A submissive (or "sub") (or subservient) is one who enjoys having a submissive position within a relationship based upon dominance and submission (D/s). This enjoyment can spring from a simple desire for submission or an enjoyment of the interplay of wills involved in such a scenario.

Top, bottom, and switch

These terms are used by several groups, including heterosexual couples, gay men, lesbians, BDSM practitioners, and some opposite-sex couples that are not involved in BDSM (for example, the act of pegging involves a female top and a male bottom). Interpretation of these terms may vary across subcultures, or even between different individuals within the same subculture. The definitions below provide several common interpretations.

These terms may be used simply to describe roles for the duration of a sexual act or BDSM scene, or may be used more broadly as a psychological, social, and sexual identity, as well as indicating one's usual preference.


"Top" is a relatively broad term, which can include any of the following:

  • a partner who adopts the penetrative role in a sexual act
  • a partner who adopts the dominant role in a sexual act

The top need not be physically on top of the other partner, though this is often the case.

"Top" can also be used as a transitive or intransitive verb meaning to sexually penetrate (someone).

In BDSM, top means:

  • a dominant partner in sexual play (such as flogging, binding, being master, and humiliating)
  • a partner who applies stimulation to another, and who may or may not be dominant
    • Topping from the bottom is a related BDSM term, meaning a person simultaneously adopts the role of bottom and dom.


"Bottom" is a relatively broad term, which can include any of the following:

  • a partner who adopts the receptive role in a sexual act (i.e. the partner who is penetrated)
  • a person who adopts the submissive role in a sexual act

"Bottom" can also be used as an intransitive verb meaning to be sexually penetrated by: to bottom for someone.

In BDSM, bottom means:

  • a submissive partner in sexual play (such as in being flogged, tied, humiliated, or made to serve)
  • a partner who enjoys submission on a temporary, limited basis
  • a partner who receives stimulation from another

A bottom in BDSM does not have to be the receptive partner; for example, a male dominant may command his submissive to ride him.

Switch or versatile

  • A person who enjoys both topping and bottoming, or being dominant and submissive, and may alternate between the two. (Verb form: "switching", "Flip Flop")

Switches are very common; partners may switch roles based on mood, desire, or to allow each partner to experience their preferred activity. Commonly, both in sex and BDSM, a switch may be someone who is in a relationship with someone who shares the same primary preference to top or bottom as they; so switching provides each partner with an opportunity to realize their own needs.

It is also common for people to switch with different partners, such as when a person acts exclusively as a top with one partner and exclusively as a bottom with another.

The act of "switching" may also refer to a spontanaeous reversal of roles, initiated by the bottom, who then takes control.

A person who engages in self-bondage can be viewed as taking both roles simultaneously.

Similar terms


Active and passive

These are not necessarily the same as "top" and "bottom" — a bottom is not necessarily inactive, or less active than the top. For example, a top may direct a bottom to perform the majority of actions in a given encounter (making the bottom the active).

In some languages, like Spanish, Hebrew, Hungarian and British English, it is still common to use the term "active" and "passive" to refer to "top" and "bottom" respectively; this is however a rare usage in modern U.S. English.

Slang and related terms

Common slang terms in some gay communities include: pitcher (top), catcher (bottom), and switch-hitter or flip (versatile). In some languages "passive" and "active" are also used, rather than "bottom" or "top". Some dislike the term "bottom" as they feel it has negative connotations, and prefer not to use that term or the corresponding "top".

Power top refers to a "top" in a sexual relationship. The "power" in the term refers to the great stamina or special topping skills. Contrast with power bottom.

The term total top is used to describe one who exclusively tops.

Look up 攻め in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Look up 受け in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

In Japanese bondage and sexually themed anime and manga, especially shounen-ai and yaoi, a top is referred to as 攻め (seme) (lit. attack), a term from kabuki and martial arts. A bottom is referred to as 受け (uke) (lit. defense / agreement / acceptance), also a term from martial arts.

In ancient Roman civilization, pathic is used to describe a bottom, and has weak / feminine connotations.

Dominant and submissive

File:S&M Dungeon 7 by David Shankbone.jpg

A female dominant and a female submissive on the floor at a BDSM dungeon.

These are more narrowly defined terms than "top" and "bottom" — a top is not necessarily in a dominant/submissive relationship with a bottom. Dominance and submission are one specific form of topping and bottoming, but there are other forms of topping and bottoming that do not involve dominance and submission.

A dominant (or "dom") is one who enjoys performing any of a variety of BDSM practices upon a submissive; or one who holds a dominant position within a relationship based upon dominance and submission (D/s). This enjoyment can spring from a simple desire for dominance or an enjoyment of the interplay of wills involved in such a scenario. A male dominant is often called a dom; a female, a domme or dominatrix.

The main difference between a dominant and a top is that the dominant ostensibly does not follow instructions, although they are limited by what the submissive is willing to do.

