Guest post: Un-Clustering Kink

Today we have a guest post by Jess Mahler about a subject near and dear to my heart: how we conflate dom/top and sub/bottom and how just understanding that those are all different things that you get to mix and match however you like can make your relationships work a lot better.

Keep an eye on Jess’s website too, she has an F/m fantasy novel coming out in January ūüôā


I’m laying back on my bed while my sub eats me out.

I’m laying back on my bed while my sub ties me up.

If you are in kink there’s a good chance your brain just screeched to a halt.

We have a problem with how we use words in the Scene. Specifically, we have a problem with how we use four words: dominant, top, submissive, and bottom. The way we use these words has fucked up a lot of individuals introduction to and experience of kink, and has fucked up a lot of relationships as people trying to communicate their needs with these labels end up mis-communicating and everything just gets buggered.

First off, let me give you two examples of folks who have been buggered by this issue. Then we’ll talk about how to un-cluster this clusterfuck.

When I first entered kink, I knew I liked being in control. But I also liked being tied up. I liked feeling helpless. And of course, I thought I was a woman. So I assumed I was submissive. If you have experience in kink, you are probably seeing the problem already. I got in a relationship with a guy who liked tying me up, but didn’t like being in control. I kept trying to give him control, he kept trying to be in control and we both were utterly miserable.

It wasn’t until years after that relationship ended that I was able to really recognize my own preferred roles (yes, that’s plural) in kink. See, when I first started learning about kink the idea that someone could be a dominant who was into bondage and liked pain just did not exist. So I got fucked by the assumption that someone who liked being tied up and liked being hurt was, of course, a submissive.

A few days ago, someone shared in a FB group an article by someone else who got fucked by these mis-used terms. He entered the scene, knew he liked to serve and take care of people, and thought that made him a submissive. Then he went to a thing where he was acting as a service submissive, giving manicures to a bunch of femdoms and… let’s just say it didn’t go well, kay?

Like me, this guy had minimal info going into kink, and the info he had did a bad job of sorting out the different roles. The article he wrote was his attempt to uncluster this mess, but unfortunately, he seems to still be operating under a lot of assumptions and misinformation. I’m not linking to the article, partly because I don’t want to drag the guy and partly because I really don’t want anyone new to kink taking his ideas. (Look, if anyone tells you that masochists don’t safeword, GTFO, okay? Seriously, masochists safeword. Masochists safeword all the fucking time. The rest of his ideas, imo, aren’t any better.)

But what he saw was that he liked to serve people, and of course that meant he had to be submissive. And, look, being a service dom is TOTALLY a thing. It is. 100%. It’s extremely common among age play folks, but even those of us who don’t age play can be service doms. I don’t usually get into service (in either direction), but sometimes the highlight of my day is tucking my sub into bed. And I put myself in charge of shaving them because I love taking care of them that way, and I am the dom so it happens like I say.

Okay, so we have two people (three if include my ex) who got screwed because the Scene doesn’t do a good job of differentiating between top and dom, bottom and sub, or of educating folks about the different ways of being a dom, sub, top, or bottom.

So let’s take a look at those terms and maybe see if going forward we can keep more people from getting fucked.

In general, you’ll see the following definitions:

A top takes the active role in a scene

A bottom takes the passive role in the scene

A dom likes to be in control

A sub likes to be controlled.

With me so far?

So why, in the article this guy wrote, was giving a manicure considered bottoming? Like, unless I’m mistaken, if you are GIVING a manicure you are the active participant in the scene, and the person receiving the manicure is the passive one. Right?

But “logic” of the Scene is that the person giving the manicure is doing a service for the person receiving the manicure and doing a service means their a sub, and therefore the person giving the manicure is the bottom. Because that’s the way words work. Apparently. In some alternate universe I refuse to continue to inhabit.

So let’s un-cluster this scenario.

The person giving the manicure is the top bc they are the active participant. The person receiving the manicure is the bottom because they are the passive recipient, and without further information we can’t say if there even IS a dom or sub in this scenario because we don’t have anything tell us who (if anyone) is in control.

