Thursday, April 19, 2012

Topping / Teaching from the bottom in the bedroom

This is a hot topic in BDSM circles. It’s talked about all over the place. Everyone has an opinion and you know what, I’m not even going to bother touching on whether it’s disrespectful or wrong in most cases. I’m sure it is. I know if you want Dominance and submission to work, you don’t want a relationship defined by this. So why am I bothering with this then? Because all that other stuff, all that information on what to do and what might go wrong is irrelevant in certain circumstances.

By the way this part here is just me (Cari Silverwood) saying why I think this post is important. Skip down to the real story down below then come back if you want.

If you go to clubs, dungeons, play parties and educational nights or lectures or whatever, this isn’t about you.

So what does that leave? Bedroom BDSMers. Yes, I’m using that label because labels make it easier to talk about things. But, they should not create boundaries. Think outside the box. It’s what BDSM practitioners do all the time surely?

From talking to a lot of women, and looking at what statistics are out there, from thinking logically about people, I think bedroom BDSMers are the quiet majority. Those who go to clubs and form groups are certainly more visible and more vocal, but they are likely the minority.

And that is what makes this sort of post so important. This small exception to the “topping from the bottom is wrong” rule is actually a BIG exception.

There is no other way for some partners to learn, than by doing this along with learning from the internet, from books and from videos.

Fools, I hear some call them? Truly? If you take an introvert and they refuse to become an extrovert, are they a fool? Or a lesbian, and insist they become straight, are they fools? No. So why say those who won’t put their sexuality out there in public are fools, or wrong? We shouldn’t say that, at all, of course.

Sex and sexuality is an intensely private affair for many. And bringing BDSM into a relationship is already such a minefield anyway. My husband might go to a class on his latest hobby…might, but he won’t go to parties without being tasered, and go to a BDSM club or a munch? Is the moon made of cheese? Has hell frozen over? No. But he’s not a fool, and neither are the husbands of the many other women I’ve spoken to.

My last point. Risk. Safety. Some say learning by yourselves is wrong due to safety risks. I say RACK. Risk Aware Consensual Kink. The basic safety premise behind BDSM. Everything we do in life has some risk. There are some things I think you’d be mad to try at home without training. Or mad to do first off without a lot of talking and learning and reading. Like putting a gag in your partner first time, or doing rope suspension, or using a whip, or breath control. Weigh up the risks and decide what you are willing to try with your partner, if anything.

If we can consider breath control a part of BDSM, even if it is edge play, then bedroom topping from the bottom has to fit in somewhere, as long as you use RACK. Breath control is as close to asking to die as anything within the BDSM spectrum. A major risk, an unpredictable one, is cardiac arrest long after you’ve stopping doing it. It’s up there with self-bondage in risk. I used to do self-bondage when a teenager but stopped due to a sudden appreciation of the risk. Prior to that epiphany I was doing non-RACK for certain. Life is full of risks, we just need to minimize it as much as we can.

So here below is the true story of one woman ‘topping from the bottom’ because that was her only avenue. If you say this is wrong, you leave all those people in similar circumstances with nowhere to go at all.

A Real Story of beginning BDSM – reposted with permission

Like many women, I started out with the craving for BDSM in my totally vanilla relationship with my husband. I knew I needed some pain and bondage and was unsure about whether I had an inclination toward submission or not. But my first priority was experiencing the sensations – the confines of restraint and the pain from spanking, biting, hair pulling, etc.

So, yes, I did what people in the community call “topping from the bottom.” Mainly because I knew more about BDSM than he did. I was the one reading the erotic novels and joining fetlife and speaking with others in the lifestyle. So I had the majority of the information.

He was willing to try it, but he would’ve been satisfied with vanilla sex his whole existence. But because I needed it, and he loved me, he learned in the best way he could. From my teaching him. And this manifested in topping from the bottom.

