Top is a partner who, at least nominally, has control and takes the dominant/giving role in such acts as bondagediscipline (e.g. flogging) or humiliation. The top might use physical or psychological means to perform acts such as these upon the bottom. In Japanese bondage and sexually-themed anime and manga (especially yaoi), a top is referred to as seme, a term from Martial Arts.

A top may be male or female and of any sexual orientation. A top need not be a sexual top (i.e. insertive sex partner). Activities between a Top and Bottom might or might not include sex.

In order to explore BDSM, it is essential for a top to be responsive to the needs, feelings, and limits of his or her bottom. Otherwise the scene can be ruined, being simply painful or inconvenient rather than erotic.

It is possible for two partners to switch roles from one encounter to the other, or even during a single encounter, depending on mood and preference.

A top might also be a sadist but is unlikely to be a masochist. A top in the dominant role is not necessarily a Dominant or Master.

The relationship between a top and their bottom may be very transitory or can be permanent, including being married. Whatever the circumstances, accurate and clear negotiation is recommended.

Topping Under Direction

The top is sometimes the partner who is following instructions, i.e., they apply sensation or control to a bottom when, and in the manner, requested by the bottom, either generally or for a specific scene. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • service top, often a Dominatrix, may be acting upon the bottom as a favor or commercial service. Many professional service tops are not dominant in general and many will switch according to the customer.
  • The bottom may want to be dominated in some way but also feels a desire or need to direct the top precisely how to do it. This is known as ‘Topping From The Bottom’ and is normally considered in a derogatory manner because it often indicates that the bottom doesn’t trust the top well enough for some reason, or simply that a scene has not been negotiated thoroughly enough.
  • The bottom may want to be dominated in some way – particularly bondage or flogging – and has far more experience than the top, who needs to learn how to do things safely and well to achieve the desired results for the bottom.

A top who has been given more power in general over their partner and might give orders would usually be termed a Dom (or Dominant) or possibly a Master, or the gender equivalents.


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