Tuesday, February 19, 2008

more on topping, bottoming and the your-turn-my-turn issue

I just had a few more thoughts on the idea of topping/bottoming. Grumpy Granny mentioned in a comment that she'd always thought of topping as something that might occur within an S/M dynamic (to paraphrase GG), something that might occur in conjunction with bondage, for example. This is probably a common perception, very close to accurate, and I held it too for awhile.

It wasn't until I became friends with a few gay men who talked openly about sex to me that I started to understand the concept differently. I'm not a gay man and can't speak for gay men, but what I understood from them is that many gay men identify as either a top or a bottom, ie: they are literally on top (doing the fucking) or on the bottom (getting fucked). Of course, some are switches and some gay men don't like to engage in anal sex at all and prefer to get each other off in other ways.

Talking to those guys, I realized that topping or bottoming doesn't have to occur in the context of some big S/M scene. Around that time, I started using "top" or "bottom" as verbs to describe whether I fucked someone, or whether they fucked me. In that sense, I was also using this language to describe a position only and not a power dynamic.

Now, however, after years of reading up on S/M and a few stabs at experiencing it, I understand these terms (and sex) from a slightly more subtle perspective. S/M, behind all the leather and handcuffs and other cool accoutrements, is about power. The consensual taking and handing over of power during sex. People who practice S/M (or BDSM, if you prefer: Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism), bring the power dynamic inherent and buried in sex up to the surface and explore/exploit it for pleasure.

Many of us ignore that power dynamic and many people (especially lesbians, whose sex can be orchestrated in a very egaletarian manner) can have perfectly yummy sex without ever even feeling a power differential. However, for some of us (maybe lots of us) it's the power differential that adds the spice to sex. It is possible to explore/exploit the power dynamic for sexual pleasure without being "into" S/M in the traditional sense. Mera and I haven't yet bothered to get out the wrist restraints or the leather flogger, yet the power differential is what drives our sexual passion.

Mera would tell you she's a "psychological top." And that's what makes her a true "top," even when she's technically bottoming. I, on the other hand, am *not* a psychological top. So even when I'm fucking Mera, I'm not really "topping" her. Is that confusing? Sorry. I know it sounds convoluted, but it makes sense to me. Mera gets off on control, which makes her a true top, while I get off on being controlled, which makes me a true bottom. Even though we both like to fuck and be fucked, how we experience the power is different.

I may have made the water even more muddy with this explanation, but hopefully what I've said makes sense.

Now let's move on to another interesting, if not a little disturbing, topic: balance (a.k.a. "your-turn-my-turn"). Sometimes, lesbians can fall into a very rigid routine of "I fuck you, now you fuck me." Sometimes this happens naturally: we start making out, we both get really hot, the action moves towards sex and eventually one of us takes over and starts fucking the other, the one getting fucked has an orgasm, everybody's still turned on, the mood stays hot, so the roles reverse and the one who got fucked now fucks the original fucker. That can even go back and forth for awhile.

In my mind, that's the best case scenerio for balanced sex. Worst case scenerio is when the one who originally got fucked feels guilted or pressured into returning the favor when her heart really isn't in it for whatever reason. Here's an example from my own life: I used to have a girlfriend who wanted to have sex a lot more than I did (not so unusual for me, actually). And she figured out the exact right way to seduce my body. Rather than propositioning me head-on, she learned that if she started out offering to tickle my back (which is my favorite thing on the planet, by the way), within minutes I'd be putty in her hands. While I was putty, she would fuck me and then immediately roll over like a dog and wait her turn. I hadn't wanted to have sex, I hadn't wanted to fuck her, but she got me every time and I started to resent her and we eventually broke up.

I personally hate your-turn-my-turn sex. But that's probably because I have a heightened awareness of and interest in the power dynamic. I don't want someone to fuck me just because I fucked them. I'm happy to carry the whole experience, as it were, if that's what feels most comfortable. And I hate to fuck out of obligation. Sometimes you just want to pass out afterwards, not muster up the energy to return the favor.