Let me tell you what this looks like. I would either email or text him what I wanted him to do (i.e. bend me over the couch and spank me then handcuff me to the headboard and…). Or I’d lay out certain toys I wanted him to use. While we were in a “scene” I’d give suggestions (or as he called it, whine and complain). Maybe I could’ve gone about it better but it was important for him to learn how tight was too tight and how hard was too hard, and in the throes of passion it’s much easier to yell “that’s too tight damn it!” than “my dearest husband, though you hold me snugly in your heart, your bonds of love are cutting off my circulation.” Obviously I’m being a smart ass (one of the wonderful things about me my husband loves), but you get what I mean. Shit happens.

As we experienced BDSM together more and more, he learned what turned me on AND what turned him on. He learned my limits and how to be safe. Yes, I suppose some could lecture me about how he should have taken a class so he didn’t risk injury to his beloved bride. First of all, I’m not a delicate flower. Second of all, my husband is an introvert to the extreme. I have to bribe him to go to Christmas dinner with the family. Getting him to a BDSM how-to class would be a small miracle.

Most importantly, I learned how to trust him with my body.

For myself, and probably many others out there, trust is a big issue. As a victim of abuse, total submission is one of the scariest things we can choose to do. I’m not talking about the kind of trust that says “I trust you’ll be a decent husband therefore I’ll marry you and hope we stay together forever.” I’m talking about the kind of trust that says “I am yours completely – to use, to please, to take, to fulfill. And though you’ll have the opportunity to abuse me, abandon me, or betray me, still, I trust you with my very life.”

That kind of trust is bone deep. And it takes some freakin’ practice. Yes, you have to practice trust. Especially someone who’s experienced betrayal. And I challenge anyone who says otherwise.

So through topping from the bottom we learned our likes/dislikes, we experimented, we made mistakes, we had great times, we laughed, we cried, and that bone deep trust was born.

That’s how topping from the bottom worked for us. Here’s the other half of the story.

One day, I just stopped needing to. He knew how tight was too tight. He knew how hard was too hard. And me saying so was just starting to get annoying. He knew what I liked and didn’t, what he liked and didn’t, and everything in between. We reached the point where he was comfortable leading and I was comfortable following. He grabbed the role of Top and it was time for me to let go.

The first few times were difficult. Here’s what our dialogue sounded like.

“Make sure you – ”

“I know.”

“And I like to – ”

“I know.”

“And don’t forget to – ”

“Would you just shut up?”

It was shocking to realize I wasn’t needed anymore. Well, except for the obvious parts cause I had the…parts. But my input was no longer necessary, other than a safeword and sometimes feedback after. It was almost like watching a baby bird fly from the nest (my husband would cringe if he knew I used that analogy). And I had to consciously zip my lip from time to time (or risk a gag).

Now, here’s the important part so pay attention. I do not think it is dangerous to top from the bottom. I do not think it is wrong to do it. I do not think it makes the experience any less valuable than my own. I can only speak for myself, but I will say, it’s a much more satisfying experience when I don’t top from the bottom. I rarely get to let go of control. I have kids. I have a mortgage and a job and a dog and a lot of responsibility. I used to think I was less of a person if I submitted to a man, even in the bedroom. But now I realize how truly freeing it is. Not only that but it connects us on a level I didn’t know I was lacking.

BUT, and this is a big but, I could not have reached this point if I hadn’t topped from the bottom. I needed to know that if I let go completely, he would be there to catch me. I needed to experience his trust in me about what I needed. We needed to explore and learn and grow together, as equals, no one person more powerful than the other.

Total power exchange is scary as hell! And if you don’t think so, you need a wake-up call. Come here so I can shake you. If you have as much trust as it takes to hand your physical well-being and your heart over to someone else, then I applaud you. But is that reciprocated? Does your partner feel deserving of that power? Do they want that power?

