Q&A: How Do I Know if I’m a Submissive or a Bottom?

Do you wonder whether you’re a submissive or a bottom? Has someone told you that you’re more one than the other? This is such a tricky question because, like all things, the answer is completely personal and your choice.

The definition of what it means to be submissive or to be a bottom is often hotly debated amongst kinksters, but like any label, it is what you make of it. If you’re trying to figure out which you are (if it even matters), here are some things to consider.

Relationship vs. Activity

For some people the delineation between submissive and bottom is crystal clear. Submission is how you relate to a Dominant partner in a power exchange relationship. Being a bottom is how you relate during sex, within a specific kinky activity, and/or in BDSM scenes.

To submit in a relationship, within this context, is to negotiate giving up control in some way. You and a partner (sexual, romantic, platonic, etc) discuss what you will and won’t do within the context of this relationship. You may follow specific rules or you may defer to the Dominant partner (or both).

Being a bottom, from this view, means you’re on the receiving end of whatever’s being dished out — bondage, impact play, sensation play, etc. You may (or may not) enter a submissive headspace or subspace (because endorphins don’t care about relationship status), but you’re a bottom because of your part in the activity.

Accepting Another’s Will vs Receiving Only What You Want

For some people, submission is very clearly about serving or submitting in some way, setting aside their own immediate wishes, wants, and needs in even a small way. They bend to the will (which isn’t always a cruel will, by the way) of their Dominant partner. For others, being a submissive means they’ll accept — within their boundaries and limits — whatever their partner wants.

To be on the receiving end as a bottom does not equate to a bending of their will. A bottom is an active participant as much as the top and while they may want/hope the top has a good time, that’s not necessarily their motivation. The motivation is to have the experience they negotiated and get what they need (on the receiving end of the activity).

Someone Says You’re Are or You Aren’t

This one is the most frustrating. Someone else tells you, “You’re not a submissive because of REASONS! You’re a bottom because MORE REASONS!” or they go for the “real submissives do this” BS. If someone in your life (kinky mentor, partner, or friend) tries to define you, they’re offering their opinion — NOT fact. And their opinion is based on how they view power exchange relationships and/or kinky scenes.

The question this entire post comes from was sent in by a submissive who’d been classified as a bottom by a kinky friend of his. The reasons given had nothing to do with how he felt or what he wanted, and everything to do with how the friend viewed what it means to be Dominant or submissive and where this person fit into that definition. So sure, by someone else’s definition, you might not be submissive or a bottom. But other people’s opinions don’t decide who you are.

You Get to Define Yourself

Defining yourself means you get to decide if you’re a submissive, a bottom, or something else entirely. You may reject the simplistic definitions about relationship style and serving I mentioned above and still consider yourself a submissive. You may completely identify with bending to another partner’s will but prefer to call yourself a bottom.

Labels are helpful because they give us a common understanding, framework, and language, but we can also adapt them for ourselves. No one is required to fit anyone else’s definition of what it means to be a submissive or bottom OR Dominant or top.

In some D/s relationships, calling yourself a submissive, slave, or something else may be perfect. And in others, you might think of yourself as a bottom. And you might do both without changing your habits, style, or way of interacting with a partner. Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself who and what you are and reject the labels that anyone else’s tries to force on you.

Because the answer to the question is inherently personal, how do YOU define yourself between submissive or bottom OR Dominant or top? How did you decide which was the best label for you?

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