View From The Top: Tops Have Limits, Too

“I want you to slap me,” she said. “I want you to slap my face. I want it to hurt. I want it to leave a mark. Please. Do it.”

Kara* and I dated for a few weeks before she started pushing, edging into territory that was new and risky for me. I was an experienced top by then, skilled with flogging and spanking and rough sex, and getting better at bondage once I decided that while rope was beautiful I really didn’t have the patience for all the intricate ties, and invested in leather cuffs that I kept clipped to the bars of my headboard. Before any serious D/s relationship, before playing with the psychological elements of kink, I started to branch into new territory that pushed my limits.

I knew bottoms had limits. It was pretty much the first thing in Kinky Sex Negotiation 101: find out the hard limits, the soft limits, the places of interest for the bottom. But what about limits for me? For the most part, the top is the one in charge, so I was the one deciding what activities we do. I could just omit any of the activities I didn’t want. But I discovered it wasn’t quite that simple.

“Please,” she said again. “Slap me. I love being slapped. Don’t you want to?”

I did want to. Her wrists were cuffed to my headboard, and she was naked, writhing underneath me. I knelt over her, trying to will myself to pull my arm back. I didn’t really know how to slap someone’s face. All I’d really seen were open-handed slaps in movies, a big full-arm swing of a gesture that is at once shocking and humiliating. Often, it’s a womanly thing — in giving or receiving. Women in films deliver slaps to men who have scorned them, or women receive slaps when they’re being “hysterical” to snap them back to reality. I wanted to know what it felt like to hit her, not just on her ass or thighs or breasts or shoulders, but on her delicate parts. On her cunt. On her face.

But why? I had to ask myself. Why does she want me to? Is she playing out something internalized? Does she think she has to play this way in order to be “cool” or accepted? Does she not think she could be a top because she’s feminine, and feminine folks are assumed and socialized to be receptive and submissive? And why do I think I, a masculine person, should be doing this kind of humiliating and painful thing to a feminine person — even if she is saying she wants it? Is this what we think we should do, or is this really what we want? Do we both feel better if we play our respective gender roles, even if it’s just play? Why do I want to slap this person, this woman here with me? Have I internalized some sort of patriarchal hierarchy?

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I’m all for having agency over one’s own body and what one does consensually in the bedroom, no matter how questionable it might seem to someone else. But how can I really tell if what I’m doing is empowering or messed up? We live in a kyriarchical society that creates and enforces hierarchies; when does an act feed into those systems, and when does it reclaim something from them?

I had too many questions and not enough answers. She was asking me to do it. I knew she wanted it, I trusted her to know she could take what she asked for, and I wanted to give her what she wanted. But I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure I had the right technique. I ached to do it, I wanted to feel it, but I was too scared.

It’s always been easier for me to pause the action than to say a safeword of my own. Which means that usually, if I redirect some activity that isn’t quite working for me, I’m the only one who knows about it. But this time, I needed her to know. I couldn’t just shift to something else, not with her lying there bound and begging. I needed to respond, to answer her request, even if the answer was no. And I needed a moment to clear it between us, not just brush it off. I was too deep into my head with my doubts and fears. Plus, maybe if I could express some of what I was concerned about, she could help me — she might be able to show me how to slap her safely, if there were techniques or tips I needed to know.

“I can’t,” I whispered. Then, louder: “Lighthouse. Lighthouse, lighthouse.”

She blinked, recognizing my safeword, and looked at me differently, dipping out of the subspace and into curious open concern. I nodded, tears welling up in my eyes. I unbuckled the leather cuffs around her wrists and curled next to her, and she let me hold her close. We held each other.

* Not her real name, and not a real person; completely fictionalized from real experiences that are an amalgam of people I have known.


Editor’s note: Kinkshaming will not be tolerated in the comments. If your comment is deemed unproductive to the conversation, it will be deleted.

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is “the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queer women” (AfterEllen), who “is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places” (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Sinclair identifies as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor and an introvert. Follow their writings at Sugarbutch Chronicles.

Sinclair has written 40 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Now you have me thinking about reasons why my wife doesn’t want to do certain things. However, she doesn’t just come out and say it when I ask. I figured out that she just needs to ease into things and we need to communicate before trying something. But still, there are unexpected limits one can encounter. Like for me, she called me a “slut” once during sex. She was just lost in the moment and usually I am up for the dirty talk, but that word just…idk. It struck a nerve or something and I just couldn’t do it anymore. Apparently I have a limit on being called slut of all things.

  2. This is a great post. I love reading about dom vulnerability/uncertainty. This is honestly the first time I’ve read about a dom using a safeword and I teared up at the ending of this piece. I get that some people don’t like having their sexuality challenged, but I really appreciate you peeling back the layers and sharing the how’s and why’s you think about with BDSM. More of this, please!

  3. Thank you so much for talking about times when tops have limits and for talking about something as taboo as face slapping.

    I’ve not used my safe word yet as a top but I’ve gotten close twice. I’ve talked to my partner about it and they’ve been wonderful about allowing both of us to have limits.

    Face slapping is so hot but seems to be taboo even among kinksters. I love it (both topping and bottoming). I like that you pointed out there seems to be something feminine about it. Women slap women. I don’t do face slapping at public play parties since I know many instructors, title holders, and other pillars of the community who are uncomfortable with it. Thank you for taking the risk to talk about it here.

    • I think part of the taboo is the potential for very visible marks -most other impact play tends to be on areas covered by clothes, whereas if faceslapping bruises it risks, for example, triggering domestic violence survivors and involving passers-by in your play by making them concerned.

  4. Fantastic post. I have had the unpleasant experience of going over my limits as a top since I’ve wanted to please my play partner and haven’t had the understanding to respect my own limits in that role. Most tops probably have made the same mistake in the early days, but it seems to be something that a lot of tops fear they’ll lose their reputation if they come and talk about it. But I’m glad you did.

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