The Four Stages of Topping

When I started topping, I was self-conscious, nervous, easily crushed, and full of bravado and swagger. (I’d like to think that all of that was somewhat subtle, and that I was being at least a little transparent and honest about all of it, though when I look back at my old writing I think there’s more nervousness than I’d like to think.)

Sometimes, some beautiful girl would come along and our chemistry would be so amazing and the whole evening would just … flow. Then, I felt like there was no game, it was all just authentic interaction, following my energy and hers. Those were the nights I grabbed on to and scrutinized (and often wrote up, play by play, as a way to study them), trying to learn what it was that went well and how I could harness that.

As I gained more confidence, the way that I topped shifted a bit. I started wanting to control more, to push more, to play with more edges. I started wondering why I was so drained after I’d had a scene, and realized I wasn’t getting fed energetically in a way that felt replenishing.

That was mostly my fault, for the record; I wasn’t open to receiving, I was too focused on (fueling my ego by) giving.

I’ve really opened up since then. My style is really different, and I’m a lot less delicate. I have more confidence and certainty in what I’m doing. This is at least in part because I started identifying the kind of topping I was doing, and playing with other styles of topping.

In trying to articulate my own journey from a nervous I-wanna-be-a-top to an actual top (and beyond), I’ve noticed some patterns, and come up with a list of some of the different kinds of topping that we can play with. If you want to become a better top, I’ve found that it’s really useful to identify the area you’re primarily playing in right now, and the areas you’re interested in exploring. That way, you can start to feel your way along the path from where you are to where you’d like to be, and start identifying the barriers to being where you want, the places you need to focus and explore, and the next steps to get you there.

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Please note!

I’m using the word “stages,” but they’re more like “flavors,” different kinds. The stages aren’t necessarily linear. My goal is to make the unconscious more known, so we can start actually deciding if we do want to do the topping (or dominating or daddying or mommying or parenting or mastering or whatever verb you want to use for the person-in-charge) more intentionally. This is not comprehensive.

The Stages of Topping

1. Service Topping from the Bottom’s Palette of Pleasure

In service topping, the bottom lays out the things they like (what I’m calling a “palette of pleasure”), and the top then does those things. The top is the person who is doing the action, and the bottom is receiving, but the bottom is the one basically in charge of the actions that are happening.

Sometimes the negotiations are very specific, like: “So now that you told me what you like, I’m thinking that in this scene, I’m going to spank you over my lap with my hand, then get out the cane, then start fingering you, and keep using my hand on you until you come. How’s that sound?”

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

Either way, all actions have a specific green light from the bottom for the top.

It’s not that the bottom dictates each move play-by-play: “Okay, now put your hand there. Now hit me this hard. Now flip me over and fuck me hard!” Some folks would call that “topping from the bottom,” which is often meant to be an insult. (More about that another day.)

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

It can be such a huge relief for a top to have a palette to work from. Topping can be nerve wracking as you’re getting the hang of it: we have to make split second decisions about what to do, when to change something, when to stop or when to keep going, and what else to add. Figuring out what actual things to do on top of all that other stuff can sometimes make us freeze up. Having a palette can help this!

When service topping, the top is not necessarily (and sometimes neglectfully) attending to what they are feeling or what pleasures their body would like. The bottom’s needs are being attended to and they are being played with, but sometimes, service tops crave … more. (I certainly did.)

When I work with new tops who are trying to up their game, this is most often the stage they’re stuck within.

2. Topping from the Top’s Palette of Pleasure

Shifting the focus from the bottom’s palette of pleasure to what the top specifically wants to do right in the moment can be a big mind-fuck for the top. It seems simple, but having to make decisions or be in touch with what we want while also Being In Charge can cause our minds to lock up. If you’re the kind of top who goes along just fine and then when your bottom says, “I’ll do whatever you want; what do you want?” and you draw a total blank, this one might be for you to play in.

Step one here is to start brainstorming about what’s on your “palette of pleasure.” What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so? You need more than “blow job” on the list, buddy. See if you can come up with 10 things, then see if you can come up with 10 more. These might be things you love having done to your body, or things you love doing to the bottom’s body.

The more comfortable you are with a broad list of options, the more likely you are to come up with the exact right thing to do in the moment, based on consent and what tools you might have with you and the energy between you both.

Even when pulling from all those beautiful favorite things that the top loves, you still has to practice making decisions about what to do in the moment, which can be incredibly hard when there’s a lot of pressure on us, and especially hard when all of the blood is flowing in places other than our brains.

