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.