flexibeast.space - gemlog - 2024-04-03

On the notion that tops need to have experienced what they do to their bottoms

A while ago i wrote a post about the Old Guard notion that “Only the best bottoms make it to the top”:

“‘Only the best bottoms make it to the top’: wut”

in which i quoted Jack Rinella, writing in “The Philosophy of the Dungeon”:

The wisdom of the day insisted that I have to get before I could give.

i encountered this topic again on FetLife recently: someone posted that they feel that tops should have experience of what they do to their bottoms (modulo needing to be conscious that their experience(s) might not be identical to what their bottom might experience).

i won't repeat the issues i covered in my previous post; i'd just like to add some additional comments.

To begin with, i think it's important to make a distinction between ‘experience’ in the sense of:

“literally going through a scene as a bottom, and having certain things done to oneself as part of that scene”

compared to

“having at least a rough sense of what certain things might feel like, based on experimentation done outside a scene”.

As a top and sadist, i actively test the things i'm planning to use for impact play - not only by e.g. hitting pillows with them, to get a sense of their weight and balance, but also by hitting myself with them, to get a sense of the extent to which they're ‘thuddy’ or ‘sting-y’[a]. And i'll usually do so with varying levels of force - up to, say, a 5 or 6 out of 10 on my personal pain scale[b]. Some things result in me going higher: when i've tested Ethernet and others comms/electrical cables on myself, i've found that there's not much in-between a ‘0’, ‘1’ or ‘2’, and a ‘7’ or ‘8’.

However, there's toppy and sadistic play i do, or would be willing to do, within the context of RACK[c], which i would not be willing to have done to me, because doing so would result in harm to me.

i here make a distinction between ‘hurt’ and ‘harm’, a distinction to which i was introduced by my possession. My possession is a masochist, and wants me to hurt her; similarly, i'm a sadist who enjoys inflicting hurt on someone who's actively seeking it. But neither of us want me to harm her: neither of us wants me to inflict long-term physical damage on her, and neither of us wants me to inflict psychological damage on her, of any duration.

So, what sort of stuff might harm me, in this context?

Well, firstly, i'm neurodivergent, in a way that means i experience various sensory inputs much more intensely than many other people do (or seem to). Indeed, for much of my life, i've been regularly told i'm ‘oversensitive’, and that i need to Harden The Fuck Up, Princess (or, as health professionals would put it, “learn distress tolerance” 😛 ). As a result, not only am i keenly aware of what it's like to have one's internal experiences downplayed, dismissed or ignored, such that i have no desire to do such things to others; it almost means that, for example, certain types of impact play might be much more intense for me than for others.

Consequently, even though i think it's important in general, when playing with new partners, to regularly check in with them about what they're experiencing, in order to avoid making inappropriate assumptions that could result in harm to them, it's particularly important for me to do so: i know from experience that my experiences of a sensation can be very different to others' experiences of that sensation (in either direction). i want, and need, to ‘calibrate’ my topping - not only to avoid harming my bottom, but also to make the experience as enjoyable for them as possible.

Secondly, there's stuff that would result in psychological harm to me, often due to past experiences. Such play might be (emotionally) ‘activating’, or a ‘hot button’, or actively ‘triggering’ (a word i don't use lightly). As i wrote in a post a few years ago, “tops are human, too”:

“Tops are human, too”

Given the extent to which cishetnormativity pervades kink, with ‘dominance’ and ‘masculinity’ regularly being closely linked; and given how often ‘masculinity’ is required to involve toxic attitudes and behaviours (toxic to both women and men); and given how, in particular, ‘masculinity’ is said to require a form of physical and emotional ‘toughness’ in which acknowledgement and expression of pain is taken as ‘weakness’, which inherently reduces ‘masculinity’ .... It doesn't surprise me that people don't necessarily consider issues of potential physical and psychological harm to tops.

i strongly feel that no-one should be expected, or forced, to harm themselves, either physically or psychologically, for the sake of somehow ‘qualifying’ to be able to top someone. Not having ‘bottomed’ in a specific way in a specific scene doesn't, by itself, mean that one can't top someone similarly; i feel that the ability to not make assumptions, to listen to others' experiences and take them on board, and to empathise with others, are all at least as important.

Last year i attended a play party, at which i was chatting to someone i know from other kink spaces, but who i've never actually played with. i mentioned to her that i'd recently bought a new flogger, made of upcycled rubber. She expressed an interest in being bottomed with it. i made it very clear to her that i'd not yet actually used it on anyone; she was willing to try it nonetheless. So we did a ‘toy experimentation’ scene, with me using it in various ways on various parts of her (i.e. the parts she'd consented to having things done to). Throughout the entirety of the scene, i regularly checked in with her as to how particular things felt, and how she was feeling overall - interestingly, she told me that the flogger could be both ‘thuddy’ and ‘sting-y’. Afterwards, during aftercare, she indicated that enjoyed the experience.

And then, of course, i feel rather confident that my possession - who's been doing kink for longer than i have, and i've been doing it for well over a decade - would, mm, have Strong Feels about the notion that i shouldn't be doing various things to her because i've not bottomed in those ways myself.

So many things in kink can, and often do, involve a lot of complexity and nuance. It might seem reasonable to make blanket statements along the lines of “All tops and sadists should have experienced what they do to their bottoms”, because one is used to saying such things amongst groups of people who will automatically fill in the relevant caveats. But my experience is that lots of people take such statements at face value, without being aware of the complexities and nuances involved[d] - and this can create situation which result in harm to various people.

🏷 kink,neurodiversity,psychology,sexuality


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[a] My experience is that most people who bottom have a distinct preference in this regard. i've only rarely encountered people who equally enjoy both ‘thuddy’ and ‘sting-y’ impact play.

[b] Where ‘0’ is “doesn't hurt at all”, ‘5’ is roughly “noticeably painful, but something i could deal with in an ongoing way”, ‘8’ is roughly “probably as much as i'm able to cope with in this context”, ‘9’ is “close to my limit”, and ‘10’ is “Nope. Limit.”

[c] ‘Risk-Aware Consensual Kink’.

[d] As i've experienced with people throwing around the phrase “gender is a social construct”:

“On the word ‘gender’ and the phrase ‘gender is a social construct’”