Tops and bottoms
In BDSM, a top is a partner who takes the role of giver in such acts as bondage,
flogging, humiliation, or servitude. The top performs acts such as these upon
the bottom, who is the person receiving for the duration of a scene. Although it
is easy to assume that a top is dominant and a bottom is submissive, it is not
The top is sometimes the partner who is following instructions, i.e., he tops
when, and in the manner, requested by the bottom. A person who applies sensation
or control to a bottom, but does so at the bottom's explicit instruction is a
service top. Contrast the service top with the pure dominant, who might give
orders to a submissive, or otherwise employ physical or psychological techniques
of control, but might instruct the submissive to perform the act on him or her.
The same goes for bottoms and submissives. At one end of the continuum is a
submissive who enjoys taking orders from a dominant but does not receive any
physical stimulation. At the other is a bottom who enjoys the intense physical
and psychological stimulation but does not submit to the person delivering them.
It should be noted that the bottom is most often the partner who is giving
instructions — the top typically tops when, and in the manner, requested by the
bottom. However, there is a purist school of BDSM, for whom such "topping from
the bottom" is incompatible with the retention of high ethical standards in the
relationships wherein BDSM is practised.
Within a sadomasochisic context, submissive is only roughly synonymous with
bottom. Others opine that a "submissive" is specifically pursuing a
dominant/submissive power-exchange as a key element, whereas a "bottom" may or
may not be interested (or even willing) to engage in that exchange. For the
latter, some have proposed the "pitcher" and "catcher" (borrowed from baseball
terminology) as more neutral terminology, with the "pitcher" delivering the
sensation, the instruction, etc; and the "catcher" receiving what is "pitched."
These are in contrast to the term slave, which is a situation where the
'"submissive" in a TPE or Total Power Exchange relationship gives up all control
to their "dominant" not just for a "scene" but for a "24/7" continuing