What’s on your “palette of pleasure”? What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so?
This is still a negotiated, consensual palette of sex acts and kinky explorations, and the bottom is explicitly involved in determining what’s on the palette. But the difference is that the top generates the ideas, and the bottom gives consent (or crosses them off the list).

Of course, a top’s and the bottom’s palettes of pleasure might completely overlap. On the one hand, that’s amazing and you’re very compatible. On the other hand, it makes exploring more complicated power dynamics a little harder. Some power dynamics and authority-based play revolves around being “forced” to do something one doesn’t want to do, but will do because it’s what the top wants.

So let’s talk about playing with edges.

3. Topping the Bottom’s Edges

Once you’ve built some trust, you’ve had lots of sexytimes, you are consenting to each other, you’re both dirty kinky folks who just want to do all sorts of things together, and you’ve done all the things on the top’s palette and the bottom’s palette—twice—but you still have some domination hunger … where do you go from there?

Here’s where edges come in. Find some edges to work. Identify some places where you’re curious. Have your bottom make a list of the 10 most favorite times he ever had sex, and talk about it, see if you can make any connections. Then have the bottom you’ve been playing with make a list of 10 things he’s never tried, but is curious to try. Talk about those, too. Delve into them with your smarty brains and see what is nervous but exciting about them. Read up on those kinks. Learn how to wield a flogger or a cane or a knife or whatever object they’re curious about. Learn how to punch with a roll of quarters in your fist for a deeper hit. Find a topping mentor to show you how. Have some threesomes. Go to a play party. Go to a kink retreat conference.

Whatever those edges might be, take it upon yourself to gently push them, making it a safe experience—emotionally and physically.

This takes a lot of trust, and a lot of ability to tell each other what’s going on between you, verbally and non-verbally. Always be more aware and cautious when playing in new arenas of play that are more unfamiliar. Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.

When I’m playing with someone else’s edges, by which I mean when they are edges that the bottom has handed to me and asked me to play with, I think about it like this: I have consent to go this far, so I slowly approach that edge, and then back off. Then I do it again. And again. Each time I approach the edge, there is an opportunity for something new to open up, for that place to become a little less edgy and for it instead to be more fun and interesting and playful. Or maybe it doesn’t ever get easier, it stays hard, but it becomes a little less scary just by actually being there with it.

Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.
I think of that process as somewhat like making an orgasm more intense. If I get out my vibrator and start going at it, I’ll slowly raise energy and pleasure in my body until eventually, most likely, I will come. It’ll be fine, but probably won’t last very long or be particularly memorable. But if I get close to coming, but pause just before I actually do, and then get myself close to coming again—if I edge a few times before I actually let myself get off—my orgasm will be longer lasting and more intense. I’ve inflated my capacity to hold energy and pleasure just a little more, so I end up with a bigger experience.

I think of it that way around kink and top/bottom edginess, too. If I work an edge by approaching it and then letting it dissipate, I can build it up again and again, and get to a greater capacity.

pleasureovertime

Illustration by rife

4. Topping the Top’s Edges

It might be easier to work your own edges than to work your bottom’s, or it might be easier to work your bottom’s—just depends on who you are and what your style is like. For me, it was much easier to work someone else’s edges (hello, control issues plus stone identity).

Regardless of the order you’re playing with, another palette to play with when you’re enhancing your own topping skills is with your own edges. Make the same lists: make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to. Make a list of areas of topping and sex and kink that are challenging for you, but that you’d like to be better at.

This is a place where your bottom gets to hold and witness some of your vulnerability with you. It takes more trust and transparency than some of the other stages. But to quote Sini Anderson: “Ask yourself how well you really know them. If someone you know really well asks you to trust them, try to trust them.” The best way to work your own edges is to have other folks there who are willing to support you while you’re taking small or big leaps toward what you want to be doing.

Say, for example, that you want to get better at humiliative dirty talk. Your partner has been asking for it for a while, and loves it whenever you can squeak out something diminutive, but it’s so hard for you to channel that kind of talk because you’re a nice person and you don’t necessarily like to say those kinds of mean things. But, since your partner is super into it, you’ve noticed that it makes you really, really hot to play with it. And it makes your partner hot. So you want to get better at it. But … it’s so scary and hard and edgy.

Make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to.
So maybe you co-create a scene with the bottom you’re playing with and they give you a list of ten different things you could say that are dirty and humiliating. You might even keep the list by your bed or on a post-it so you can reference it if you get stuck. They know that you are trying to get better at this one skill, so they are going to give you lots of positive feedback whenever it shows up in the play. And they are going to wear just the right outfit and say just the right things to encourage you to play your part.

