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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Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, is an award-winning writer, blogger, journalist, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in the midwest, lost her mind in New York City and is currently making it work in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better, The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image and The Hazards of Being Female," "Dirty Girls," and "The Best American Erotica of 2007," magazines including Nylon, Marie Claire, GO, Curve, Interlude, and CollegeBound, and all over the web including, Jezebel, Queerty, Emily Books and OurChart (RIP). She was the recapper for The L Word Online and host of Showtime’s Lezberado and her personal blog has earned many dubious honors including Best Personal Blog 2008. Riese has spoken about blogging, community-building, feminism, cyberculture and sexuality at places like BlogHer, Yale, New York University, The University of Chicago and The Museum of Sex. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy and The Olive Garden's week-long training intensive; she enjoys eating foods, having big ideas, reading books & talking to her stuffed dog, Tinkerbell. Also, she's Jewish. Follow her smokin’ hot adventures on twitter. Contact: riese[at]

Riese has written 2893 articles for us.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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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