An Introduction To Bottoming

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
Recently, the queer dating app Lex made an Instagram post that, though it has just under 6,000 likes, has appeared in at least a dozen of my friends’ Instagram Stories. It reads: “Lex app year in review: 1,233,699 bottoms; 84 tops; 12,451 unsure if it’s a date or friend hang; 9,677 miles, longest distance traveled for first date; 20 feet, (bedroom to bedroom) shortest distance traveled for first date; 4,333,829 used ‘tender’ to describe themselves.” The most-liked comment? “I refuse to believe there are that many tops.”
Lex is an app specifically for, as they put it, “womxn and trans, genderqueer, intersex, Two Spirit, and non-binary ppl,” so if you’ve only heard about “tops” and “bottoms” in the context of gay men, you might be a bit confused. While "top" and "bottom" might, in some contexts, refer to the penetrator and the receiver, it can also be more complicated than that.
To help explain, I turned to an expert: Chingy Nea, who writes a blog called The Bottom Line, and is, as her Twitter bio puts it, “a writer, a comedian, a better bottom than you.”
Bottoming, she tells Refinery29, “is either gay or kinky or both, but it’s in some way related to sex that’s historically (and often still) treated as deviant. I’d say a dude banging a lady is not topping."
Nea adds, "Bottoming also doesn’t necessarily imply you are being penetrated (bottoms who fist erasure!!!), but that you are on the receiving end of an encounter or fantasy someone is playing out with you.” 
Bottoming isn’t about taking a passive role during sex, either. “I’m of the belief that bottoming requires intention,” Nea says. “A lot of people are called bottoms who are actually just are lazy or passive in sex by default, and they're unaware of what they want. Which I get, since we’re not taught to have sexual identity outside of basic heterosexuality, and definitely not supposed to talk about how we want to bang.”
She explains, “Being a bottom is about choosing receptivity. My bottoming is tied to kink and power dynamics, so bottoming is really an act of submission for me, and submission is an act of trust. It’s like choosing a ballroom dance partner and letting them lead, except hornier. It’s saying, ‘I trust you to see me and know me in a state that’s carnal and vulnerable and am excited to see where you’ll take me.’”
Nea spells out the key to being a good bottom in her essay “I'm A Much Better Bottom Than You. Here's Why,” and you’d do well to read it. “Most good tops, especially the kinky ones, will see a bottom not knowing what they want as a huge red flag, and they’re not wrong,” she writes. “Even if you want them to run the show, you have to give a top some sense of direction. How do you expect them to take you on a ride to Funky Town if you’ve got no clue which route you want to take? It’s essential that you be real with yourself about your erotic desires and think about what it is you’re actually looking for.”
And as for the "top shortage"? According to Nea, it's a myth.

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series