So I throw the question back to you, “Are you a top or a bottom?”

Call me romantic and naive, but I thought love will solve that problem. =)


Carrier, J. M. (1989). Sexual behavior and spread of AIDS in Mexico. Medical Anthropology, 10, 129-142.
Damon, W (2001). The relations of power and intimacy motives to genitoerotic role preferences in gay men: A pilot study. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 9(1) 15-30.
Doll, L.S., & Beekr, C. (1996). Male bisexual behavior and HIV risk in the United States: Synthesis of research with implications for behavioral interventions. AIDS Education and Prevention, 8, 205-208
Hart, T., Wolitski, R.,  Purcell, D., Gomez, C., & Halkiti, P (2003). Sexual behavior among HIV-positive men who have sex with me: What’s in a label? The Journal of Sex Research, 40(2), 178-188
Moskowitz, D. A., Rieger, G., & Roloff, M. E. (2008). Tops, bottoms, and versatiles. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 23, 191-202.
Ross, M. W., & Rosser, B. R. S. (1996). Measures and correlates of internalized homophobia: A factor analytic study. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 52, 15-21.
Wegison, D., & Myer-Bahlburg, H. F. L. (2000). Top/bottom self label, anal sex practices, HIV risk and gender role identity in gay men in New York City. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 12, 43-62. 
Weinrich, J., Grant, I., Jacobson, D., Robinson, R., & McCutchan, J. (1992). Effects of recalled childhood gender nonconformity on adult genitoerotic role and AIDS exposure. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21(6) 559-585.
Yee, N. (2002). Beyond tops and bottoms: Correlations between sex-role preference and physical preferences for partners among gay men. Retrieved [April 4, 2011] from