Top, bottom and versatile

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The man on the right is the "top" and the man on the left is the "bottom" Wiki-anal missionary.png
The man on the right is the "top" and the man on the left is the "bottom"

In human sexuality, top, bottom, and versatile are sex positions or roles during sexual activity, especially between two men. A top is usually a person who penetrates, a bottom is usually one who receives penetration, and someone who is versatile engages in either or both roles. These terms may be elements of self-identity that indicate an individual's usual preference and habits, but might also describe broader sexual identities and social roles. [1]


The terms top and bottom are often used as verbs for the person's actions. The terms do not refer to the literal physical position during sex.


19th-century erotic painting depicting Hadrian "topping" Antinous (detail), by Paul Avril Edouard-Henri Avril anal sex detail.jpg
19th-century erotic painting depicting Hadrian "topping" Antinous (detail), by Paul Avril

A top is usually a person who engages in the penetrative role during sexual activity; for men who have sex with men (MSMs), this often involves penetration using the penis during anal or oral sex. [1] Top is also used as a verb meaning "to penetrate another". Top may also describe a broader personal identity involving dominance in a romantic or sexual relationship; however, this stipulation is not a requisite element of being a top.

Several related terms exist. With regard to gay male sexuality, a total top is one who assumes an exclusively penetrative role for sex. [2] A power top is one noted for their great skill or aggressiveness in topping. A service top is "one who tops under the direction of an eager bottom". [3] A versatile top is one who prefers to top but who bottoms occasionally. [4] The terms penetrative partner [5] or giver are synonyms of top, created to describe the act of penetrating without implying non-egalitarian relations among participants.[ citation needed ]

Trevor Hart of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that self-identified tops were more likely to act as the penetrative partner in other sexual activities (besides anal intercourse), including oral sex and sex toy play. [6]


A bottom is usually the receptive partner during sexual penetration. This frequently refers to MSMs who are penetrated via the anus during anal sex. [1] Bottom is also used as a verb meaning "to be penetrated by another, whether anally or orally". Bottom may also describe a wider social context of submission within a romantic or sexual relationship, though this element does not apply to all people who prefer to bottom.

In gay male sexuality, a total bottom is someone who assumes an exclusively receptive role during anal or oral intercourse. A power bottom is someone who aggressively enjoys being the receptive partner. A versatile bottom is one who prefers to bottom but who tops occasionally. [7] The term receiver or receptive partner may be preferred by some. An oral bottom is the exclusively receptive partner in oral sex, providing the penetrative partner, or oral top, with unreciprocated fellatio and irrumatio.


Versatile refers to a person who enjoys both topping and bottoming, or being dominant and submissive, and may alternate between the two in sexual situations. [1] [8] [9] Flip-flop or flip fuck commonly describes switching from top to bottom during one sexual encounter between two men. [10] Each participant penetrates the other and is penetrated in his turn.

Versatility is a concept of lifestyle. [11] Versatility, though, is not limited to the simple acts of anal, oral, or vaginal penetration, but also includes the splitting of duties and responsibilities in the relationship. [12]

The reciprocal scenario, where both men take turns fucking each other, is often exercised as a celebration of equality. What sets this scenario apart from the others is the versatility of the men involved. Versatility is a unique and important feature of male anal sex. Some men consider it liberating; ... Versatility to them is akin to speaking two different languages. It requires a special kind of playfulness, creativity, curiosity, and coordination.

Steven G. Underwood, Gay Men and anal eroticism: tops, bottoms, and versatiles, Harrington Park Press 2003

According to some, living a versatile lifestyle implies a certain openness to new things and an opposition to labels, stereotypes and generalizations. Therefore, this concept differs from heterosexual relationships where sexual compatibility does not begin with guessing who will end up as top or bottom. [1] In self descriptions of men seeking sex with other men, they may refer to themselves as a versatile top or versatile bottom in addition to other commonly used terms.

A 2009 Austrian study on gay pornography has shown that at least 82.4% of all men performing in the male porn industry are versatile at some point during their career. In this study, the performances of 5,556 actors were considered. 10.8% performed only in the top role, 6.8% only as bottoms. The study also found that the actor with the larger penis was more likely to act as the top. [13]


No extensive scientific study has ever been conducted as to firmly determine what percentage of the gay and bisexual male population prefers any given role. A tally of 55,464 profiles on from the United States showed that 26.46% preferred top, while 31.92% preferred bottom, and the largest group (41.62%) preferred versatile. The preferences seemed to vary by state, however. In Wyoming, for example, 16% preferred top, 44% preferred bottom, and 40% preferred versatile. In West Virginia, tops outnumbered bottoms by a slim margin (32% top, 29% bottom, and 39% versatile). In Oregon, "versatile" profiles made up nearly half (48.42%). [14]



In the hanky code, a person flagging the top or active role would wear the hanky in the left pocket, the bottom or passive role on the right. Acts which were not divisible into distinct roles however, such as "69" or "anything" followed a pattern where one flagged interest by wearing the hanky on the right, uninterest by wearing it on the left, and preferences that did not relate to sexual mechanics, such as uniform fetishism or prostitution, followed a pattern where the seeker flagged on the left and the object of desire flagged on the right. [15]

The term side has been proposed by Huffington Post contributor Joe Kort [16] for gay men who are not interested in anal sex.