So what do you guys think? To jump start the discussion, here's a poll. Oh my god do I love these polls. But people, come on! Only a fraction of you are actually participating! What's up??? These polls won't bite, don't worry. And they won't automatically take you to another website, or plant a virus in your computer or send your name and address to a government website or ANYTHING bad. Don't fear the polls, just participate. Practice for November.


Grumpy Granny said...

You're very good at putting out wonderful topics! As I stated in an earlier comment, often, due to an injury, my wife does not have a lot of physical sensation, yet she becomes completely turned on making love to me. In fact there are times where she literally "wrings me out" so that I could not reciprocate no matter how much I might want to, AND she is not physically able to enjoy that at the time anyway. She loves the responses she elicits from my body, the feel of me being (as you said) "putty in her hands" etc. It's more of a mental orgasm for her in that way. Then there are the times when it's mutual, or I "do" her the same way, and she's so "wrung out" that she can't reciprocate. At those times, if I'm still really turned on, I like to masturbate while she watches, because that just REALLY does it for her. So, we both end up feeling really good. Sometimes, I really am grateful for her disability, because it does take a lot of potential pressure off. We have learned to work around the disability quite well, and try always to be open to talking about any "speed bumps". We find that honest communication is the greatest step towards dealing with ANY problem, in the bedroom or out of it.

Poet, you rock!


Tinder said...

My partner and I have this ingenious idea about communicating. Sometimes she says, "I'm horny" and I'll help her out, but she's not obligated to do anything. Other times I verbalize my needs. Fortunately, she's always in the mood for whatever, but that's another story.

zuhn said...

It's kind of interesting that there's this I do you and you do me thing that's always associated with lesbian sex. I mean, first of all, there's the assumption that sex = attaining an orgasm when there is so much more. Such an assumption is clearly faulty since if one does not have an orgasm, that doesn't negate the fact that they were having sex, right?

Second, I derive just as much pleasure out of fucking someone as I do the other way around so there's no your turn, my turn since your turn was MY turn too.

I get what you're saying and I have been in that sort of dynamic before but I just find it interesting that this topic still comes up over and over again.

As for the Mera being the psychological top thing, I suppose it's something along the lines of her "letting" you fuck her, right? And not her topping you from the bottom?

And lastly (you put so much in this one post!), what do you intend to do with all the data you're getting from the polls? Do you intend to analyze and interpret them? I think you should, it would make for an interesting read.

heather said...

i also want to know how this data will be used. are you writing a sex book? :-p

while i definitely do not consider myself a top, bottom, stone, or any other particular term, i feel like zuhn in that i have almost a good a time fucking as being the fuckee. and the me-now-you business...well, it's nice when that happens, but i'm definitely in the 'we're having a good time and that's all i care about' camp.

reasonably prudent poet said...

thanks everyone for the feedback and comments. (and thanks, gg, for feeding my ego.)

tinder -- i'm not sure if that's sarcasm, but if it is, i welcome it.

and zuhn. oh zuhn. i'm glad you turned up. i don't know what i'm gonna do with the polls. i'll probably offer some half-assed analysis of the data at some point, though i managed to get through undergrad and law school w/o ever taking any kind of statistics class, so it'll probably all be bullshit anyway.

mera "topping from the bottom" is more true in some situations than in others. the last time we had sex, for example, she stayed "the guy" the whole time (her head trip, not mine), even though i "jacked her off" before and after she fucked me. however, there are lots of times when it's more like she's "letting me fuck her," which is sometimes accompanied by a fantasy like the one where she was a trailer-trash milf and i was a young hot dyke plumber who was coming over to fix the... well, you get the idea...

however, a lot of the "you-do-me, i'll-do-you" thing is bound up in how you define sex, so... more on that topic soon.