I’m a 24 year-old gay man, and I’ve had a problem for most of my life: I always find myself being cast as the role of a bottom in hookups and relationships. When I was going through puberty, and really since then, my sexual fantasies tend to be very much oriented toward topping. But when it comes to the actual act, I find myself more often than not bottoming. It has been especially true and frustrating in relationships.
With one past boyfriend, there was a legitimate reason where he had something along the lines of IBS, and it was always painful for him every time we tried. Other than that, it seems that most guys I get with desire me primarily as a bottom, even versatile guys. I am an attractive guy and don’t have trouble finding sex when I want it. And I’m not interested in guys who only bottom, because I am versatile and enjoy and want both sexual experiences.
This is playing out in a frustrating fashion right now. I have been seeing a guy for two months now, and things have been going pretty well. And sexually, for the first several weeks we were having sex it was very even, with us pretty much taking turns topping and bottoming. But the past several times we had sex I ended up bottoming, and the most recent time I expressed that I wanted to top this time. He said it wasn’t a good time since hadn’t eaten well over the past day and he has to work. That’s fair, and we’ve talked about that before and I’m ok with it. But then he said that he thinks topping is going to be his default now, and that with me he prefers topping, though with past relationships that has not always been the case, and joked about how that was my fault for being so good at bottoming. And when I kind of grudgingly agreed to bottom he said something along the lines of, "Why are you upset? You like bottoming." And then when we were having sex he tried to make me feel better by saying how cute and pretty I was.
This experience set off all kinds of anxieties, that I don’t fault him for but need to find out how to work through with him. It’s frustrating that I feel like I’m being punished for trying to be good when I bottom, because it makes him only want to top. Hearing that really kills my desire to bottom, and to find pleasure in it and be enthused about it. And knowing that there’s something about me as opposed to past guys he’s dated that makes him want to top more just reinforces the pattern I’ve seen with my sex life. I’ve asked him every time I top how I can make it enjoyable for him. I’ve wanted to have him come before me because I know how good it feels and I want to focus on bringing him to orgasm, but he insists on always coming second. And I find it frustrating that he thinks that since I find bottoming enjoyable I should always be happy to bottom.
And to top it off, he used these very emasculating and diminutive words while he was topping me. I’ll admit I have some insecurities about not being more masculine, but I’m not feminine either. I’ve always identified more with being a slender, poorly coordinated, nerdy guy than with any large degree of masculinity or femininity. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with both of those, and whenever I’ve tried displaying either it has felt unnatural and very much like a performance. But I hate the stereotypes and stigmas that the gay community often puts on bottoms (and the stereotypes and praise it puts on tops). Like that parody song “That Boy Is a Bottom." I hate it every time I hear it. And I don’t like those stereotypes and assumptions being placed on me, in part because I don’t want to deal with them and in part because I don’t feel like they fit me as a person. And I’m vers for crying out loud. I love butts. I love dick. I’m tired of people assuming my sexual roles and desires based on my appearance, and because I have a less dominant personality. I hate how much the gay community labels people like this, and how we place the damaging gender roles and stereotypes heterosexual people have to deal with on ourselves. I guess I’m supposed to not give a fuck about how people view me, but it’s frustrating when it affects how they treat me, and affects my sex life.
I talked to him about some of my concerns, but it didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I tried to focus on how I felt and not blame him for anything, but his response was very focused on himself. He kept saying how none of that was on him, and I kept agreeing and pointing out that how I felt was my issue, but that I wanted him to know so he would understand why I’d like to continue having a fairly equal distribution of topping and bottoming. I also mentioned that it had thrown me off for the whole day, and his response to that was that he couldn’t see how it could have bothered me for a whole day. He ended up being kind of dismissive of how I felt. One of his suggestions was that if I don’t want to bottom then I just say so, and then if he doesn’t want to bottom either we just won’t have sex. Which is fair, but I don’t like the potential standoffs that implies, and if we just stop having sex that’s obviously going to kill the relationship. And tbh I would often rather bottom than not have sex. This is one of the reasons I think I end up bottoming so often; I want to have sex, and the other guy is more inclined to have sex if they get to top, so that’s what happens.
I guess I should be more assertive of what I want sexually. And that if I’m upset enough about not getting to top more, then I should not have sex if that’s not an option, rather than giving in and bottoming. I just feeling like I won’t be able to have as much sex if I insist on topping more, because it seems like guys sexually desire me first and foremost as a bottom. This also feels like a self-centered approach to sex, to only have sex if I can have sex the way I want it. Isn’t part of good sex and a relationship being open to your partner’s sexual desires, and trying to find ways to please them?
This is the first guy I’ve been in a relationship with in at least three years, and I am otherwise really enjoying the relationship. And it is the first relationship where I have had so far relatively equal opportunity in bed. But I am nervous that the equality is quickly going to slip away and I’ll end up in the same situation I’ve been in the past. What can I do to work with him, so we don’t fall into a rut where he tops by default? I don’t want this to be something to break up over.
Sorry for the wall of text. This top/bottom thing has been bothering me for so many years and I am endlessly frustrated by it. Why are these nouns? They really should just be verbs.
This Boy Is A Versatile Man
It's Friday, it's been a long week, and I'm feeling zonked and scattered. So I'm not gonna to dig into every issue you've raise in your long, long letter, TBIAVM, and I don't really need to. The answer you're looking for is right there in paragraph ten or eleven of your letter: be more assertive. Yeah. Do that. Be more assertive. That's the ticket.
But a couple of quick points...
You refer to topping and bottoming as "both sexual experiences," TBIAVM, and use "sex" to mean "anal sex" throughout your letter. But there's more to gay sex than anal, just as there's more to straight sex than vaginal. There's also more to versatility than topping or bottoming during anal: you can be versatile at and with oral, mutual masturbation, rimming, frottage, BDSM, and more. So instead of bottoming the next time you wanna fuck and your boyfriend doesn't feel like getting fucked, TBIAVM, try blowing each other or jerking each other off or tying each other up and blowing and jerking each other off. You don't have to default to one role or the other during anal intercourse. You can default to something else entirely.
If we no longer regard women who are strong and assertive as somehow unfeminine—and we don't anymore—we shouldn't regard men who are beautiful as somehow emasculated. Women and girls can be strong and still be feminine; men and boys can be be cute and pretty and still be masculine. Please make a note of it.
I really liked the way you put this, TBIAVM: "This top/bottom thing... Why are these nouns? They really should just be verbs." But the editor in me wants to make two little tweaks: "Why are these only nouns? They can just be verbs."
Some gay and bi men identify very strongly with these roles—top/bottom as nouns—and find them meaningful, resonant, and erotically charged. There's nothing wrong with identifying as a top or a bottom, just as there's nothing wrong with identifying as neither or versatile or as someone who isn't into anal at all. But some gay and bi men out there view topping or bottoming as something they are, not just something they do. So those terms aren't ever going to "just" be verbs. People shouldn't be consigned to categories by others, of course, and perhaps fewer people would consign themselves to these categories if gay culture/porn/men didn't put so much emphasis on them. But you have no more right to strip self-identified/self-actualized tops and bottoms of the labels they've embraced than your boyfriend has to "default" you into bottoming for him exclusively.
Circling back to the advice you gave yourself: be more assertive. And if you wind feeling pressured into bottoming every time you have anal sex with your boyfriend, try take anal sex—and your pretty, cute, and skilled butt—off the sex menu for a while. If you don't default to anal every time you have sex, TBIAVM, you can't default to bottoming either.