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Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

topic posted Tue, March 20, 2007 - 9:50 AM by  Long John
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Okay, originally I thought being a top and a dom were the same thing, now I'm hearing differently.
From those with experience, what is the difference?
posted by:
Long John
Los Angeles
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    Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

    Tue, March 20, 2007 - 9:58 AM
    I agree with the rest of the responses but I'll add another paradigm.... a submissive who tops because the one they serve likes to be flogged/hit/fucked/tied up.... They are being submissive and serving by being a top.
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    Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

    Tue, March 20, 2007 - 10:05 AM
    usually, the term top refers to someone who delivers the sensation in a scene. The person who ties the rope, wields the flogger, etc. A dominant is a person who recieves control in a scene, or is served by another. They can often be the same person, but it's useful to have both terms as it's possible to have an S/m scene with little or no D/s, and also to have a D/s scene with little or no S/m. There are also situations where a dominant may want a certain sensation and may want to control the application of that sensation by someone else, if that person is a dominant masochist. There are other possible permutations of the idea, but the basic thought is that dominance and sadism are not the same thing.
    • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

      Tue, March 20, 2007 - 10:11 AM
      Topping and sadism aren't the same thing either. The person who does the tying up in bondage is also the top, but ornamental bondage, at least, really isn't about inflicting pain or sensation, its about control and asthetics.
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      Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

      Tue, March 20, 2007 - 11:00 AM
      Um... okay. So, the other night my girlfriend and I were playing with our submissive. My girlfriend told our sub what to do and, because our submissive was playing the brat that night, I was the physical enforcer. So, according to this language... My girlfriend was the Dom and I was the top. Right?
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        Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

        Tue, March 20, 2007 - 12:48 PM
        "My girlfriend was the Dom and I was the top. Right?"

        Could be. I might also call that position "middle" rather than top or bottom. And as long as it was an enjoyable interaction for everyone, the labels don't matter a great deal.
  • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

    Tue, March 20, 2007 - 10:22 AM
    Top is a role in an SM scene. SM generally refers to a focus on sensation, however that might be done. It could be physical, it could be psychological, but the focus of the experience is on sensation. A top's counterpart is a bottom.

    Dom is short for dominant and is a role in a d/s scene. D/s is a form of power play, sometimes, but not necessarily power exchange, where the focus of the interaction is on a power differential. A dom's counterpart is a sub, (for submissive).

    These are the definitions that evolved online in the 90's with alt.sex.bondage. Previously, different groups in different citties used the terms differently and those uses still exist, especially offline. Eg, the gay world tends to talk in terms of tops and bottoms, even for essentially vanilla actitivies like fucking and blow jobs and will sometimes talk in terms of topping a power dynamic. If you watch "The L Word", they use the phrase "top" in this way. Compare to the het world where they tend to refer to doms and subs regardless of the type of play and will use the word dom to refer to anyone.

    It's always possible to portray any experience in terms of the other. And there's a fair bit of overlap. The weirdness comes when I claim that I'm flogging because I find it cathartic and someone else claims that I'm flogging as a means of exerting control and therefor dom'ing. While that could be true for someone else in exactly the same situation with exactly the same behaviors, it isn't really a very accurate portrayal of my experience.

    If you're just going through the rituals so that you have a chance to hit someone, or you just want to make someone scream, there's a good chance you're topping.

    If you're spanking someone as a means of demonstrating your control over them, or to "prove who's boss", there's a good chance you're domming.

    Note that the people involved in a scene really dont' need to agree on these terms. They just need to agree on the behaviors involved. If someone wants to be spanked and I agree to spank them, it doesn't really matter whether my partner sees me as a dom or a top in that interaction, so long as they appreciate the experience.
    • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

      Tue, March 20, 2007 - 10:51 AM
      I hate the abbreviation dom and sub for that matter. It is my opinion that they are disrespectful. I think that people that put everything they are and have into doing something well deserves shouldn't have there efforts and role arbitrated. With that said everyone has pretty much covered the difference between top and dominant. How about we play what's the difference between a dominant and a master ;-).
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        Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

        Tue, March 20, 2007 - 6:31 PM
        "How about we play what's the difference between a dominant and a master"

        one somewhat tounge in cheek answer for this is "about ten years."

        Another possible answer is that a dominant will tend to measure themselves by how much control they have over someone else, and a master will measure themself by how much control they have over themself.
      • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

        Wed, March 21, 2007 - 9:02 AM
        The difference between d/s and m/s is pretty similar to the difference between SM and d/s. It's about focus.

        In d/s the focus is on power, typically on a power differential, possibly on power exchange. In m/s, the focus is on ownership. For some, m/s is a form of d/s. For others, m/s is a thing unto itself which is not d/s. There are certainly no shortage of self identified slaves in the world who claim that they aren't submissive. And this distinction would seem to decry the idea that one is a more evolved or deeper version of the other.