The cowboy position is anal sex in which the bottom straddles the top. [17] The position is often cited as being advantageous for bottoms who are new to anal sex, as it allows the receiving partner to lower himself on to the other's penis at his own pace. [18]

Alternative terminology

Other terms for top/bottom include active/passive and pitcher/catcher. [19] [20] [5] The intended meanings of activevs. passive in reference to oral sex vs. anal sex can be unclear, however. [21] Switch is sometimes used for versatile. [22]

Role vs. position among sexualities

The terms top, bottom and versatile do not necessarily refer literally to physical position during sex. [23] For example, if the inserting partner lies on his back and the receptive partner straddles him, the inserting partner is still considered the top, and the receptive partner the bottom, despite their reverse physical arrangement. However, when used in reference to heterosexual and lesbian sex, the terms top,bottom and versatile usually refer only to position and not to the penetrative role.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Anal sex insertion of the penis into the anus or other sexual activity involving the anus

Anal sex or anal intercourse is generally the insertion and thrusting of the erect penis into a person's anus, or anus and rectum, for sexual pleasure. Other forms of anal sex include fingering, the use of sex toys for anal penetration, oral sex performed on the anus (anilingus), and pegging. Although anal sex most commonly means penile–anal penetration, sources sometimes use anal intercourse to exclusively denote penile–anal penetration, and anal sex to denote any form of anal sexual activity, especially between pairings as opposed to anal masturbation.

Fellatio Oral sex on the penis by a sexual partner

Fellatio is an oral sex act involving a person stimulating the penis of another person by using the mouth, throat, or both. Oral stimulation of the scrotum may also be termed fellatio, or colloquially as teabagging. If fellatio is performed on oneself, the act is called autofellatio.

Sexual intercourse Copulation or penetrative sexual activity for reproduction or sexual pleasure

Sexual intercourse is sexual activity typically involving the insertion and thrusting of the penis into the vagina for sexual pleasure, reproduction, or both. This is also known as vaginal intercourse or vaginal sex. Other forms of penetrative sexual intercourse include anal sex, oral sex, fingering and penetration by use of a dildo. These activities involve physical intimacy between two or more individuals and are usually used among humans solely for physical or emotional pleasure and can contribute to human bonding.

Handkerchief code Use of color-coded bandannas in the gay and BDSM communities

The handkerchief code is a system of color-coded cloth handkerchief or bandanas for non-verbally communicating one's interests in sexual activities and fetishes. The color of the handkerchief identifies a particular activity, and the pocket it is worn in identifies the wearer's preferred role in that activity. Wearing a handkerchief on the left side of the body typically indicates one is a "top", while wearing it on the right side of the body would indicate one is a "bottom". For example, a dark blue handkerchief indicates an interest in anal sex, and wearing it in the left pocket indicates a preference for being the insertive partner. The code was most widely used in the 1970s in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe, by gay and bisexual men seeking casual sex, or BDSM practitioners.

Sex position position of the body used for sexual activity

A sex position is a position of the body that people use for sexual intercourse or other sexual activities. Sexual acts are generally described by the positions the participants adopt in order to perform those acts. Though sexual intercourse generally involves penetration of the body of one person by another, sex positions commonly involve penetrative or non-penetrative sexual activities.

Missionary position sex position

The missionary position or man-on-top position is a sex position in which, generally, a woman lies on her back and a man lies on top of her while they face each other and engage in vaginal intercourse. The position may also be used for other sexual activity, such as anal sex. It is commonly associated with heterosexual sexual activity, but is also used by same-sex couples.

Sexual penetration Sexual activity that involves inserting a persons body part into another person

Sexual penetration is the insertion of a body part or other object into a body orifice, such as the vagina, anus or mouth, as part of human sexual activity or animal sexual behavior.

Frot Penis-to-penis sexual contact

Frot is a non-penetrative form of male-to-male sexual activity that usually involves direct penis-to-penis contact. The term was popularized by gay men activists who disparaged the practice of anal sex, but has since evolved to encompass a variety of preferences for the act, which may or may not imply particular attitudes towards other sexual activities. Owing to its non-penetrative character, frot has the safe sex advantage of minimizing the transmission risk for HIV/AIDS; however, it still carries the risk of skin-to-skin sexually transmitted infections, such as HPV and pubic lice (crabs), both of which can be transmitted even when lesions are not visible.

Men who have sex with men (MSM), also known as males who have sex with males, are male persons who engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex, regardless of how they identify themselves. They may identify as gay, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, or heterosexual; or dispense with sexual identification altogether.