Then after, they cuddle you and assure you that they loved it when you said those things, and that they know you are actually really nice and didn’t mean them and are very good and loving.

Really, we should all cultivate impeccable aftercare skills, tops and bottoms alike.

That’s just one example, but bringing in the bottom’s support and aftercare and ideas is a really good way for a top’s edge to be worked.

Working with your own edges can often be a place to seek if you want more satisfaction in your topping.

There are dozens of styles of topping

Of course, and there’s no one right or wrong way. I don’t mean to say that any of these are better or worse than the others, just that they’re different, and for the most part, we call all of them “topping.” Where are you at in your topping journey? Where would you like to be? Which are really easy for you, which are really challenging? Hopefully by identifying and talking about it, we can identify some of the places where we might be stuck or unsatisfied, and get to a stronger, more conscious, and more fun place to play and explore.

How to Chomp: Erotic Biting for Pleasure & Pain

“I’m surprised more people don’t talk about biting. It’s pretty practical – I think it should be a conscious part of a dom’s tool kit. When I first apply pressure, her whole body goes tight like a bowstring. It makes me feel like I control every inch of her in that moment, and she’s balanced, waiting for my next decision. All this without any equipment, with both hands free? Awesome.” —K

I love biting during rough sex. Love it.

It’s something I do so automatically that I’ve learned I need to make sure to explicitly ask anybody I mess around with in a BDSM/play context or a sexytimes context a) whether or not they like to be bit and b) if it’s okay for me to leave bite marks. And if it is okay to leave bite marks, to be clear precisely where those marks should or rather should not be left. This negotiation is also about the time that I request that if I do leave marks, that they send me pretty pictures of them the next day. (That’s my favorite part. Well, that, and the actual biting part.)

I basically learned all of that the hard way—messing around with girls and starting to bite, then having them stop me mid-bite with some anger or frustration or safeword. Don’t do it that way. Ask if you can bite. You don’t have to sit them down before you start kissing and say, “So, I really like to bite, preferably somewhere on the fleshy part of your chest or on the top of your shoulder, how do you feel about that?” You can do it while you work your mouth on their neck, shoulders, fingers, mouth. You can do it when you start to go get gloves or condoms or your cock or flip the lights off (or on).

You should ask about hickeys and leaving marks from sucking on someone’s skin, too. Don’t leave marks unless you know you can. Figure out how to suck to leave marks and how to suck to not leave marks. Practice on someone who will let you practice on them. And remember, each person’s skin is different, and marks differently. What marks on one person may not mark the next, and vice versa. So go slowly. Learn to recognize the way skin looks when it starts changing, and be smart about it. Stay within consent.

Okay, enough of that leaving marks / consent PSA. You get the point, right?

Oh! Another thing I love about biting is that I always have the tool with me, my mouth, and I can use it anytime anywhere. I don’t need to set it up or get it out or do anything special, it’s just right there, and conveniently placed. It’s a wonderful tool for a sadist, or for someone who wants to display some possession—either by leaving marks or by making them squeal and squirm and stay in a submissive space through some masochism. A good bite at the right time can tip somebody over the edge and make them come that much harder. But, there are some things to be cautious about.

So, let’s say you have a green light of consent, that this person you’re messing around with in whatever way loves being bit. How do you do that? What are the safety risks? How do you cause maximum pleasure (or pain)?

Where to Bite

Technically, you can bite anywhere on the body, but some places are more suited for deep bites than others, and some places are pretty dangerous if you bite hard. You can cause internal damage, and nobody wants that. Generally, if you know about impact play and where to hit somebody, you can translate that to biting: The places on the body with big muscles and lots of flesh are best to bite, the places with less flesh and more bone or less padding on the organs are not good to bite.

If you haven’t taken a beginner BDSM class that teaches the places on a body to impact, I highly recommend that. Most BDSM groups have a Safety Orientation type of meeting. Go to it! Meet some cool people, while you’re at it.

And because I couldn’t find a decent image of the Where To Impact Body Map online anywhere, rife made a beautiful drawing and color coded it to indicate where and where not to bite.

wheretohitabody

Click to make it bigger! and/or Click here to buy a print!

This is not necessarily meant to be a comprehensive chart, and please consult a BDSM educator AND YOUR PLAY PARTNER for the places their body likes and doesn’t like to have heavy impact. Each person is different. Use caution and your best judgment.

Personally, I find the places that my mouth kind of naturally lands to be the best places to bite, and for me that tends to be the upper chest, shoulders, and upper arms, and the inner thighs and butt. I have a tendency to bite when I’m coming while strapped on and fucking someone, so that often means their my mouth is in line with their shoulders, either their upper chest if we’re face to face or their upper back if I’m behind them. I know how to gauge my bite in this position, either biting a little recklessly and hard or just a slow close down of my mouth so I have something to do with my jaw while coming.

