Top to Bottom: How Defining Your Position Can Limit What You Do in the Bedroom

Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Sex & Pscyhology September 13, 2019

A lot of gay men identify with a specific position: “top” or “bottom.” These position labels are so self-defining that some guys put them in their profile headlines on hook-up apps. Others go as far as to wear them on t-shirts so that there’s no mistaking what they’re into.

Research suggests that the vast majority of men in this community define themselves in terms of one of these two labels. For example, one study found that 43% identified as bottoms while 26% identified as tops; the remaining third said they were versatile.

So why is that? How come most gay men self-segregate into a top-bottom binary? Also, what are the implications—if any—for what they do in the bedroom (or elsewhere)? I’m going to answer those questions for you in this article.

Let’s start with why most guys come to identify as either tops or bottoms. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is because men in the LGBT community, tend to define what they do in the bedroom. To count as ‘doing it’ the butt needs to be involved. 

If everything comes down to this definition, this is necessarily going to create pressure on you to figure out what your role is going to be. It’s also going to create pressure on you to determine what other people’s roles are as well.

Once people are sorted into these narrow roles, they start treating each other in ways that are consistent with them.

Once people are sorted into these narrow roles, they start treating each other in ways that are consistent with them. In other words, a self-fulfilling prophecy kicks in. For example, you might not have the opportunity to explore other roles because people are already expecting something of you in ‘your’ role.

So how do you figure out your role in the first place? That depends on a number of factors. For example, it can be influenced by cultural attitudes, such as the popular (but inaccurate) stereotype that topping is inherently “masculine,” whereas bottoming is inherently “feminine.” People who live in areas where there’s more pressure to be butch might allow these stereotypes to dictate what they do and how they identify.

FEEL THE SCIENCE

Learn more about Future Method Cleansing Solution—today.

Shop NoW

Roles are also influenced by our early intimate experiences and the partners we are with. For instance, if your first boyfriend was a total top and you weren’t very experienced, you might find yourself taking on a bottom role—a role that’s likely to persist in future relationships because it has become part of your intimate identity.

Regardless of where this initial role identification comes from, adopting strict position labels has a limiting effect on our love lives.

For one thing, it might limit who you select for hook ups or relationship partners. A lot of people think that two tops or two bottoms can never make a go of it because, well, what are they going to do in bed? If you take this narrow view of intimacy - and subscribe to the idea that position labels are what they are and never change - you might very well pass up on some great hook up and romantic opportunities.

For another, it can limit your bedroom skills. People who have experience both topping and bottoming are likely to have a better sense of what feels good to someone in each position and, therefore, will probably end up being better in bed.

Rigid position labels can also limit your love life by making encounters feel scripted and predictable...

Rigid position labels can also limit your love life by making encounters feel scripted and predictable - because it’s the same thing every time. It can also prevent you from exploring your own body and figuring out what feels good to you. In other words, you might be missing out on a lot of pleasure because you’ve been confined by a label.

If you’re someone who identifies as a strict top or bottom, what I hope you take away from this is that all of the pressure we put on ourselves to fit into these neat little boxes that define our roles might be limiting not just pleasure, but also opportunities for love.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that when it comes to what two guys get up to, despite all of the emphasis put on the butt, most gay men say that come into play during their most recent encounter. Remember that intimacy is so much more than a single part of the body.

Not only that, but research finds that people who mix it up and keep doing different things get the most satisfaction in bed, which is yet another reason to continue trying new things.

So don’t let some arbitrary position label dictate the direction of your love life. You’re so much more than just a position.

About the author

Dr. Justin Lehmiller has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Purdue University and is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He’s an avid author, blogger and prolific researcher on topics such as the psychology of relationships and intimacy, having published more than 50 academic works to date in each of the leading journals on intimacy.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Future Method, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

GET IN ON THE ACTION

Discover the cleansing solution for worry-free bottoming.

Shop Now