Oral sex sexual activity involving the stimulation of the genitalia by the use of the mouth

Oral sex, sometimes referred to as oral intercourse, is sexual activity involving the stimulation of the genitalia of a person by another person using the mouth and the throat. Cunnilingus is oral sex performed on the vulva or vagina, while fellatio is oral sex performed on the penis. Anilingus, another form of oral sex, is oral stimulation of the anus. Oral stimulation of other parts of the body, such as by kissing or licking, is not considered oral sex.

Strap-on dildo Device used for sexual penetration or other sexual activity

A strap-on dildo is a dildo designed to be worn, usually with a harness, during sexual activity. Harnesses and dildos are made in a wide variety of styles, with variations in how the harness fits the wearer, how the dildo attaches to the harness, as well as various features intended to facilitate stimulation of the wearer or a sexual partner. Strap-on dildos can be used by people of any gender or sexuality.

Homosexuality in ancient Rome

Homosexuality in ancient Rome often differs markedly from the contemporary West. Latin lacks words that would precisely translate "homosexual" and "heterosexual". The primary dichotomy of ancient Roman sexuality was active/dominant/masculine and passive/submissive/feminine. Roman society was patriarchal, and the freeborn male citizen possessed political liberty (libertas) and the right to rule both himself and his household (familia). "Virtue" (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself. The conquest mentality and "cult of virility" shaped same-sex relations. Roman men were free to enjoy sex with other males without a perceived loss of masculinity or social status, as long as they took the dominant or penetrative role. Acceptable male partners were slaves and former slaves, prostitutes, and entertainers, whose lifestyle placed them in the nebulous social realm of infamia, excluded from the normal protections accorded to a citizen even if they were technically free. Although Roman men in general seem to have preferred youths between the ages of 12 and 20 as sexual partners, freeborn male minors were off limits at certain periods in Rome, though professional prostitutes and entertainers might remain sexually available well into adulthood.

Non-penetrative sex Sexual activity that usually does not include sexual penetration

Non-penetrative sex or outercourse is sexual activity that usually does not include sexual penetration. It generally excludes the penetrative aspects of vaginal, anal, or oral sexual activity, but includes various forms of sexual and non-sexual activity, such as frottage, mutual masturbation, kissing, or cuddling. Some forms of non-penetrative sex, particularly when termed outercourse, include penetrative aspects, such as penetration that may result from forms of fingering or oral sex.

Lesbian sexual practices Sexual practices between women

Lesbian sexual practices are sexual activities involving women who have sex with women, regardless of their sexual orientation. A woman who has sex with another woman may identify as a lesbian if she is sexually attracted to women, or bisexual if she is not exclusively sexually attracted to women, or dispense with sexual identification altogether. The term may also be applied to a heterosexual or asexual woman who is unsure of or is exploring her sexuality.

Cunnilingus Oral sex on the vulva or vagina by a sexual partner

Cunnilingus is an oral sex act performed by a person on the vulva or vagina of another person. The clitoris is the most sexually sensitive part of the human female genitalia, and its stimulation may result in a woman becoming sexually aroused or achieving orgasm.

Top, bottom, switch (BDSM) Roles in BDSM practices

The terms top, bottom, and switch are used to describe roles for the duration of a sometimes-sexual act, or may be used more broadly as a psychological, social, and sexual identity, as well as indicating one's usual preference. The terms top, bottom, and switch are also used in BDSM, with slightly different meanings. In both contexts, the terms top and bottom refer to dominant or submissive, or active and passive roles, not to who is physically on top in a particular sexual act. The older term "versatile" is sometimes used instead of "switch".

Baseball metaphors for sex "First base", etc., as sexual euphemism

In American slang, baseball metaphors for sex are often used as euphemisms for the degree of physical intimacy achieved in sexual encounters or relationships. In the metaphor, first prevalent in the aftermath of World War II, sexual activities are described as if they are actions in a game of baseball. Baseball has also served as the context for metaphors about sexual roles and identity.

Gay sexual practices Sexual practices between men

Gay sexual practices are sexual activities involving men who have sex with men (MSM), regardless of their sexual orientation or sexual identity. Evidence shows that sex between men is significantly underreported in surveys due to social desirability bias.

Gender roles in non-heterosexual communities are a topic of much debate; some people believe traditional, heterosexual gender roles are often erroneously enforced on non-heterosexual relationships by means of heteronormative culture and attitudes towards these non-conformative relationships.

Danmei is a genre of literature and other fictional media, originating from China. Danmei is typically created by, and targeted towards a heterosexual female audience. The term itself means "indulgence in beauty" and symbolizes the romanticizing of male–male relationships, from a female perspective.The term "Danmei" first appeared in modern Japanese literature, as another literary writing style presented to oppose "naturalism" literature. There is the "Danmei School", whose original intention was to oppose naturalism, which mainly exposes the ugly side of human nature, and wanted to find out the beauty of sensibility and intoxicate the meaning of pursuing literature. Tanmei is pronounced TANBI in Japanese, which means "beautiful and romantic".


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