You Need Help: So You Want To Try Being A BDSM Top

I found this question in my inbox:

I love bondage! I’m an experienced sub/switch, but my partner is pretty inexperienced in BDSM. She is much more interested in being the Domme/Master but doesn’t feel like she knows what to do or say. How can we start having fun BDSM sex that doesn’t feel like I’m in charge!? 

Hello my dear reader! This is a question that I get a lot, and most of the time I have to ask for clarification as to what, exactly, people are talking about—BDSM is a GIANT umbrella category that encompasses many different acts and attitudes. But! You’ve gone and specified exactly what you’re looking for within that huge topic: bondage. So I’m going to focus my response today on mostly that. I also recognize that you, the letter writer, might be the more vocal in this pairing, but what you’re really seeking is advice not just for you, but for your partner too. I will, from now on, refer to the person in your partner’s position as The New Top. That’s the person who’s really into the topping role in bondage in theory, but hasn’t put it into practice just yet.


Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It sounds like you’ve already done the basics of communication as you’re able to articulate what’s up with you and your partner— that she’s interested in trying this with you but isn’t quite sure how to go about doing that. That means you’ve already had the “what turns us on” conversation and have agreed upon what y’all wanna play around with, thus establishing your partner as The New Top. But for all of y’all out there who haven’t gotten past step one (talking about what kinds of things you’re into with your partner) I’m just going to really quickly direct you here. Come on back when you’ve read/done that.


 

How To Make It Not Awkward

Okay, so we’re going to get to the mechanics. But sometimes the mechanics feels secondary to embodying the In Charge persona. I want to make sure you get what you need in that regard, and I wish I could break it up into “mechanics” and “persona.” But most of the time those things are so intertwined when you’re playing that it’s very difficult to separate them out. One of these things isn’t more important than the other, I don’t think. What I do need you to know, though, is that there is no one way to be In Charge, no one way to be a top and no one way to engage in BDSM. So while you’re learning all the fun technical stuff the bondage world has to offer you, there are a few things you can start with so that once you get to employing these fun new things in the bedroom, you’re already there with your In Charge persona.

Read Erotica

A good way to see examples of a TON of different kinds of tops and how they do their thing is to seek out some erotica on the subject. I highly recommend Sinclair Sexsmith—a kinky queer butch top with a kick ass website called the Sugarbutch Chronicles. They’ve got an entire section just for dirty stories. I also recommend anything written or edited by D.L. King—if you read stories by both of those authors, you’re going to get a very different vibe and vocabulary, both of which can help you figure out your own unique toppy persona.

 

ex

Seek Role Models

Here you go.

And Sext The Crap Out Of Each Other!

This is a great way to practice and see what turns both of you on and what feels comfy for you, all while not getting the “omg, she’s right in front of me WHAT DO I DO?!” nerves. It keeps your persona entirely in the fantasy world so if you hit a sour note for either or both of you, you can change course really easily without being thrown off in the moment. It also gives you time to draft something up—you don’t have to think of things right away/at speed. You can craft your words. Then if your partner responds well to something, you tuck that away in your mind and pull it into being when you’re getting hot and heavy. Here are some prompts in a bunch of different Top Styles to get your imagination started:

-“degrading” nicknames (ex, “my dirty little slut.”) (I put degrading in quotes because when done in consensual play these names feel anything but degrading.)

– not so degrading nicknames (ex, “my good little slut”)

– fun punishment for being naughty (ex, “You didn’t say please. I’m going to leave a handprint on your ass/tie you up and put you in a corner/break out the paddle.”)

– and fun punishment for being nice (ex, “I’m going to give you exactly what you deserve. Where’s that rope?”)

– leashes, collars and leather, oh my! (ex, “When you put this on, I’m in charge.”)

– asking/demanding permission (ex, “You can’t do anything—and I mean anything—until I say so.”)

Commenters, do you have any other suggestions?

The cool part about starting here while you’re learning bondage techniques is that you’ll have a lot of things to say once you put your techniques into practice. Plus then you’re basically partner-writing erotica, and that’s always really fucking fun.


