What does “Topping from the Bottom” really mean? Ever since the book 50 Shades of Grey made the expression popular, the meaning and actual definition have become cloudy. In BDSM, the definition of “Topping from the Bottom” (or TFTB) is when a submissive starts to become more of the dominant in the relationship. I’m going to show you three examples of TFTB, and what both the Dom and sub can do to fix it.
What does the expression Topping from the Bottom mean in a BDSM relationship?
The expression, Topping from below, sometimes happens subconsciously but it can also be done on purpose. It’s a lot like using reverse psychology, and can turn the tables of control without the Dominant realizing it.
Usually the submissive is the most to blame for this manipulation, but the Dom is equally at fault when they allow it to happen. I admit that I have topped from below before, and it can be a hard habit to break in a relationship.
Examples of Topping From the Bottom in real life BDSM (not the book, 50 Shades of Grey):
While the book, 50 Shades of Grey may have made the expression a flirtatious cliche, TFTB can actually cause serious problems in a relationship. Here are three potential issues to watch out for:
1. Being a constant brat on purpose
Some Doms like the challenge of having their sub a little bratty every once in a while. (the definition of a brat is a naughty, playfully disobedient sub). There’s nothing wrong with brats or bratty behavior. It can keep things fun and interesting. Where it becomes a problem though, is when a sub is unceasingly a brat, often using the behavior to lash out.
Instead of a way to be more playful, it becomes the main way to receive attention and to get what they need. Needless to say, it can irritate the Dom and make them want to give up.
Examples of what the submissive can do:
If you genuinely want more attention or feel that your needs aren’t getting met, speak up! As long as it’s done respectfully there is nothing wrong with communicating what you want.
For example, I’ve acted out before after a hard day just to get in trouble. I know this will get me that stress-relieving spanking I so desperately need. I’ve learned though that it’s so much better to say, “Daddy, I’ve had a hard day. Can you please spank me?”
It makes him happy and so much more aware of my feelings. And the next time he sees me stressed he knows exactly what I need.
If you’re not comfortable speaking up, you can also write your feelings in a journal (either online or in a book) that your Dom can read.
Examples of what the Dom can do:
When you catch your sub being bratty, try to figure out if they’re just acting out for attention. Remember: this isn’t 50 Shades of Grey, so instead of just immediately turning to discipline, ask your sub what’s really going on. If you sense they’re upset, give them permission to talk.
Encourage them to maybe use an “I statement.” The definition of an “I statement” is a phrase where they say, “I feel X when you do Y, and I’d rather you do Z.” Also, having your sub kneel while you talk to them about their unacceptable bratty behavior can put them back in their place.
2. Safewording… without really meaning it
Let me start off by saying that there is nothing wrong with using safewords. They are a sacred part of BDSM, and are there to make sure everything stays safe, sane, and consensual. The definition of a safeword is a word or phrase that a sub (or Dom) uses when they are close to or at their limit. A sub should never feel guilty when they use them legitimately.
The problem arises when it becomes a way to get out of something they just don’t want to do. It can become the vanilla equivalent of saying they have a headache.
Besides sexual requests, they may use a safeword when a situation becomes emotionally difficult and they just want a break. The sub becomes the one in control when they safeword because they just don’t feel like doing something.
What the sub can do:
Before you safeword, ask yourself if you’re just trying to avoid doing something. If you were to meet your Dom’s demands would it really incur physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or other harm? If not, safewording in that instance would be dishonest and could lead to a break in trust.
Remember that topping from the bottom in this way isn’t playing fair. If there are things that you absolutely will not do, make sure to include them in a contract. Click here for some examples.
What the Dom can do:
If your sub safewords, remember that it means they are close to their limit of endurance, or they cannot tolerate any further demands. Always respect their safeword even if you believe it isn’t genuine. Your actions should cease completely with immediate effect.
Afterwards, if you do believe the safeword was used casually, tell your sub. Remind them of the real purpose of BDSM safewords and that misusing them will break your trust. This firm lecture will probably be enough to put them back in their place.
3. Saying, “Well, actually I think…” or a similar expression
When a Dom makes a decision it should stand. A sub from time to time can voice their opinion respectfully when necessary, but routinely getting a Dom to change their mind will only hurt the relationship. This can happen in many different areas.
Some examples include the Dom wanting to have sex in a certain position, but the sub suggests another one instead. Or he wants to book reservations at a particular restaurant, but she says she’d rather go to a different one. When this happens and the Dom gives in, it shifts the control in the relationship.
What the sub can do:
When your Dom makes a decision, don’t undermine it. Even if it’s not what you were wanting that doesn’t matter. Your role is to please your Dom. If it’s something you really disagree with you can let them know respectfully.
Another option is to ask them afterwards if next time you can do your choice, or voice your feelings in a journal book. Remember: this isn’t 50 Shades of Grey. You are in a real BDSM relationship, and they are your Dominant. Topping from below will only erode that.
What the Dom can do:
When your sub says, “Well, actually I think…”, or a similar expression, listen to their suggestion, but then let them know that you are the Dom and you make the decisions. Of course they are not always going to act perfectly or by the book, but tell them that this behavior is below your standards.
When they do go along with what you want make sure to give them praise. It is OK to give your sub choices every once in a while, but do not make it a habit of yielding to them.
*If you want to motivate your partner to be more dominant, submissive, or kinky without nagging or topping from the bottom, be sure to check out my new workshop.*
Remember that regularly topping from the bottom brings manipulation into BDSM, and can mean there are underlying issues in the relationship. Life isn’t 50 Shades of Grey. So review the actually definition and our real-life examples, stay focused in your role as a Dom or sub, and the power and control will remain healthy in your relationship.