Stick to the definitions, de-conflate dom/top and bottom/sub, and you are well on your way to un-clustering the way words are used in the Scene.

But let’s take it one step further. Why was manicuring thought to be a bottom thing in the first place? Because is was serving the person receiving the manicure.

And we see this a lot in kinks. Going down on someone is seen as inherently submissive, and will be referred to as bottoming, even though the person going down is the active participant. Um…. you see the part of the definition where is says a dom likes to be in control? I will go down on my sub if I want because being in control means I get to do that.

But why is going down seen as bottoming and/or submissive? Because it’s serving the person who is on the receptive end. And if you are doing a service type action, it’s bottoming. Even though it’s active. *sigh* Are we seeing the pattern now? ARE WE?

Okay, but I like getting tied up, right? If I tell my sub to tie me up, I’m receiving a service–the service of being tied up. And yet the message I got coming into the scene was that this made me submissive bc by being tied up I was being the passive participant and that made me a sub. Because bottoming? Maybe?

Un-cluster. If I go down on my sub I am a dominant who is topping because I am in control and I am the active participant. If I have my sub go down on me, I am still the dominant but I am now the bottom, because I’m the passive participant. Mmkay?

And if I tell my sub to tie me up I am also being a dominant bottom.

So… why is it that folks brains will screech to a halt at the idea of my sub tying me up and not at the idea of my sub eating me out? Why have our brains classified the same situation (only the action my sub is doing is different) so differently?

Yes, I’m beating a dead horse. Or at least I hope I am.

Stop conflating dom and top. Stop conflating sub and bottom. When talking about scenes, default to the actual definitions and not the ingrained biases of the scene.

The person who is active is the top. The person who is passive is the bottom.

The person in control (if there is one) is the dom. The person who gives up control (if there is one) is the sub.

For our final act of the evening, we’re going to deconstruct “service top” and “topping from the bottom”

Service top:

definition 1: Someone who likes to be the active participant in the scene and provide a service to the bottom. Related: Service dom. “Yeah, I’m a service top. I haven’t done bondage before but it will make you happy, I’d love to tie you up.”

definition 2: A term used to shame doms who like to do things that don’t fit the Scene’s bias. “Can you believe she goes down on her subs? She’s nothing but a service top.”

Topping from the bottom:

definition 1: A term used for times when the bottom breaks the negotiated terms of the scene to try to dom from the bottom. Blatant conflation of terms top and dom has led to much confusion.

definition 2: A term used to shame bottoms who are not submissive. “I’d never play with him! I’m always in control of my scenes, he insists on topping from the bottom.” Again, blatant conflation of terms.

So that’s it. Mix and match freely, have fun, stay risk aware, un-cluster the Scene by un-conflating our words, and for god sakes stop shaming people for not fitting the biases the Scene tries to teach us.

Vetting potential subs, part 2

The thrilling conclusion of last week’s post about vetting potential subs! If you missed it, you should read that one first or this one probably won’t make much sense.

Last time I was talking about how just the first line of a Fetlife message can tell you a ton about whether the guy who messaged you is remotely worth your time.¬†Even if he makes it over that first hurdle, there’s still the rest of the message to judge. For me, it absolutely has to say something about why that guy chose to message me of all people. If it doesn’t, delete or block. If somebody messages me but can’t be bothered to tell me a single thing about why he messaged me in particular, I assume the only reason he’s bothering me is that I have tits and live in the right country. No dude fuck off.

Another thing that gets a block or delete is when somebody brings up his kink in any detail at all in the first message. Somebody who jumps right to what you can do to make his penis happy is absolutely not worth your time. If you wouldn’t date a guy who contacted you on a vanilla dating site and asked in his first message if you give blowjobs, then why would you ever speak to a guy who contacted you on a kink site and asked the equivalent of that question in his first message?¬†Seriously, you can have the exact same standards in the kinky world as you do in the vanilla world.

