Bottoms Up: Choosing Pleasure Over Perfection

Feature image via Shutterstock.

I want to be perfect in everything I do. I want perfect grades, I want perfect hair, and I want perfect sex. (Sex is really, really hard to get perfect.) And even more than that, I want to be a perfect submissive.

In my mind being perfect equates to liking everything the top I’m sleeping with likes, or saying, “Yes, Daddy,” when she asks me if something feels good, even when it doesn’t. The goal of being perfect feels harmful; I push myself past my limits in a way that feels unhealthy. Natalie-Portman-in-Black-Swan unhealthy.

For instance, I love getting bitten, being marked up, seeing proof that I got laid the next day like a gold “you did it!” star on my skin. But not on my nipples. I have nipple rings — I got one a little over a year ago, over Thanksgiving, and the other on a trip to the Bay Area during my school’s break last fall. I look hot with my nipples pierced, and when someone plays with them the right way, it’s like they strum a direct cord between my nipples and clit and my whole body simultaneously seizes up and relaxes. When someone plays with them the wrong way, it feels the way it felt when I got my septum pierced, but over and over. And I haven’t had much luck with finding people who play the right way.

I know when someone starts biting my nipple ring clean out of its piercing, they’re trying on some level to please me. But while other people might like that kind of sensation, I don’t — and I struggle with speaking up about it. I’ve gotten so good at articulating what I like and what I want that I’ve been accused of topping from the bottom, but articulating what I don’t like is completely different territory.

Pushing myself past my limits this way doesn’t make me feel perfect the way I want it to, either. I’ve let many a human munch away on my nipples and I just don’t like it and probably never will. Instead, I end up sore (in a bad way) and upset after having sex. I regret that I didn’t say anything, I’m pissed that the sex wasn’t as great as it could have been and I’m bummed that I didn’t practice all the things I value about consent and communication. Instead of feeling like the perfect sub, I feel like the worst for not liking it, and for not speaking up about not liking it.

When I talk about what I like doing during sex, it feels awkward, but part of it also feels really hot. That’s why it’s gotten easier for me to be able to have those conversations. But talking about what I don’t like feels embarrassing. It feels like I’m not enough, and it feels like I’ve already done something to disappoint my partner. I’m still working out how to get over that.

But submission isn’t just about doing what a top likes; it’s about a mutual exchange. What I like (or don’t) counts, too. The real way to being a “perfect” sub is by doing something that feels to me like the opposite: speaking up, standing up for myself, and making my desires — every part of my desires — part of the conversation.

My therapist always asks me to think about if I’d treat other people like I treat myself. Would I be upset if a partner told me they didn’t like something? Of course not. I’d want to do everything I could to make sure they were enjoying sex. Why wouldn’t I allow my parters that same courtesy?

Sex will never be perfect. It’s messy; that’s part of what makes it exciting. But it can get a little closer to perfect every time I communicate — both about what I like and what I don’t.

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Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 330 articles for us.


  1. I’m having this problem over and over. I feel guilty and ashamed of telling that I don’t like something. It always gets awkward, as I get nervous and moody when keeping those things for myself. But I still cannot speak up for myself.
    Then she gets annoyed, then we fight, and if (eventually) I tell her what is wrong, she gets sad or mad. And I go only with what I feel at the situation (keeping in my mind the golden rule “say just YOUR feelings, without opinion”).
    And then I go back to thinking that I should keep it to myself, as nothing happened, just to keep her happy.

  2. There’s this myth that lesbians/queers are super great at communicating in bed. At one lesbian meet-u I went to someone even said, “all lesbians ever do is talk and talk during sex.”

    Yet, I’ve never met this lesbian they’re all talking about. Instead my experience is that everyone feels a little awkward about speaking up. The person willing to say, ‘no, not like that, like this,’ is so rare in my experience.

    And I’m bad at it too. How easy to praise your partner, ‘yes, I like this, great!’ How difficult to tell them to change what they’re doing.

    Thank you for your reminder. Communication is important, especially when hard.

  3. This reminded me of what my sweetheart and I worked out for when for whatever reason I’m physically incapable of talking (like if I’m gagged, for instance). She makes sure to have part of her body near my hand, and if I need things to stop I give her a light 2-tap pulse. Sometimes all I need is a short break or to give some feedback. It works really well for us.

    I also find myself struggling with that tension of wanting to be the perfect sub but wanting/needing to give feedback on what I don’t like or what isn’t working. Also, even in sex without that power play dynamic, when I get worked up, I feel like my brain just goes a little less verbal… it’s harder for me to access those skills when omg sensation! I find the non verbal signal easy. I find it less intimidating than speaking up with words, and even though usually more words are needed, it sort of breaks the ice. Just makes me think maybe I should incorporate the 2-pulse tap even when not gagged or otherwise verbally incapacitated.

    Thanks for the good article!

  4. “Sex is really, really hard to get perfect.” I feel this sentiment so hard.

    Great piece, thank you for sharing.

  5. I thought this was fantastic and really important, thank you so much for writing and sharing. I’m really looking forward to reading the next instalment.

    As a switchy top/dom it is really fantastic to read this column, and also the comment about non-verbal signals. Trying the find that place where you can both communicate your limits and not feel guilty, and feel that trust, is so important. I also really relate to expressing limits (there are some things as a top that I am not able to do) and being really worried about being disappointing.

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