Chances are, if they’re vanilla and you want more, if you hand them that power and do very little preparing, they’re going to be lost. And that doesn’t inspire confidence or safety or any of those other dommy things you want in them. So help them through it. Top from the bottom so they gain the experience and knowledge and confidence they need. If I had thrown Dh into the BDSM deep end with no swimmies on, he’d have sunk to the bottom of the pool.

And hell, if you always top from the bottom and you’re satisfied with that, I’m not here to judge you. I would’ve had a fine sex life if that’s what we stuck with. I’d have been tied up and spanked and got my hair pulled just like I wanted. All I’m saying is…for me, it’s a richer, deeper experience to go all the way.


Cari Silverwood here again :

I’d like to add that in my opinion, if you’re a masochist looking for some pain or impact play, topping from the bottom may still give you results you like. However, if you’re wanting Domination from your partner, you will probably find it a pretty hollow experience until and unless your partner learns how to control you -- how to Dominate, how to press your buttons, so to speak.

And not everyone wants to try BDSM. But you never get anywhere if you never never ask.

The people who will most benefit from knowing about this type of topping/ teaching in bedroom BDSM are the very people who are most likely to learn from posts like this. If you go to clubs, you can learn from others. If people posting about BDSM truly want to help others, and to educate about BDSM, this exception to the rule should be mentioned whenever topping from the bottom is discussed. Because otherwise you may be leaving a helluva lot of people out there in the cold.


  1. Wow! A powerful post Cari. Speaking as one of those who fit into the bedroom BDSM category I really enjoyed reading your friend's story. Thanks so much for sharing it. And yes, it's a powerful and wonderful gift to give - trust.


  2. Thanks Maggie. Yes, I sometimes feel that category is glossed over in a lot of the internet discussions.

  3. Thanks Cari, awesome, we are learning still but doing better! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Good to hear, Emiros, though with that ID I'm not sure who you are. Lol
    I think it's normal to take months and months to communicate these needs.

  5. Thank you Cari! I am in the "quiet majority" out of necessity and have to fit into the bedroom BDSM category. I don't want to "top from the bottom" but at this point it is the only way to learn for us. I can't go to clubs or find groups or people to ask and get information. All of it has to come from the internet. I do think we will get to the point where I won't have to "top from the bottom" much like your friend. Thanks!

  6. I get lots of letters from readers wanting to try bedroom-only BDSM in their vanilla marriages. And when I give advice, I almost always tell them "You'll probably have to top from the bottom for a while, because he may not have a clue what to do or what you like."

    Great post and i'll share it on my wall and with some e-mail-only readers who are anxious to move into the BDSM realm.

    Oh, now for breath-control play, there ARE some techniques used that aren't at the extreme. I plan for Damian to use one on Savi in Nobody's Perfect. It's just a means of getting her to focus and concentrate when panic sets in. I got the idea from a sub whose Dom uses it on her. So, I guess there's a breath-control play spectrum within the BDSM spectrum. But, you're right, Cari. Most forms of breath-control play are forms of asphyxiation and can be extremely dangerous and isn't one of those things a bottom needs to be teaching a Baby Dom.


  7. Great post, Cari, and kudos to the woman in the story for putting herself out there to inform others. Although I'm not in the lifestyle, my day job as a psychotherapist means I have to help people struggling with any number of issues, including sexual. I can say that when they feel judged by the very community they identify with, it can be very detrimental. We ALL need to be more open minded. I would imagine the people doing the judging of this type of BDSM are the very same people who would be insulted by those outside the BDSM community judging their sexual behaviors. Of course, safety should always be first, but we need to be there for each other--EVEN IF WE CHOOSE TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY.

  8. Thanks for all the comments Mel, Kally and Lorraine. I think when explained like this, most of those into BDSM would say its perfectly okay. I just think that there seems to be an assumption often, when talking about this, that it's public BDSM with an experienced Dom. And Kally, thanks for the clarification about breath play. I don't write this into stories so I was unaware of that.

