Today in ‘Things I can’t believe I haven’t already ranted about”: tops have limits too. We tend to talk a lot more about how bottoms have the right to set limits, which makes perfect sense when bottoms are the ones more likely to be physically or psychologically harmed when someone crosses their limits, but I think it’s worth talking about tops’ limits too.
First of all, there are plenty of things I just don’t have the physical skills to do. For example, I can’t throw a long (over 2 feet) whip without hitting myself on the ear, let alone being able to aim for any particular spot. I don’t feel particularly limited by that one since I don’t particularly want to be out of arms reach of my partner while we’re playing, but it is a thing I can’t do. Needles, on the other hand, I would like to try someday, but I don’t have the skills to do a needle scene on my own yet. I’d feel comfortable putting a few needles in someone if I had an experienced needle top spotting me, but I wouldn’t want to go jabbing someone all on my own. And of course my endurance is limited. If you want an hour long flogging scene where you go deep into subspace and just stay there, you’re going to need to find someone whose shoulder is up to it 🙂
There are also things I can’t do and feel good about it afterward. With verbal humiliation, I can tell someone they’re being such a good little slut, but I can’t tell them that they’re stupid, worthless, pathetic, or anything like that. I don’t mean to imply that people who enjoy being called stupid and worthless are doing kink wrong, but it’s just not something I have to offer.
I also have a hangup about no-win situations. While I can intellectually understand how giving someone an impossible task to carry out, then punishing them when they inevitably fail can be a fun way to play with power, I would feel like an asshole if I did that. The idea of putting someone in a no-win situation just reminds me too much of times I’ve been stuck in a situation like that (for example, an ex of mine always used to complain that I wouldn’t open up and talk to him, but every goddamn time I tried to talk with him about anything, everything I had to say was always stupid and wrong), which fills me with rage and is the opposite of fun for me.
Speaking of anger, I am not at all comfortable with the idea of playing while angry, or using play, no matter how well negotiated, to vent anger about anything. Unlike verbal humiliation and impossible tasks, I would advise other people not to do this either. Even if you don’t have the hangups I do around anger, it’s just too easy for a scene based on anger to get out of control. For myself in particular, I have a vicious temper (right here people who really know me are nodding along, and people who only know me a little bit are going “Aw, that’s cute that she thinks she has a temper”) which means I can’t ethically put anyone in a position where I could really hurt them if I lose my temper. I also firmly believe that if I’m going to hit someone in anger, I need to have a much better reason than “I was angry and they were there.” My kinky rule of thumb is that I do things joyfully or not at all.
Finally, I don’t play very hard with people I don’t know well. If I’ve just met someone at a party I’m willing to give them a relatively light flogging, but I’m not going to do anything that leaves much of any bruising. Once I have a better idea of how much someone can take and how clearly they can communicate mid-scene, I’m willing to go harder, but that always takes a little while.
The point I’m trying to make with all of this is that it’s normal for tops to have limits too. We are not in fact all knowing, all powerful beings who never feel uncertain or squicked out by a certain activity, and it’s unfair to expect us to be. Especially if you’re new to topping, there are going to be all kinds of things you’re just freaked out by, or are interested in but not ready for, or are waiting for just the right person to explore that particular kink with. You get to have limits too, so don’t forget to discuss them too when you’re asking about your bottom’s limits.