        Personally, I have trouble understanding or respecting the ownership line. I believe that in our culture, it's not possible to own another human being. If a slave asks society in general for help escaping from a relationship, they will get that help. If an owner asks society for help retaining control over their property, they will not. Because of this outer distinction, all m/s play simply looks like role play to me. I understand that it doesn't look that way to the participants necessarily, but it does to me.

        I held a class on d/s vs SM vs m/s last year and one of the things I learned in the class is that "ownership" in this context can simply refer to a sense of belonging. Under this definition, it begins to make some more sense to me. I still think it seems contrived, but at least I can relate to it from this perspective.
        • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

          Wed, March 21, 2007 - 9:12 AM
          I prefer the therm "Master" as an indication of Experience and Maturity, not in the context of "ownership". They are both valid definitions, not arguing that. I just believe it is a title to be earned and accepted by a community, as opposed to self-appointment.
          Which I guess is one of the focal points of this discussion- that terminology is fluid and means different things to Each of us.
          So yeah, liked Loki's answer, too. It applies to all lifestyles and arts, not just this little corner of the world....
          • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

            Wed, March 21, 2007 - 9:17 AM
            >>>I just believe it is a title to be earned and accepted by a community, as opposed to self-appointment.<<<


            That is the way it used to be. How, I long for the days of old ;-)
            • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

              Wed, March 21, 2007 - 10:38 AM
              This is precisely why I adopted the term 'Lady.'

              While I may have the nature of a Dominant, I have yet to accumulate sufficient time, mileage, experience, and seasoning to be called a Mistress. Although my title/standing/role is within my relationship with rick, I interact with my community. I want it clear to those who surround me that I am aware of my place with regard to being a Novice. I may have a great deal of life knowledge to share, I am pretty much a blank slate with regard to knowing enough to pass on in BDSM.

              As is true in another fellowship of which I am a member, I can only share 'my experience, strength and hope'.

              In Love and Service...
              • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                Wed, March 21, 2007 - 9:30 PM
                >> I want it clear to those who surround me that I am aware of my place with regard to being a Novice. <<

                Just FYI, I'm not sure that using "Lady" as part of your name conveys what you think it does, Anastasia, at least in this area, or specifically in relationship to other possible "titles" for a couple of reasons. Around here, people view each other as complete equals (at least in a BDSM sense), unless they are in a specific relationship with someone, and as a result, it's really somewhat immaterial how much experience any given individual has in the BDSM context. Attached to that, especially since honorifics are not used outside the context of specific relationships, I really don't think that most people would differentiate between the honorifics of "lady" or "mistress".

                >> I am pretty much a blank slate with regard to knowing enough to pass on in BDSM. <<

                I think you know more than you think you know ;->

                Wendy

                • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                  Wed, March 21, 2007 - 10:34 PM
                  Actually, Wendy, most submissives are willing to grant honorifics to someone except for the term "Mistress." Lee might call my friend Lady Eleanor, for instance, but he would NEVER call her Mistress Eleanor. I am the ONLY Mistress in his life.

                  Mistress is a term used only by those in service or with a collar and only to that particular dominant they see as owner.

                  Domina
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.

                    Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                    Wed, March 21, 2007 - 11:26 PM
                    I also balk at Goddess and similar quasi-religious titles -- there's something a bit too queasily grandiose about them.
                    • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                      Thu, March 22, 2007 - 1:38 AM
                      >> I also balk at Goddess and similar quasi-religious titles -- there's something a bit too queasily grandiose about them. <<

                      It's not even remotely actually religious in quite the same way, but I have the same reaction to titles like "empress".

                      Wendy
                    • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                      Thu, March 22, 2007 - 12:30 PM
                      "I also balk at Goddess and similar quasi-religious titles -- there's something a bit too queasily grandiose about them."

                      There's a tantric perspective in which we're all gods and goddesses. It's not so much about power over as it is about intention and recognizing value in everyone, especially our selves and our partners. In tantra circles it sometimes comes around full circle from "one who merits worship" to "one who requires patronizing". Kind of ironic, really.

                      When I was a teenager, I had a button that read: "We'll get along fine just as soon as you realize that I'm God." I thought it was wonderful in that we're all god. Wasn't until years later that I learned this was a tantric perspective. (And it took me ages to figure out why people got offended by my button - I still don't understand why, only that they do.)

                      Personally, I balk at people who have taken on the names of dieties or other characters from myth. There's a tantra instructor in the bay area who is going by "Shakti" and that bugs me. I met an "Athena" a few months ago - it's probably a given name - but I still have trouble remembering it or forcing myself to use it for her.

