The Queer Woman’s Guide to Top and Bottom Culture

These terms aren't just for gay men.

For many queer women, having people misunderstand the dynamics of our sex lives can be annoying, but even for ourselves it can be difficult to put into words everything that comes with our intimacy. One common confusion is how sexual dynamics like top and bottom work for those who aren’t queer men, so I’d like to help alleviate that confusion.

In the past, I’ve written about queer women’s sexual expression in practical advice and thirsty prose, as well as penning the definitive Bottom’s Manifesto. Now, I’d like help give the world a clearer understanding of what top/bottom dynamics really mean to queer women, and how they manifest within our communities.

What do top and bottom mean for lesbians?

While culture at large perceives top and bottom to be purely based on penetration, that’s not the entirety of what these terms mean, for queers of any gender. The easiest analogy would be that topping or bottoming is like choosing who gets to lead while ballroom dancing, except hornier. Be it oral, BDSM, role-playing, or penetrative sex, the labels top and bottom simply state who is giving (the top) or receiving (the bottom) in a sexual encounter.

Does having long nails mean someone is a bottom?

No. Dykes with nails can be tops. I’ve known many. As long as you’re paying attention to your lover and not flopping your hand around inside of their holes like a Magikarp, you’ll be fine.

Is there a top shortage?

No. The top shortage is a myth created and perpetuated by an insidious cabal of lazy bottoms who can’t be bothered to seek out and ask for what they want from partners.

If there isn’t a top shortage, then why are there so many bottoms?

Because a lot of people either aren’t giving lovers or don’t know what they want, and think that counts as bottoming. The real problem is there aren’t enough skilled and responsible tops or bottoms, but it’s easier to bullshit a receptive action than an active one.

How do you know if someone is a top?

Check their references. If all their exes are bottoms, that’s a pretty good sign.

What is Top4Top?

Top4Top is another way of saying “aggressively switching.”

What is Bottom4Bottom?

Bottom4Bottom is another way of saying “double-ended dildo owners.”

Are switches real?

Switches exist. They are real people, totally valid, and wonderful lovers who can understand numerous sexual points of view. However, switches do not deserve rights.

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Are tops funny?

Not intentionally.

Will tops have a sense of humor about this answer?

No, but they lay the strap so it’s fine.

Is it true that bottoms can’t drive?

Service bottoms can drive. Bottoms of rural or smalltown origin can drive. City bottoms and greedy holes are hazardous to public safety behind the wheel.

What is a kitchen top?

A kitchen top isn’t anything. It is just something people who are bossy when cooking like to call themselves. As someone who’s worked in food service, I can tell you the word for that is chef. A difficult chef.

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What does top/bottom culture look like for queers?

Top culture is preparing for a date by dressing comfortable yet sexy, and packing a bag full of toys. You know, just in case.
Bottom culture is getting ready for a date by accentuating all your best features and practicing the phrase Oh yeah, I’m totally a switch in the mirror until you believe it. You know, just in case.

Bottom culture is fetishizing forearms and having very specific lube preferences.
Top culture is fetishizing hips and collarbones, and only keeping one kind of
lube at home unless otherwise requested in advance.

Top culture is having a driver’s license, working a 9-to-5, and having a reasonable bedtime.
Bottom culture is being a workaholic freelance creative, running a meme page, and taking public transport.

Top culture is saying no to something just to make your bottom horny.
Bottom Culture is making your top horny by wearing their clothes (and then keeping them forever because they look so good on you).

Bottom culture is being taller than your top.
Top culture is being, at the very most, 5’8”.

Bottom culture is yelling, being funny, and still somehow not knowing the difference between the two.
Top culture is pride in your emotional unavailability, or, as you and your therapist call them, “boundaries.”

Top culture is providing snacks as aftercare and always having clean towels and puppy pads at the ready.
Bottom culture is giving massages as aftercare and never offering to clean the toy after it’s been all up inside of you.

Top culture is being turned on by self-awareness and good communication.
Bottom culture is being turned on by competence and thoughtfulness.

Bottom culture is ALL CAPS, “What’s your ETA?” and the puppy dog eyes emoji.
Top culture is not caring about punctuation, grammar, or proper capitalization while texting as long as your point gets across.

Top culture is carefully curating your sex toy collection to match your personal aesthetic and never straying.
Bottom culture is owning a menagerie of mismatched sex toys you got in breakups, grab bags, and L Word trivia contests (save for that weird-shaped one you splurged on because it perfectly suits your holes).

Top culture is drinking sweet or frou frou coffee, smoking light cigarettes, and always bringing flats when you wear heels.
Bottom culture is drinking black coffee, smoking unfiltered cigarettes, and wearing shit-kicker boots.

Bottom culture is being fed up with people saying you have “top energy” just because you are confident and outgoing.
Top culture is getting tired of explaining why you are still a top no matter how much you like getting fisted.

Top culture is getting really sentimental about sex toys and getting rid of them post-breakup.
Bottom culture is keeping a dildo post-breakup because it hits your spot just right.

Bottom culture is giving your therapist in-depth reasoning on why Daddy is something you call your girlfriend, not your dad.
Top culture is processing your mommy issues in therapy rather than the bedroom, but still having your bottom call you Mommy because, duh, it’s hot.

Top culture is projecting the image that you have your shit together when that is, in fact, not the case.
Bottom culture is not having your shit together and fully owning it.

Chingy Nea (a.k.a. TheGayChingy) is a writer, comedian, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend based on the West Coast. Her thoughts on queer life, pop culture, and weird sex have been featured in Jezebel, Out Magazine, MTV News, Them, and Autostraddle.