So, you identify as a top or a bottom, a dominant or a submissive, or really any kind of kinkster. Now what? Contrary to popular belief, the qualities that make a good top/dominant or a good bottom/submissive in BDSM are more alike than different. These six characteristics are key no matter which side of the slash you’re on and pertain to any BDSM dynamic. For the sake of reading fluency, we’re using top and dom and bottom and sub somewhat interchangeably.
Trust is at the core of mutually satisfying BDSM. Without trust, a bottom cannot be assured that a top is going to seek informed consent or respect negotiated limits or safewords, and a top cannot feel confident that a bottom will use a safeword when needed.
Tops and bottoms should communicate with each other early and often about limits, avenues of exploration, and ideas for scenes. Bottoms are sometimes reluctant to communicate because they think that tops should somehow intuit what they want, or they feel they might be seen as bossy if they set limits. Tops might be hesitant to communicate because they might think that the bottom will see them as less in control if they need to ask questions and get clarification on the bottom’s interests and limits. Never fear, though. It can and should be sexy to reveal one’s desires or demand to know your partner’s. When it comes to kink, it’s better to err on the side of communicating too much than not enough.
3. Self-confident and in control
Bottoms should feel confident demanding respect from any potential top, having clear limits, and not being afraid to use a safeword. Doing so doesn’t make them any less of a bottom. If power exchange is involved, giving up control is the sub’s choice, and he or she has the power to revoke that control at any point.
Doms must be in control of their own emotions and behavior before they can successfully control anyone else. Anger, frustration, and other negative emotions should never be taken out on a bottom. They must also be self-confident enough to know that they can still be perceived as dominant without being a caricature of a Domly Dom. There’s a big difference between being in control and being controlling or between being dominant and domineering. The former attributes are part of being a good dom, while the latter are signs of being a dickhead.
4. Eager to please
But wait! Doesn’t this pertain only to bottoms? Nope. Wanting to please one’s partner is not just the job of the submissive. To quote the wonderful kink educator Rain DeGrey, “All tops are service tops. It is your job as a top to blow your bottom’s mind.” Both tops and bottoms should want to please their partners.
5. Creative and receptive to new ideas
Creativity and openness go hand in hand with wanting to please. Bottoms should offer up ideas on activities to explore, and tops should welcome this input and provide ideas of their own in order to craft and direct great scenes.
Flexibility is also important: Tops should be flexible enough to change what they’re doing if it’s not working for the bottom, and bottoms should grant the top creative license to alter scenes as they see fit as long as what’s happening is within the bounds of established limits.
Bottoms should always respect the top’s limits (yes, tops have limits, too!). Bottoms should also be cognizant of the amount of energy and effort tops put into designing scenes and should be willing to acknowledge and show appreciation for it. Likewise, tops should always respect the bottom’s limits and have his or her best interests at heart.
While tops are not solely responsible for dreaming up everything that happens in the bedroom, they are generally in charge of determining how agreed-upon interests manifest in a given scene. This usually involves some forethought and a lot of decision making during the scene to mitigate any potential risks to the bottom and to ensure that the scene flows smoothly and includes the right combination of elements as well as aftercare.
At the end of the day, be nice to each other—especially when you’re being mean.