Tops, Bottoms, Switches, What Do You Mean: Take Our Autostraddle Lesbian & Queer Sex Survey

Writing this week’s “Lesbian Sex 101” post, the first in a three-week series about defining commonly used terms like “top,” “bottom,” “switch,” “submissive” and “dominant” (and their small variations wherein) was … challenging. I declared, at various points in my journey, “nothing means anything anymore!” and “everybody thinks everything means something different!” Through research and extensive personal crowdsourcing, I was pretty close to wrapping up the post about bottoms and submissives when it occurred to me that I’d love to be able to include DATA from y’all about it. It seems like these days, most queer women and non-binary people identify as tops, bottoms or switches but within this specific community there is not a consensus on what we mean when we say those words.

Thus, we come to you bearing a sex survey. We’re looking here specifically at the dynamics that occur in sexual activities that involve people who are LGBQ+ women (cis or trans) or else non-binary people or trans men who feel an affiliation with queer women’s communities. We recognize that this is an imperfect description of a community, but this is a very complicated community and it’s very hard to nail things down and get good data. Please note that most of these questions are referring to sex and sexual dynamics between people who are not cis men — not because bisexual women in relationships with men are not queer enough to be here (you are!) but because that’s just not the topic of this particular survey or this series. Anybody who is not a cis man and has slept with people who are not cis men at any point are welcome to take this survey if it feels relevant to your experiences. Okay. Please don’t yell at us today, we’re very understaffed, we can’t make edits to the survey once it’s live without re-routing everybody to the top of it and erasing their answers, the world is on fire and it’s very hot in this laundromat. Sex is fun!

Take the survey here. No identifying information or IP addresses will be recorded by the survey.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3202 articles for us.


  1. “nothing means anything anymore!” and “everybody thinks everything means something different!”
    I feel you.

  2. YESSSSS!!! This is the only community who’s opinion on the matter I actually want to know!!

  3. That was enjoyable! Looking forward to seeing the results, even though surveys are always flawed and numbers and check-boxes can only say so much but also surveys are so fun!

  4. This _was_ fun ! Being deeply honest always makes my heart flutter a bit, but ultimately it’s good for the soul ! You’re the only people who can get away with asking me such personal questions.

    • Probably beauase the person who made it didn’t think there was enough of a giving/ recieving dynamic to it?

    • yeah it wasn’t about all sexual things people do! it was about sexual things people do that have giving/receiving dynamics involved

  5. This quiz only left me with more questions! As a psych doctoral student- this is the research we want!

  6. YES!!!! I’m going to love this.

    I’m still a little vexed with that poll from Buzzfeed (880 LGBTQ people, are you freaking kidding me??!!!), so, just as you killed “Lesbian bed death”, I know you’re gonna set the record straight at least about kinky.

  7. OK, dumb question – I’m kinky but I have plenty of vanilla sex. And my styles are not exactly the same…. Oh, bugger the question, I’ll just spam the “other” box.

    Although, tbh, I find terms like top/bottom in terms of vanilla sex very gay-male culture.

  8. I’d like to clarify I’m not “yelling” at you (or even scolding), but I -am- quite curious about some things? Why is sex with cis men being excluded? Perhaps explained more precisely? Because we surely have people in our community who may not be cis men or women who still have sex with them. It goes beyond the worries over cis bi women being erased. A lot of trans and nbgq people may have not had the experiences defined above, may have only had/have sex with a cis male partner, and would be excluded from taking or participating in this survey.

    I understand there’s complications and difficulties in defining and sorting things, but isn’t this potentially cutting people in this community out? Isn’t that sort of exclusivity harmful? I mean, we could do better, right? My partner/s and I have a great number of friends in this community who may feel excluded by these criteria. As such, it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of this community and the data aren’t inclusive or worthwhile.

  9. I am so curious and excited to see the results of this, for a couple of reasons.

    As TrixM said above, for years I associated these terms just with gay men. I don’t anymore, but I think lesbian sex flips some of gay male paradigms of tops and bottoms…. and how pleasure is received, offered and given.

    IMHO, I think the labels top or bottom are more about attitude than actual preferred sex acts— I’m excited to see if the results bear that out.

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