But, those are all examples of biting for my pleasure. Perhaps you’re doing it as part of a display of possession or more from a service topping perspective, which is also awesome. The first thing you want to do there (after the 0 step of CONSENT of course) is to find the bite.

“Finding the bite” is something kd diamond spoke of when we talked about biting tips when I was hanging out with her in New York City last weekend. The idea being that while you explore their body with your mouth, you start upping the impact of your teeth, starting with some nibbles, and if they seem responsive to that you keep going, and you find the spot on their body that yields well, and that they give you a very noticeable response (moaning, sounds of joy and pleasure, leaning in to your mouth). Once they do that, you know you’ve found a good spot, and rather than moving on, bite deeper right there.

How Hard to Bite

Deeper? How much deeper should you go? As with everything else, it depends on the person, so always listen to them and their body.

I attended Felice Shays’s Playing in Dangerous Neighborhoods: Advanced Rough Sex workshop through LSM in New York City when I visited last weekend, and she had some great things to say about biting. We talked about it a bit after, too, and I took notes.

First, she stresses the difference between speed and intensity. Most of us tops or sadists or dominants or D-types want to have maximum impact when we’re doing something thrilling like biting, and so often we do that by going really fast, but that actually taps out the receiver much quicker than if we do something slow and deep. Slow and deep can open up new channels and let the s-type bloom into the submissive space. Quick and hard can be shocking, cause flinching and even panic. Felice highly recommends intensity over speed.

Which is not to say that speedy hard bites are never okay to do—they can be, sure. Just know that it’ll be a different impact on the person you’re biting than if you go slow and deep. Depends on what the purpose of your bite is.

So once you’ve found the bite, and you want to go slow and deep, what do you do with your mouth?

Different Ways to Bite

Let’s distinguish between a couple different kinds of bites:

  • Slow bite: Close, then sink your teeth slowly. You can go deeper with this kind of bite, because you are slowly upping the intensity and letting the receiver of the bite get used to it. If they start having more of a pulling away reaction than a leaning into it reaction, that’s your cue to back off a little (or stay right where you are) and not up the intensity any more.
  • Dragging teeth: This was a good tip that Felice mentioned specifically about biting genitals. Genitals are amazing sensitive places and some people really like them being bitten, like a lot. A) Consent (duh), and B) every body is different, and C) if you’re going to be putting your teeth directly onto someone’s genitals, you should have some conversations about being fluid bonded. But after that: Go for it. This is probably not a very good place to chomp, and not a very good place for a deep slow close (though some places, like the inner thighs or the pubic mound, might be okay for that). But delicately clasping their bits in your teeth, and then dragging your teeth, could be immensely pleasurable.
  • Chomp: That’s the speedy hard bite I was just mentioning. With little or no warning, you just open your mouth wide and chomp down on someone’s body. This can be lovely and have a wonderful effect, particularly if the person you’re biting likes to be surprised, likes the big adrenaline spike of pain, and likes to feel the bruise throb after you remove your mouth. But generally, I wouldn’t suggest this with someone you haven’t played with much, and with someone that you don’t know likes this kind of bite. The people who like it really like it, but I think I’d argue it’s the least universally enjoyed type of biting.
  • Other kinds of bites? I imagine there are many more kinds (like “love nibbles”), but these are three of them. Got more ideas?

As the Receiver of Biting …

You can help the person biting you by being honest about your reactions, not enduring things you don’t like (unless enduring something is your fetish, but that’s a slightly different conversation), and giving lots of feedback, either verbally or with your body language.

If you can, use the numbers or colors systems to give feedback, by rating a bite 1-10, 1 being “I barely felt that” and 10 being “that is as much as I can take bordering on STOP RIGHT NOW.” Remember that what feels like a 6 today might feel like a 3 tomorrow and a 9 next Thursday, and depending on where you are in the scene, and how erotically stimulated and aroused you are, bites (or any kind of body impact) can feel different. Keep your feedback coming, however you can.

The colors system is using the words red-yellow-green to let your biter know how you’re doing, like a traffic light: Green means go, yellow means caution (and often means “pause / back off / please stop what you’re doing but don’t stop the scene”) and red means STOP everything now and check in. It’d be very useful to hear “yellow!” if a bite was getting waaay too deep and you needed it to stop, or if you were really enjoying a deep slow bite to hear “green green greengreengreen,” as an indicator that you are requesting the biter keep going.