  9. Excellent post, Cari, and I totally agree. There's no way if the potential "sub" or "bottom" has more experience than the "Dom" or "top" that topping from the bottom won't happen. It wouldn't even be safe or possibly any fun if they didn't. And I wanted to add one thing - if your "top" doesn't want to accept your assistance and isn't willing to go learn somewhere else, you need to seriously consider whether or not you WANT to place your trust in him or her.

  10. Interesting point, Cassandra. I think those drawn to BDSM , those men or women will go and research. But I know of some husbands who are dominant but not natural Doms, who aren't inclined to research. It think it can still work, if they aren't venturing into the more dangerous waters of BDSM. Spanking is not brain surgery, for example. Neither is using Velcro wrist cuffs, as long as you're being an aware , safety conscious adult.

  11. Thank you for this wonderful post.
    Now to get my other half to read it - I want and need BDSM in the bedroom but he's totally against it at the moment.
    Hugs xx

  12. Cari, Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this! You are my hero. That is exactly how it worked out with my husband and I.I was the one who new more about the lifestyle than he did. Even if there were clubs in my area I'm not sure I could get him to go. So we've learned to together and even though I rarely Top from the bottom anymore, it's what worked for us in the beginning. I've actually left Fetlife for awhile because I'm sick of everyone saying there is only one right way to do things. You'd think for a community who lives on the outskirts of what most people consider normal they would be less judgmental.

  13. Great post ... It makes perfect sense and I hope that you helped lots of people with it.

  14. Wow, this is a great post, Cari. I learned a lot and am grateful to understand that it's not black-and-white until the rules are understood and embraced. Thank you so much for sharing. :)


  15. this is an awesome post, i have always thought that it's how is has to be especially when bringing someone who isn't into the lifestyle into it, if your partner isn't already a Dom/me how s/he going to learn, or what if you don't live in an area you can go to a class. You have to learn together. thanks for sharing I'm going back to your book lol

  16. Thanks everyone. Yes, I too hope it helps people. It is hard to get this across when so many seem to soak up the 'way' of BDSM like it has rules set in concrete. People made those rules. They ain't gospel sent down from above. Use what works for you and dammit all, have fun!

  17. Great post! I find this subject very interesting and highly stimulating. I have been married for 37 years and would love for the hubs to take control. Since we are not into clubs or personal instructor teaching, what is a woman to do?

  18. Great post Cari. What you described is teaching from the bottom / open communication not Topping from the bottom. Every time a bottom gives feedback, whether its in the bedroom, a club, class, dungeon, etc... is not topping from the bottom.


  19. Yes, it's been described as that to me in that manner too, Toymaker. Alas others in the lifestyle have severely criticized this exact behavior when I've discussed it with them. But...I can see that many, including you, do regard this as a normal part of BDSM. Which is wonderful to know.

    Because of this split in perception of whether this is TftB or not, I still feel it's great to have cleared the air and discussed it like this. As long as people learn that it's okay.

  20. Wonderful post. I'm not sure I would call it Topping from the Bottom (nomenclature counts), but I think you have it right to call it Teaching from the Bottom. There is no rule that says that both partners have the same experience or initial interests in the bedroom. One party is generally more experienced in some aspect of sexual activity than the other. If the person with more experience (even if only through research) wants to be a sub, does the act of encouraging the complimentary behavior in her/his partner constitute Topping from the Bottom? A little common sense tells us that it shouldn't work that way.

  21. I'm sure glad Toymaker spoke up, because he said what I was thinking, and he's way more an authority than I am. In any endeavor where two people are learning a new skill, hobby, craft, or anything else, that involves both at the same time, and one has more knowledge -- even if it's just "book knowledge" -- there must be some transfer of information. If you were sailing, rowing a boat, climbing a rock wall, practicing first aid....the principle is the same. One is going to do more teaching until an equilibrium is reached. When both are skilled, then the communication takes a different turn. But communication is key to almost any endeavor.