Bottom and submissive are the labels used to describe a partner who takes the passive, receiving, or obedient role within a BDSM scene, or within a BDSM relationship context. The behaviors of bottoms and submissives are similar, and in many cases overlap. For this reason, the terms are used interchangeably in some discussions, although there are differences between the two.
The term bottom originates from a more general use of the word, especially among the gay male community, to mean receptive partner (See bottom (sex)).
The term submissive typically refers to the individual who accepts the control of, and is obedient to the authority of, a dominant partner within a BDSM context/relationship. Individuals who submit control of a large percentage of their day-to-day life to a dominant partner, or who submit within a formal set of rules and rituals are sometimes referred to using the term slave, which is distinctly different from the historical use of the term, and the practice of this type of consensual sexual slavery is different than the historical practice of slavery.
Behaviors of submissives and bottoms often overlap, with the bottom also being submissive, but this is not always the case. Someone who is "topping" may be doing so at the request, or even the direction, of the bottom partner(s). In such a case, the dominant's function would reside with the bottom(s). Tops who act within this kind of relationship dynamic are sometimes called a service tops. A bottom who has dominance over the activities or the relationship is said to be topping from the bottom, even though they are really expressing dominance from the bottom.
Within communities of lifestyle BDSM devotees, there exists a widespread prejudice against both service tops and bottoms that top from the bottom. Both are considered by many to be failing to achieve a "proper" BDSM relationship dynamic – especially if the partners are purported to be trying to achieve dominant-top/submissive-bottom relationship.
The acceptance of a bottom role, or the submission of a partner, is seldom absolute, often operating within a set of defined limits. A common means that bottoms or submissives use to signal a top or dominant partner that their limits are being approached, pushed, or even crossed is the use of safewords. Extreme forms of submission or the practice of edgeplay can remove the safeword option from the bottom or submissive, although this somewhat risky situation is entered into with the consent of the bottom or submissive.
Bottoms or submissives who are also comfortable assuming a top or dominant role are referred to as switches.
References and further reading
- Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy. The New Bottoming Book. Greenery Press, 2003. ISBN 1-890159-36-0.
- Jay Wiseman: SM 101: A Realistic Introduction. Greenery Press (CA) 1998, ISBN 0-9639763-8-9
- Phillip Miller, Molly Devon, William A. Granzig (Vorwort): Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism. Mystic Rose Books 1995, ISBN 0-9645960-0-8
- William A. Henkin, Sybil Holiday, Consensual Sadomasochism : How to Talk About It and How to Do It Safely, Daedalus Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1881943127.
- Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance and Submission ISBN 978-0-67-976956-9
- 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 gloria-brame.com