How Gay Couples With the Same Positional Preferences Make It Work

"I’m certainly not topping, so what are we going to do?"

Picture this: You’re on a date that is going extraordinarily well. The chemistry is palpable, and you’re excited to bring them back to your apartment, which you’ve cleaned for the occasion. Over dinner, however, you notice they haven’t touched their food, electing to munch on the ice chips in their glass instead. That’s when it hits you: Your potential soulmate is a bottom — and so are you.

Positional politics can be a determining factor in queer relationships, something most heterosexual people can’t relate to (although as pegging becomes more normalized thanks to media like Broad City, these lines are becoming blurred as well). Unless explicitly stated on an app or in person, we have no way of determining whether someone prefers to pitch, catch, or both.

So, what does one do in such a predicament? Do you give up and ghost or gamble and explore the chemistry further? I posed this question on Twitter, and of the 200-plus voters who responded, 75% said that they would seriously consider dating somebody with whom they shared a positional preference.

“I would never date another bottom unless they’ve checked off all of the other boxes I require in a man,” Zach, a 30-year-old bottom who voted no, tells NewNowNext. “Sex is important to me in a relationship, and I’m certainly not topping, so what are we going to do?”

Sam, 29, has a more cavalier attitude. “I’ve spent the last 12 months with nothing but toys, so I’m pretty sure I could cope,” he shares. “Penetrative sex isn’t all that anyways.”

Todd Baratz, a licensed individual and couples’ therapist, agrees. “There is so much focus on penetration, and it’s often at the expense of a variety of different pleasurable sexual experiences, from mutual masturbation to oral,” he tells NewNowNext. “Sometimes it’s not possible to fuck (for a number of reasons), and sometimes we fall in love with someone who has a similar penetrative preference.”

Pierce, 25, and Robert, 23, who both identify as total tops, are prime examples. The pair matched on Tinder during the pandemic and dated virtually for a few months before they felt it was safe to meet in person. While their penetrative preference was not mentioned in either of their profiles, the two had talked about their sexual proclivities prior to making things official.

“Robert explained why he was uncomfortable bottoming and it took me to a traumatic place where I was forced to bottom when I didn’t want to. After we exchanged this vulnerable information with each other, our priorities shifted, and we decided that our mutual comfort was most important,” Pierce tells NewNowNext. “I’ll admit I had a difficult time cumming at first and still do from time to time. I’m just not used to foreplay leading into — what I considered at the time — just more foreplay.”

Given that penetration was off the table, the two actively explored each other’s kinks. Pierce discovered that he became really turned on when Robert took on the dominant role and was relieved to find that this dynamic could be achieved without penetration. “I’ve grown to realize that penetrative sex doesn’t have to be a huge part of physical attraction,” he says, “and we’ve managed to show our love and affection through other means.”

Hampton, 26, met Jared, 27, at a holiday party hosted by a mutual friend more than two years ago. After a night of heavy flirting, the two scheduled a date the next day and have been together ever since. Both identify as tops but insist that it has never been an issue in their relationship.

“He’s bottomed for me a couple of times and I’ve tried to bottom for him, but Jesus, he’s too big,” Hampton admits. “We still have fun trying. We’ve made a habit of communicating our sexual needs with each other and enjoy other ways of getting off together, whether that’s mutual masturbation, threesomes, and so on.”

Similar to Pierce, Jared helped Hampton expand his mind beyond the limitations of penetrative sex. “He made it clear that dating someone who is a bottom is less important than finding someone he truly likes as a person and wants to date,” he shares. “He’s showed me there are many ways to have fun sex that don’t require penetration.”

“I like to encourage people to have a diverse investment strategy in their sexuality,” adds Baratz, the licensed therapist. “The more things you enjoy, the more expansive your sexuality can be. Hot sex isn’t based on the sexual act. It’s based on sexual chemistry, connection, eroticism, and more. You can have penetrative sex and it can be really boring, so it’s not the end-all be-all.”

All of us, regardless of sexual orientation, have internalized scripts about penetration being the concluding sexual act. But these scripts stem from cisgender, heterosexual intercourse that prioritizes procreation. When queers center or define our sexuality around penetration, we perpetuate these limiting and outdated notions of what sex “should” look like even if we don’t mean to.

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When working with couples who seek alternatives to penetrative sex, Baratz urges each person to make an effort to better understand their partner’s turn-ons (something he says many couples don’t know, but think they do) so they can better pleasure them in other ways. “Take turns giving, receiving, and taking pleasure — with consent, of course,” he says. “Explore fantasies, massage, role-play, and whatever else you both find erotic and exciting.”

If working on things within the relationship still isn’t hitting the mark, consensual non-monogamy is another option. Research has found more than 40% of gay men have an agreement that sex outside of their relationship is permissible compared to less than 5% of heterosexual and lesbian couples.

“As I evolved into polyamory, positional preference isn’t much of an issue when finding a partner. It’s actually pretty low on my list,” Robbie, 35, tells NewNowNext. “The best way around the issue of two tops is to be open and to share a bottom, or vice versa. Once you remove sex from being the foundation of a relationship, you’re able to see more clearly and connect on deeper levels.”

When it comes to any preference in relationships, it’s best to be flexible and allow room for our partner’s preferences even if they are at odds with our own. “If I didn’t like baseball and my partner was obsessed, I’d probably go to a game or two with them,” Baratz says. “Sex is no different. Please your partner! Not only is it a great way to connect, but you might be surprised and have some fun along the way.”

Bobby Box is a freelance journalist and editor whose work on sex, relationships, culture, and sexuality has been published in the Daily Beast, Playboy, Them., Into, Women’s Health, Complex, PopSugar, among others.