Aside from looking at someone’s avatar (which you kind of can’t avoid), I also look at people’s profiles. Often out of morbid curiosity, I’m going to be honest ūüôā If I get a terrible message, I usually can’t resist seeing just how terrible his profile is, and if I get a good message, I still want to know if his profile backs it up.

If someone sends me a nice message but their profile is just a long list of their kinks or a detailed fantasy they expect some woman to act out for them? Nope. Or if their profile pictures are a shrine to their dick? Nope. Or if their activity feed is an unbroken stream of thirsty comments on women’s pictures? Nope. To keep beating a dead horse, you get all the time you need to fill in your profile and make sure it isn’t terrible. Anyone who can’t be bothered to do that also has a zero percent chance of ever bothering to learn what you like, block/delete and move on.

Another problem is when people get too intense too fast. If you’re new it can be really flattering to hear that somebody (supposedly) wants to be your collared slave forever, but it’s really a sure sign he doesn’t give a shit about what you want or even about getting to know you, all he cares about is finding a pair of tits to fill the role of “Generic Dominatrix #1” in his fantasy. Block or delete and move on.

And of course form letters are an instant block. On top of it being a sure sign of someone who won’t put in more than the bare minimum of effort, it’s just insulting that these dirtbags seem to think a form letter will a) work, and b) that I’m dumb enough not to realize it’s a form letter. Protip: don’t tell someone she has a great smile when there are no pictures of her on her profile.

The first level of vetting is “does this guy understand that I’m a human being with wants and needs and likes and dislikes that have nothing to do with his preferences?”¬†If you just throw out all first messages that don’t clear that bar, you’re going to save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

If dude clears the “understands I’m a person” bar, there’s another one:¬†does he sound like a person I would ever want to spend time with? Do we have anything in common? Does he want what I want? This level is less about figuring out whether the guy who messaged you is a complete waste of space and more about figuring out if a perfectly nice person is actually compatible with you.

If you’re just looking for a play partner, somebody who wants a serious relationship that leads to collaring and marriage is just not going to work. Even if you both just want a play partner, you’ve still got to figure out things like how often you want to play, what you actually want to do together, how you want to handle it if one of you finds a serious relationship, etc, etc. And of course if you are looking for a submissive boyfriend, you’ve got to figure out if you have anything in common besides kink,¬†if you even, you know, like each other, whether your lifestyles are at all compatible,¬† ¬†exactly what kind of d/s you’re both interested in (just in the bedroom? total control of his life? something in between?), and so on.

A guy can be perfectly lovely and objectively a wonderful human being and oh god so utterly wrong for me. He can also¬†be nice and mostly compatible but just a lot of work, or compatible except for that one thing that’s a complete dealbreaker.

Okay, suppose somebody messages you and the first message greets you correctly and treats you like a human being and you can imagine chatting with him for half an hour without faking your own death to get away. There’s still more judging to do!

Does he contact you at a frequency that works for you? If you’re always the first one to reach out, maybe this guy isn’t for you. Same if you’re absolutely never the first one to reach out because he messages you incessantly. That may seem minor but honestly, you’ll both be happier with someone who isn’t constantly annoyed that you don’t message them enough or message them too much.

Another very important way to vet people is to set a boundary and see what happens. This is great for when you know you should give up on someone and need to convince yourself they’re beyond your help. Note that I do not condone jerking people around, that’s not cool. Don’t make shit up, just, you know, exist as a human being with preferences and see how he reacts to that. If you do something as simple as saying you couldn’t get into a tv show he absolutely loves and he hounds you about how you have to give it another chance, it’s time to hit the eject button. When the best case scenario is constant subtle disrespect, just say no.

Vetting doesn’t have to be complicated, it’s just paying attention to what people say to you and deciding whether you want them in your life. If you can decide whether or not you want to see a given movie based on trailers and reviews, you can decide whether or not you want to keep messaging a given guy based on how he treats you and how he presents himself.