 Do Your Research

When we venture into the world of BDSM, bondage included, there’s a lot to know and there’s different risks. You can hurt yourself and others by performing certain bondage acts unsafely or without any expert advice. So I recommend a few different resources, the first and foremost being us! Here is a lovely Bondage 101 article  about how to tie someone up with rope that our very own Carolyn wrote for you, and here is an excerpt from it that I think is very important:

+ Keep the rope loose enough that you can work two fingers between the rope and your activity partner’s skin. The goal is to restrain, not to cut off circulation. If the rope might get wet (it’s really hot and you’re both sweating, for example), leave it even looser.

+ Check circulation often by looking for areas of skin that might be turning blue or white. Check in with your activity partner often, and make sure they notify you if they start to feel pins and needles or numbness.

+ Never tie rope in a way that might restrict someone’s ability to breathe.

+ Never leave someone tied up alone.

+ Keep flat edged medical safety scissors nearby in case you have to release someone quickly.

+ Go slowly. If you’re embarrassed to go slowly and feel self-conscious, try something like tying up your activity partner’s hands behind their back — they won’t be able to see what you’re doing or if you’re checking instructions on your phone, and going slower can feel agonizing in a good way.

Please read the rest of that post if you’d like to use rope!

There are also a TON of books on the subject—I have a special fondness for The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage by Midori because the photos are so pretty that it looks like a coffee table book. We also used Two Knotty Boys Back on the Ropes to research for the kink workshop at A-Camp, so that’s a great one too. Also with any BDSM or any sex act where one partner is consensually granted more control than the other, I highly recommend both/all parties read The New Topping Book and The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. It gives a nice overview of other acts that you might not know you want to try yet.

I also recommend that both parties, both the Dear Reader and The New Top, read all material (both the things written for tops and bottoms). It is helpful to know what’s going on in the role you don’t normally inhabit.


rope_bondage

And Get The Right Stuff

If you want to use rope to tie someone up, please get the good stuff — thick cotton or silk is usually best, but really just make sure that the material won’t slip or move. If you use a material that moves around, you can really hurt the person on the receiving end. You can get a 25-foot length of safe bondage rope from Babeland for $18.  But you can do bondage more ways than just with rope. In fact, ropes can be a bit tricky for a pair just starting to explore what they like to do together. I’d recommend that your partner, as she is still figuring out exactly how she’s attracted to topping you, start out with some under the bed restraints ($58)—the cuffs are made of neoprene and are extra comfy, and they don’t have the learning curve that rope has. There’s also bondage tape ($18) paired with some safety scissors, which is great because the tape sticks to itself and not your skin (which means you can also make a blindfold out of it, it won’t stick to hair). Hey, that brings me to my next point—


 

Blindfolds Are Your Friend

This is truly the essence of your question. Yes, there was a “what to do” portion of it but what I really heard from your question was “How can we start having fun BDSM sex that doesn’t feel like I’m in charge?!” I read that as how can you guys explore this in territory that’s still sexy while The New Top is getting comfortable. And with that, I would like to share my number one go-to tip for starting to do anything new in bed.

To you, The New Top: get a blindfold. Put it on your partner. Now you can make any sort of face you want to make! If you need to giggle a bit at yourself because you feel a little silly, you can do it! If you need to quietly facepalm because you think you’ve said something un-sexy, you can do that too! You can pull all sorts of crazy expression, take as much time as you need and your partner-bottom-person won’t see it happen. It’s like a magic confidence talisman, that blindfold is. And this is helpful for doing anything new in bed—using a strap on for the first time, for instance.

But, let’s suppose for a second, that your bottom-partner (the Dear Reader) doesn’t care for a blindfold. I have another trick for you, and this might also help you in the “do or say” department. This works if you both fall under the power play section of the BDSM umbrella.

Order your partner to look away.

