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Tops vs Bottoms

The use of the terms ‘bottom’ and ‘top’ can suggest an unbridgeable gulf between those who prefer the respective roles. It can seem rather as if, within gay sexuality, there is a further division of sexualities, where the all-male equivalent of the battle of the sexes persists, often not entirely on cold war levels. However, and with preferences duly acknowledged, each partner is better placed for pleasure in sex if he can empathise more with the other’s experience.

For the top, take time to explore and appreciate something like the bottom’s experience. Alone or with your partner, sit back in a sofa, knees bent, legs up, erection in place, and while lazily masturbating, with no immediate intention of coming, stroke your own body, slowly exploring the sensations in different areas of skin, particularly waist, hips and the inside of the thighs. Use body lotion or massage oil, working it into the skin, and imagine yourself being loved and adored.

It might feel female, or feminine – We often understand our gay feelings in terms of heterosexual gender roles. Imagine giving yourself to another. Work with your fingers around your anus, accepting the pleasure there. You might insert a finger or two, though there is no real need to go further, particularly if being penetrated has never really pleasured you. On the other hand, if you do use or have ever used a dildo, you will better appreciate the experience of emptiness, or void, which can come as a corollary to the filling of the rectum during sex and which hugely determines the bottom’s feelings and sense of his sex role.

The main thing, however, is to appreciate the relaxed, non-climactic but thoroughly sexual pleasure of being passive. This may entail letting go of any residual notions of what it is to be ‘properly’ masculine. If it helps, use a mirror or set up a camera and play to the reflections or the photographs you envisage being taken. Look at those pictures afterwards and think about what you see there. Imagine yourself enjoying giving yourself up to another man and vicariously sharing his pursuit of his orgasm. Allow yourself to imagine being dominated – and wanting that. The more you understand your partner’s position, the more you’ll be sharing each other during sex.

For the bottom, while your experience is of being penetrated, and while, from your end of things, that can feel pretty hard, take on board the idea that the top’s experience may be rather different. There is a degree of (contained) violence and power-play entailed in penetration – such is the evolutionary legacy – but there’s also a lot more vulnerability, need, care and sensitivity than you might imagine. It takes, well, balls to watch your dick disappear, trust it will actually come out again, and give yourself up to the pre-socialised, pre-characterised, earlier-evolutionary you while you slide like a fish, a rather hectically slithery-twitchy one at that, against the feeling at the head of your penis and the great blue-yonder – the light at the end of the tunnel – where previous experience suggests, in a trained-reflex sort of way, you’ll probably come.

Try masturbating while on your knees, positioned above your partner, looking in his eyes, kissing him – and letting him watch your face. When you masturbate alone, bend your knees as you do so. Try thrusting, and register how differently it feels from when your legs are tensed. It’s slower – the feeling is slower. It isn’t so high and distracted – less fire and air, more solid and liquid.

Lie your partner down – say, on his back – and take control. That doesn’t mean instantly prostrate yourself before him for a self-abnegatory blow-job. Hover above him; use your hands and mouth to pleasure his body all over. Take control, and, from a controlling position, love him while you pleasure him.

If – and it’s a big if – the top’s role is considered more ‘masculine’, bear in mind that such masculinity may feel rather differently, when experienced from the inside, than when perceived from without. Indeed, you might well treat most ‘masculine’ traits as expressing the opposite mind-set from that which they purport. (If you ever want to know how someone really feels, often your best bet is to ask yourself how his behaviour makes you feel.) This is to say, that being top can entail feeling rather less butch than one might suspect or fear.

There will be many more ways of exploring each other’s top/bottom attitudes. We’re not saying the aim is for you to become versatile. It isn’t. The aim is to build more understanding, sharing and empathy within sex, which will enhance your sex life and, beyond this, is likely lead to better levels of communication in your relationship as a whole.