THE DIFFERENCE between Domination and submission and Topping and bottoming is a much-debated topic. Many in the kink scene who indulge in power exchange relationships and BDSM activities have never considered the difference between the two; often defaulting to the terms Dominant or submissive (or switch) without considering what it means to the person they might be negotiating with.
Since it’s important to have a shared definition when discussing concepts with other people, I thought it could be useful to share with you My definitions. When a sub approaches Me personally, I ask them to use the following:
Domination and submission
Domination and submission (D/s) are focused on consensual power exchange. The Dominant accepts authority/control given by the submissive over part(s) of their life. The Dom leads the relationship and both parties focus on the Dom’s desires, which may include developing and growing the sub in the ways that they see fit. The sub empowers the Dom’s decisions by following and gets value from serving that Dom’s orders, including orders that might not be the sub’s preference or that they enjoy; the sub’s core pleasure comes from giving up control and empowering another’s. The sub’s desires (and limits) are not disregarded, but it’s up to the Dom what is indulged.
There may be BDSM activities (or “play”) as part of the relationship, but they are not required. Power exchange relationships can exist outside of both BDSM and sexual relationships; it’s all about a consensual, negotiated imbalance of power between two (or more) people, not a specific menu of kinky acts. Fundamentally, any activities they do together reinforces the dynamic and isn’t focused on the activities themselves – they are doing those activities because the Dom wants and chooses to. Therefore, I strongly believe there are no activities that are inherently ‘Dominant’ or ‘submissive’. This means that if a Dom wants to be scratched, pegged or choked by their submissive and the sub follows these orders, the Dom is still in control and submissive is still fulfilling the Dom’s demands and submitting to the Dom’s authority.
Topping and bottoming
A bottom is someone who gives up control for a finite period of time (e.g. the length of a scene, a weekend, time ‘in the bedroom’, etc) and a specific set of activities. They are only submissive to the Dominant person (Top) in order to receive these activities and therefore the power exchange is incidental to the activities. The Top does these activities to the bottom (as the Top wishes) and when the scene is over, the power exchange ceases and everyone goes back to normal, making their own decisions and doing whatever they choose.
This means that a Dominant person can ‘bottom’ for a Top to receive some activities that they both enjoy; two brilliant examples are Dominant people who serve as rope bottoms or Dominant people with a masochistic streak who bottom for sadists — they may be submitting to that Top for a period of time, but are not suddenly submissive. In my perspective, if you limit your submission to a specific set of kinky activities that you enjoy without prioritizing your partner’s authority/desires and/or are only submissive “behind closed doors”, “in the bedroom,” or are serving a Dominant intermittently, you are not actually submissive, but rather a bottom.
Of course, because we are human beings and human beings do not fit nicely into any box without lopping off critical aspects of who we are, most people will find that they don’t fit perfectly into these definitions – they may be a lot of this and a little bit of that. I actually believe that D/s and Top/bottoming form two intersecting continuums or axis, forming a 2×2 matrix and most people will find themselves somewhere within one of the quadrants. (Com’on, you know us MBAs just love to explain life with a good matrix!!!!). For example, I am a Dominant, who also enjoys a bit of Topping with the right partner(s).
There is nothing wrong with being a Dominant/submissive/Top/bottom, but it’s really helpful if you use the right terminology when approaching potential partners in order to manage their expectations of what extent of power exchange you are comfortable offering and what shape your dynamic together could potentially take.