That could mean ordering them onto all fours and saying they’re not allowed up (or to look up) until you tell them to (or until they ask nicely). That could mean putting them in naughty time-out where they have to stare at wall or corner while you go bananas all over their back/backside. It could also mean exactly what Carolyn wrote in Bondage 101 — tie their hands up behind your back so you can read the directions off your phone while you’re doing it. The key here is knowing that your partner wants you to dominate her — use that to your advantage. If you need to go a bit slower or need to check directions, tell her she’s got to ask you nicely before you’ll continue. She’ll never know you’re back there  mouthing “what the hell am I doing” to yourself over and over again while she’s begging to be tied.


 

Practice Practice Practice

It’s hard to be top-y if you really don’t know what you’re doing. Okay, New Top, I am about to recommend what sounds like a really awkward situation but I promise isn’t. I need you to just, like, go with me down the yellow brick road on this one.

If you’re using rope, find a practice buddy.

Not your partner — someone you have no sexy feelings for, like your BFF or that awesome lady-person you met at A-Camp. Ask them very politely if you can practice tying knots by tying them up. Make sure they know it’s okay to say no if they’re not into it. Here is a sample way to do that:

“Okay, so I trust you a whole bunch which is why I’m going divulge something really personal and ask you what is kind of a weird question. Is it okay to do that right now? Like, are we in a good place and at a good time for me to do that?”

And if they say yes, continue with: “So I really want to get into rope bondage with my partner, but because I’m new at this, when I’m with her I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, which is really a buzz-kill. Would you mind if I totally platonically practiced my knots on you? It’s okay to say no if you think that’s really very strange. But I think it would be cracking good fun!”

Side note: I recognize that when I give these sample dialogues, they are wayyyyy how I talk. Feel free to personalize it a little bit. Also know that I never even thought of suggesting this before last camp! But those who presented on the kink panel spent much of pre-camp last October tying each other up and it really was soothing to know we could tie what we wanted to tie on another person. It was totally not an awkward thing to ask each other, and it calmed our jitters to giggle our way through a few practice runs! It might calm your jitters too!

You can also practice on yourself. You’ve got ankles. You’ve got the legs on your dining room chair. Those are both things you can practice tying up.

And of course, what fun would life be if you didn’t practice on your partner. That’s the fun practice but just fyi: tying your partner up can be sexy! It’s supposed to be, that’s why your partner wants to do it. So don’t be entirely surprised if practice leads to a little something extra, something a little more like game play. If you’re still not 100%, New Top, just make sure that both of y’all go into that particular playtime knowing that not everything is going to be 100% perfect (hell, will it ever be?) and to change tone accordingly. Baby steps!


 

Talk About Safe Words And Check Ins

Everyone has a built in safe word—it’s “no” or “stop.” But when you’re engaging in BDSM, sometimes screaming “no no no” when you mean “yes yes yes” can be sexy if it’s prearranged. So discuss a safe word if that kind of role play appeals to you. And try not to use something hard to say or remember, like “alfalfa” or “kielbasa.” I usually recommend the very simple “red, yellow, green” scale. Green, of course, means go. Yellow means slow down, ease into that. Red means stop. And it’s easy to remember because most everyone reading this has been staring at traffic lights our entire lives — the meanings of those colors are somewhere deep in our mindbrains, so even if the Dear Reader is going into subspace, they’ll still be able to make “red, yellow, green” happen.

Checking in is widely considered a good top’s responsibility, New Top, and you should be asking for a status update every so often. Remember that a top can safe word too — anyone can. So if you hit territory you’re not ready for and you’re like, “whoa, nope” then you can safe word and stop everything right in its tracks. But the idea of check-ins can sometimes break the power dynamic you’ve got set up—that’s still no reason to not do them. This brings me right on to my last piece of advice—


 