A top filling the dominant role is not necessarily a dominant, and vice versa, and a bottom is not necessarily submissive. At one end of the continuum is a submissive who enjoys taking orders from a dominant but does not receive any physical stimulation. At the other is a bottom who enjoys the intense physical and psychological stimulation but does not submit to the person delivering them.

The top may sometimes even be the partner who is following instructions, i.e., they top when, and in the manner, requested by the bottom. A person who applies sensation or control to a bottom, but does so to the bottom's explicit instruction is a service top.

Contrast this with the pure dominant, who might give orders to a submissive, or otherwise employ physical or psychological techniques of control, but might instruct the submissive to perform the act on them.

A submissive (or "sub") is one who enjoys having any of a variety of BDSM practices performed upon them by a dominant; or one who holds a submissive position within a relationship based upon dominance and submission (D/s). This enjoyment can spring from a simple desire for submission or an enjoyment of the interplay of wills involved in such a scenario.

The main difference between a submissive and a bottom is that the submissive ostensibly does not give instructions, although they do set limits on what the dominant can do.

It should be noted that for bottoms who are not submissive, the bottom is most often the partner who is giving instructions—the top typically tops when, and in the manner, requested by the bottom. Failure to choose a trustworthy top can be very dangerous (see safeword), and even a trustworthy but overzealous top can inflict severe pain or injury by failing to pay attention to the bottom.

In many BDSM communities, there is a distinction between a submissive and a slave. In this context, a slave's goal is surrender and obedience. In contrast, a submissive tends to expect some gratification in return for his or her submission.

Many distinguish top/bottom from dominant/submissive by seeing top/bottom as an expression of physical power, while dominant/submissive is an expression of psychological power. In many cases, the dominant/submissive relationship involves the dominant party psychologically tearing down and denigrating the submissive (consensually, meeting the submissive's expressed needs and respecting hard limits). In contrast, the top/bottom relationship is more commonly marked by mutual respect and support

Sadist and masochist


These terms, while reflecting a "do" vs. "done to" distinction similar to top and bottom, are more narrowly defined as the giving and receiving of pain perceived as such. In both sex and BDSM activity, the boundary between what very painful and what feels absolutely wonderful can be very hard to find. The sadist and masochist deliberately stay on the clearly hurts side of that boundary, whereas the top and bottom seek the other side.

Handkerchief codes

Template:More Beginning in the 1970s, in some American contexts, "tops" would identify themselves by wearing a set of keys on the left side of the belt or a color-coded handkerchief in their left rear pockets; "bottoms" would wear the identifier on the right side. In this system the top did not always penetrate the bottom nor was he always the "active" partner, rather the "top" role would be different from act to act. This practice, called flagging, began in the gay male subculture.


There are indications that submissive males currently outnumber dominant males[citation needed]. Submissive and others are proving there is a strong and ever growing market for submissive women in the same sense there is a market for professional dominants. Professional dominants provide stimulatory services (which may or may not include sex) for submissives unable to find a compatible partner for this activity.

There are some indications that preference in D/s activities follows a 'compensatory' pattern[citation needed], with people who have much power and responsibility in real life often preferring a submissive role; no hard scientific data to either confirm or reject this hypothesis seem to exist, however.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:


  • BSDM education
  • Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission ISBN 978-0-67-976956-9
  • Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy. The New Topping Book. Greenery Press, 2003. ISBN 1-890159-36-0.
  • Dominant (BDSM) on Wipipedia, the specialist BDSM wiki.
  • The Control Book by Peter Masters
  • - D/s Information and Resources
  • Robert J. Rubel, PhD "Master/slave Relations: Handbook of Theory and Practice." Nazca Plains Publishers, 2006
  • Person, Ethel S. / Terestman, Nettie / Myers, Wayne A. / Goldberg, Eugene L. / Salvadori, Carol: Gender differences in sexual behaviors and fantasies in a college population, 1989, erschienen in: Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Bd. 15, Nr. 3, 1989, P. 187–198
  • Breslow, Norman: SM Research Report, v1.1, 1999
  • Janus, Samuel S. / Janus, Cynthia L., 1993 The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, Wiley, New York
  • Thomas S. Weinberg: S&M – Studies in Dominance and Submission (Ed.), Prometheus Books, New York, 1995 ISBN 0-8797-5-978-X
  • Robert Bienvenu, The Development of Sadomasochism as a Cultural Style in the Twentieth-Century United States, 2003, Online PDF under Sadomasochism as a Cultural Style
  • Charles Moser, in Journal of Social Work and Human Sexuality 1988, (7;1, P.43-56)
  • Gloria G. Brame, BDSM/Fetish Sex:Overview and Study, online

v  d  e  
Sexual identities

Wikipedialogo.png This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Top and bottom in sex and BDSM. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.. As with LGBT Info, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.