                      However, I do tend to retrain partners who exclaim, "Oh, god!" into saying "Oh, Chris!"
                      • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                        Thu, March 22, 2007 - 7:47 PM
                        Actually, the whole god and goddess thing in tantra makes me insane. Even aside from the insistence on gendered roles, which I think is not universal to tantra groups (although even my home group tells me to come to the puja dressed in "whatever makes you feel like a goddess," an outfit which has not yet been invented), it just seems to be feel-good meaninglessness. If we're all deities then the word deity ceases to have a meaning; it's an exact parallel to "everything is spiritual," which is simultaneously self-evident and a tautology.
                        • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                          Fri, March 23, 2007 - 1:36 AM
                          When subjective perspective is all-important changing the label for a thing can have a powerful effect. Even something silly, such as changing a name, can change the way you view and interact with a thing, person, or idea.
                        • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                          Fri, March 23, 2007 - 10:59 AM
                          I understand what you mean by the gendered aspect. And I have mixed feelings about it.

                          I go back and forth on the "everything is spiritual" idea. Sometimes I think it's useful, other times I agree that it's meaningless. Overall, I think that anything _can_ be spiritual, but that whether it is or not in that moment deals more with focus and intention, (aka "reverence").
                  • This is the maximum depth. Additional responses will not be threaded.

                    Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                    Thu, March 22, 2007 - 1:37 AM
                    I've never heard that, Domina, but if you say so, I'll believe you ;->

                    Wendy
                    • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                      Thu, March 22, 2007 - 8:36 AM
                      Due to the internet chat rooms, there are a lot of people using "Mistress" as a generic title. And a lot of new "submissives" who will call anyone Mistress. But I've always been told that MIstress is a personal title, and NOT a generic one.

                      Domina
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                        Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

                        Thu, March 22, 2007 - 8:27 AM
                        "Due to the internet chat rooms, there are a lot of people using "Mistress" as a generic title. And a lot of new "submissives" who will call anyone Mistress."

                        Domina, that is one of my beefs too - submissives who bounce arond calling everyone Sir and Ma'am as thought they are in service to that person. It's one thing to be polite, it's quite another to ingratiate oneself to every self-proclaimed Dominant one meets.
  • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

    Tue, March 20, 2007 - 10:41 AM
    Depends who you're talking to and how long they've been around.

    When I first came into the scene a couple of decades ago, "top" was the generic term for dominant/owner/sadist/whatever. These days it gets used more often in the het/pan world to mean "giver of sensation," whereas "dom" means "taker of control." The older terminology is still in use in the queer communities, although I think there's a lot of blurring between the two usages even there.

    For the record, I still strongly prefer the older usage, but at this point it feels like a lost battle ::sigh::
    • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

      Wed, March 21, 2007 - 3:49 AM
      Loki,

      I like that a lot:

      "a dominant will tend to measure themselves by how much control they have over someone else, and a master will measure themself by how much control they have over themself."

      And it's true, recent tops, doms, whatever, often do not understand just how much of this type of play is about self knowledge, learning about psychology and how to read the other person.

      They may call themselves a master but that does not make them one.

      Janet, I like top and bottom better also and I am a newcomer. In the het community people seem to use Dom and sub for everything and do not understand the difference.

      Great question, Podman. It took me a while to really understand the difference.
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      Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

      Wed, March 21, 2007 - 8:59 AM

      It seems to me that when people *are making a distinction* between the terms, the usage is similar in the het and queer communities. But when people reach for a generic, or umbrella term, that is in this case meant to cover both, queer people will use top and bottom and het people will use dom and sub.

      (And if you're bi, you're just SOL, Ha!)
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    Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

    Thu, March 22, 2007 - 9:34 PM
    For me, I see a Top as being someone who "plays" within a certain time period. I am a submissive but there are times when I will top someone. Being a Dominant is more of 24/7 thing...it is just who you are and is way more cerebral. That's just how I see it though....
  • Re: Top or Dom: What's the Difference?

    Wed, March 28, 2007 - 10:26 AM
    As teamnoir stated, in the Gay Male world, "Top" means the fucker, "bottom" the fuckee (please note that not all gay men fuck OR get fucked...but it's amazing how many nongay folks think it's the be-all end-all </soapbox> ).

    i am a sub, but i am NOT a Bottom. It can be frustrating to find playmates who will Dom me at the level of intensity i need, but draw the line at fucking me. I've yet to meet a Dom who commanded me to fuck HIM, but that is a distinct possibility I'm surprised hasn't come up :)

    Back to the nongay context, however, I confess that I always kind of thought of Top/bottom as pretty much the same as Dom/sub; it's interesting to see the nuance.

    (PS--I just chuckled, for the first time, that to post this message, I have to click "submit" :) ) What do Doms' buttons say?? ;-)

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