And Talk About What In Charge Means

This section is for both of y’all, the Dear Reader and The New Top. I heard in your question that you, Dear Reader, don’t want to feel like you’re in charge. The fun part about this kind of sex is that, really, everyone is still in charge. You’re just choosing to express that with a different power paradigm for the next hour or five. Dear Reader, you have agency in wanting to be a bottom here, as much agency as The New Top has when she’s “in charge.” Nevertheless, I think I get what you’re saying here. You don’t want to be bossing your top around—there are words for that dynamic. Power Bottom and Service Top. Or what some people call “topping from the bottom.” Those can be desirable dynamics for some people, so y’all do need to have a discussion about what “in charge” looks like to both of you. Does not being in charge just mean that you ask for nothing during sex, the top just ties you up and takes it from there? Or does not being in charge mean they’re dirty talking you or sexily and consensually verbally humiliating you (things like “dirty girl,” etc?). Or does in charge look like very sweet language on your part (for example, “yes miss” or “yes sir”)? Or does it mean that you want to pick the way you have sex and you want to plan it out to the letter but when the actual act is occurring, you want your top to be calling those rehearsed shots? In charge looks different for everyone, and you and your partner should decide what that power balance looks like between you two.

Here are some suggestions to try. Talk them out before you put them into practice:

+Instead of saying “are you okay?” when you’re checking in (asking your bottom for a status update), try grabbing a fist full of the hair on your partner’s head, turning their ear towards you and saying “consider this your check in.” Make sure your partner knows that you expect a response—a “yes, Miss” or a “green, Sir” and you’ll keep going. You both get a check in and The New Top gets to assert that they’re In Charge.

+New Top, if you feel at a loss and you aren’t sure what to do next, you can ask. You just have to ask like you’re In Charge. So instead of saying “what would you like me to do next?” try “Tell me what you wish I’d do next. Make it dirty. Turn me on.” And then sit back while they dirty talk you AND give you a little inspiration. If y’all are both into it, then make your bottom beg for what she just described.

+Dear Reader, there may be times when you want to maintain the dynamic, but you actually don’t want to do the thing your New Top just asked you to do. Or you’re really into it but you’re tired. Or you’re tied up and your shoulder is starting to feel a bit sore. But you don’t want to stop play! You don’t want to safe word, you want to keep going…just in a different direction. I’m going to share a sweet tip I learned from another member of Autostraddle’s Team NSFW—”would you rather I…” That’s when you say offer up an alternative to what your New Top just asked/ordered you to do, while still maintaining a service role in the game. You’re tied up and your shoulder hurts? “Wouldn’t you rather I give you a hand job?” or even “if you untie me, Miss, I can give you a hand job.” Discuss this with your partner before you starting banging so that your New Top knows this is a request for a change of direction, otherwise it’s possible that they can miss the point.


You’ve got this, both of y’all! You’re already doing all the right things by talking about it and agreeing to play where your interests intersect, so I really have no doubt that you have GOT THIS. Go get ‘em. And for all the rest of us, tell us your stories of going from Bondage Beginner to Terrific Top (and the tips and tricks for the transformation!) in the comments below.


Have a question about sex? Email me at ali [at] autostraddle.com, PM me on Autostraddle or for a completely anonymous experience you can ask me a question right here.

Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.

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Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

Ali has written 268 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. Thumb up 8

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    When it comes to BDSM, bondage, or any sort of sexual activity where there is a clearly defined top and a bottom, the second most important thing, after safety, is to make sure to leave the personas behind you when you’re not having sex.

    I speak from experience that sometimes these personas, especially dom personas effect other aspects of your relationship, where the dom might start to assume she is the one responsible for and in charge of said relationship, just like she is “in charge” in the bedroom.

    After two painful break-ups (no pun intended), I made sure my girlfriend knows that just because I like assuming a sub persona in the bedroom does not mean she’s the boss of me in any other aspect of our relationship.

    So, yeah… Communication, communication, communication.

    • Thumb up 0

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      Unless it’s a big part of your relationship (24/7 D/s). I think it goes back to communication. It’s important to know if your partner wants just in the bedroom or a lifestyle. Lifestyle doesn’t imply that you don’t act and function as normal human beings just that there is a power dynamic between partners.

  2. Thumb up 4

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    First of all my dad AND mom walked in while I was reading this so it was like a NEW TAB NOW moment.

    COMMUNICATION. Yup. I don’t think we can EVER stress that enough. Really great article, Ali. Something about the way you write makes me smile and laugh at all the right moments. -^^- I keep telling my wife to head over here to AS to read stuff like this but she can’t seem to take the hint so thanks for all the tips!! =)

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