When During Sex to Bite

Depends … people like different things, of course, so check in with the person you’re playing with. (I know, I know, that’s my constant disclaimer, but it remains true. For that matter, you probably shouldn’t ask me when during sex or where on their body they want to be bit—ask them. Ask them. No seriously, ask them. I know it’s hard to bring up, but talking about it is so important.)

I’d say there are two main times during the sexytimes act that I’d encourage biting: Toward the beginning, during the ramp-up to bigger, rougher, deeper play, and during orgasms.

In the beginning of the play, biting can be a great way to explore someone’s body. Often as we’re warming up and making out and getting into more and more foreplay, we do a lot of kissing of the neck and shoulders, sometimes the chest, so that can be a great time to try out some light biting and to slowly ramp it up.

And if you know you have someone who likes moments of sensation or release as a way of tipping them over the edge, you can strategically place a bite on one of those places you found before when they are getting closer and closer to orgasm, and it could sometimes be the thing that sends them over the edge. It probably takes some practice to do this, but the reaction and release (and beautiful bruise you may get to see later or the next day) is an amazing reward.

bruises
Bruises from biting on rife. Left: bite marks on his upper chest and upper arm (bruises on his chin are not from biting). Top: Bite marks on his upper back. Bottom: Bruises on his ass from punching and paddling, and one big dark bite mark.

Dangers of Biting & Safety Tips

There are some places on the body you don’t want to bite hard, both for safety (like the possibility of damaging an internal organ or tendon) and for pleasure (biting down on the tendons of the neck is not pleasurable for most recipients, for example). Take a Where To Impact On The Body kind of class, ask your local BDSM pervert educator, and know the person you’re playing with.

Do not bite arteries or tendons. That is unpleasant, and dangerous. Aim for the fleshy, meaty, bite-able parts of the body.

There is also the risk of breaking the skin if you are a hard biter. Breaking the skin is bad. The human mouth is generally a very dirty place, with all sorts of bacteria, and a human bite can be more easily infected than a dog bite.

Know your mouth. Notice if your teeth are generally completely flat on the bottoms, or if some of them have edges or chips or points. Those teeth are more likely to break skin. For example, I’ve never full-on broken skin with a deep bite, but I have one particular tooth that is very pointy (my “vampire tooth” canine) and it often leaves more of a red mark than the others and has drawn a teeny tiny bit of blood in a puncture on a rare occasion. Know which teeth are sharp. Do you have braces? That’ll change your impact as well.

If you do break the skin, clean it well and monitor it closely. If anything looks out of the ordinary, see a doctor. Get it checked out. It’s an easy treatment, but it can be bad if not treated.

What about bruises?

Bruises are not necessarily bad for you, not harmful to you or your muscles, and will heal well on most people without much specific care. But again, know your body. If you’re anemic, you may bruise a whole lot easier than someone who is not, for example.

Some people swear by things like Arnica, a homeopathic cream meant to help heal bruises and bumped tissue. After Miss Calico did a bruising and Arnica experiment a few years ago I’ve been more skeptical of Arnica’s value, but as the kid of some hippie parents, I still often take it orally if I’m trying to heal my body from bruising.

Keep an eye on the bruises as they heal. Usually, healthy bruises will go from a slightly red mark at the time of impact to dark purple or black as they bloom, and then fade to shades of lighter blue, sometimes green, yellow, and back to your regular skin color. It’s harder to see the fading process on people with darker skin, easier to see the fading process on people with lighter skin. Know your body. Get to know the process of how you bruise and how you heal. If anything looks out of the ordinary, get it checked out (preferably with a kink-friendly doctor so you can say things like “happily consensual!” with a big smile and they will get it). It is normal for a bruise to “travel” a little bit as the tissues and blood vessels slowly repair.

If the bruise gets lumpy or hard, get it checked out. If it stays dark and doesn’t seem to be fading, get it checked out. If anything seems out of the ordinary, get it checked out. And share the knowledge that you learn with the people/person you are playing with—it’s helpful for them to know your body, too!

In Conclusion ….

Biting is one of my favorites. For control, sadism, possession, sensation, and leaving marks, it’s a fantastic tool, and one I use often. Get consent. Know your body, and get to know your play partner’s body. Every body is different, but if you get to know each other you can figure out what will cause maximum pleasure (or pain) (or both) and impact and beautiful bruises. Know the risks that you’re taking and keep yourself and your partner as safe as you can.

That about covers my thoughts on bruising! What are your thoughts? Do you love it, hate it? Agree with my tips, or think I’m wrong? Did I leave something critical out? Any other types of bites or safety tips or things I’m missing? I’d love to know.