Vetting potential subs, part 1

I see lots of complaints from female doms about how “submissive” men mostly aren’t, that they act like dominant women exist to make their dicks happy if they even show up for a planned meeting in the first place.

There’s a great way to avoid a lot of unhappiness:¬†vetting!

While vetting isn’t a magic cure-all, people mostly suck at lying about who they are and they extra suck at it when they don’t realize they’re kind of terrible and probably should lie about who they are ūüôā

Whether you want a long-term romantic relationship with a submissive boyfriend or you¬†just want a play partner who will treat you like a human being,¬†guys who can’t clear that bar are usually super obvious about it. Seriously, it is not hard to catch them. At all.

I think the hardest part of vetting people effectively is being absolutely certain you deserve better. If you don’t believe you deserve better than J. Random Douchebag, no amount of vetting advice is going to help. On the upside, being totally over manchildren’s bullshit works just about as well as high self-esteem. If you can’t love yourself (and let’s be honest, a profoundly misogynistic society makes that pretty fucking hard), you can still decide a videogame and a glass of wine is a better evening than meeting up with yet another bratty pissbaby who could not possibly give less of a shit about your feelings. Sadly, you might have to meet a bunch of dirtbags to get to that state of “oh fuck this shit”, but you’ll get there sooner or later.

So assuming you’ve got either self-love or a total lack of fucks on your side, let’s talk about what else you need.

One extremely useful trait is the willingness to believe a person when they show you who you are. Optimism is nice and all, and I’ll even grudgingly admit that sometimes people who actually do mean well express themselves badly, but if you don’t want to waste a ton of time on people who turn out to be complete dickbags, you’ve got to take what they say and do seriously and not make excuses for them.

This is pretty closely related to not having time for bullshit, because¬†if you value yourself (or at least having a nice evening without manchild bullshit), you don’t need to talk yourself into believing that this particular little brat isn’t a total waste of time.

Another useful thing is patience. People keep saying there are tons of submissive men for every dominant woman but that’s just bullshit. Men who are a) actually submissive and b) compatible with you are rare and precious. It’s going to take some time before you meet just the right guy, especially if you’re looking for a long term relationship.¬†If you just want a play partner it’s a lot easier because you don’t have to worry about stuff like how you each manage money or whether you want to have kids or not,¬†but it’s still not likely to be instant.

So here’s how you vet people: basically you get in touch with your inner judgemental asshole,¬†and in touch with exactly what you want, and you say not to everything you don’t want.

It’s totally okay to just want a little hot chat and then go about your day,¬†you’re just going to vet people differently than you would if you were looking for a submissive boyfriend or a personal slave who is cool with being part of your stable or a play partner you can really grow to trust and explore your limits with.

My personal standards are going to be different from yours, but some examples will probably help explain what I’m talking about.

When I get a message, say on Fetlife,¬†I start judging from the very first line. Honestly guys there’s not a fucking time limit. You can take as long as you need to not fuck it up,¬†so yes I’m going to¬† judge you for it.

I’m pretty informal, as long as you greet me like I’m a human fucking being we’re cool. That means either my username or a simple “hi there”. Basically anything that would be appropriate to say to a vanilla woman works for me. For you maybe you want a certain word in the subject line that you mention at the end of your profile or to be greeted using a title you mention liking.

Anyway if they can’t even get the first line / subject line right, they can fuck right off. Greeting someone like they’re a fellow human being who does not exist to entertain you is not hard, if somebody who messages you fucks that up, delete their message and move on. I’m also a fan of blocking people who are clearly never going to be worth my time.

Almost forgot! When I get a message from a stranger I also judge the shit out of their avatar. If there’s a dick in it, that’s an instant delete or block. Even back when I was single and just looking for a little kinky sex, I had zero time for anyone who literally led with his dick. Somebody who doesn’t even care whether or not you want to see his dick will never, ever be worth your time.

This post got unreasonably long, even for me, so part two is coming next week.