This article is a Q&A interview that was done about the "bottom" role in gay sexuality.
I was interviewed by a journalist from Esquire Magazine for an article in their sex column in the publication’s December 2010 issue. It was about the concept of “the power bottom” as it pertains to gay sexuality. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the official pages of the magazine, but below are the questions I was asked with my corresponding answers.
1. What is the difference between a bottom and a power bottom, or how is power bottom defined?
In gay sexuality terms, a “bottom” is understood to be the male partner who is on the receptive end of anal intercourse and enjoys being penetrated. A “power bottom” could be defined as a bottom who has a strong enthusiasm and drive for engaging in long sessions of anal penetrative sex, whether as an extended single encounter with no interruption of being “topped”, or having the desire and ability to engage in multiple instances of anal sex over a long period of time within a sexual episode. A man who can accommodate penile thrusting for long periods without stopping and shows exuberance, lack of inhibition, and active participation in the sexual encounter are characterized as “power bottoms.” Many tops (the penetrator) who have endurance and enjoy long sessions of anal intercourse commonly complain about bottoms who have to terminate penetration because of discomfort, pain, or exhaustion. Conversely, power bottoms can also be discontented with a top who ejaculates too quickly during sex and halts the sexual encounter before he has been thoroughly satisfied.
2. Is it possible for a heterosexual male to be a power bottom? Or a woman? Is it exclusively a gay man’s thing?
“Power bottom” is simply a label attached to a sexual preference and taste that differentiates specific needs and desires for sex. The terms are primarily used in the gay community to help men distinguish between those partners that would be most compatible for their sexual needs; “top vs. bottom” is typically used as a screening tool to ensure goodness-of-fit with obtaining just the right sexual partner or prospect for a partner for a possible long-term intimate relationship. They can define particular sexual roles if that’s the route that’s chosen in a given sexual situation.
Though not as widely pronounced or publicized, I believe that heterosexuals also can be viewed as “power bottoms.” Sexuality is not cut-and-dry. Many straight men enjoy being penetrated by their girlfriends/wives with dildos and vibrators. While “power bottom” conjurs up images of strictly penis-in-anus, the advent of sex toys has added another dimension to the sexual needs of bottoms. The sensation of being “filled”, whether by a penis or some other object, meets a psychological need and fuels the sexual desire for this type of sexual activity. Additionally, in the heterosexual S&M community, the terms “top” and “bottom” are designated to either the man or woman who has the preference to live out these roles in either a sexual arena, or even in their general lifestyle and daily living practices. They espouse issues of power and control as opposed to being linked to any particular gender.
3. “New York Magazine” defined power bottom as a person that “takes pride in bottoming and is extraordinarily picky about the anatomical endowments of their partners.” What kind of endowments? Is bigger better? More simply: what is a power bottom looking for in a partner?
There are certainly those men out there who classify themselves as “size queens”, preferring male partners with large penises for anal sex. This is not a golden rule, however, to be considered a power bottom. Gay men love penises of all shapes and sizes and despite the stereotypes about “bigger is better”, many men find these phalluses difficult to accommodate and less pleasurable than an average-to-smaller sized member. Others love the feeling of being “filled” and “stuffed” by an over-sized appendage. The preference is as unique and individual as people are. It just depends on the role, if any, that penis size plays as a fetish or fantasy for the specific man.
The type of man sought is also just as varied depending on the individual’s specific erotic blueprint for what he finds attractive and a turn-on. Typically, a long-lasting top who is attentive is favored. Variables like masculine vs. effeminate, body build, hairy vs. smooth are all unremarkable and specific to each person’s unique idea of what’s “hot.”
4. Do power bottoms ever get to/want to go on top?
Absolutely! A power bottom doesn’t solely have to be on his back to have a good time. In fact, mixing it up with different sexual positions adds more spice and variety to the encounter. While there are certainly those bottoms who enjoy taking a passive role in anal sex, many others are quite aggressive in getting their needs met or creating a sexual scenario that’s enjoyable for both men involved. There can be more of a sense of urgency with the power bottom’s active participation and he can actually take on more of dominant role.
One of the beauties about gay sex is that there are no specific rigid gender or sex roles that have to be played out. This means that there is more versatility with sex play and sexual positions and roles can be mixed and matched depending on the situation, preference, and need. While some power bottoms may predominantly favor being topped on most occasions, this does not preclude them to only being pigeon-holed into that one position and many enjoy the option of being able to switch-hit from time-to-time as a “power top.” Versatility can offer more options for sexual satisfaction and variety.
5. I’ve heard that often more dominant men, in terms of look and personality, like to be power bottoms. Does the power bottom ‘role’ exert more dominance over the top, or do these people enjoy the role reversal?
There is no specific type of man who can be generalized as being a “power bottom.” Men of all personality types and creeds vary in their preference of whether to be a “top” or a “bottom”. Some dominant men do enjoy relinquishing control in the bedroom to tap into a more submissive side than they ordinarily exude in their public life, but this does not necessarily target them as being power bottoms. And as indicated earlier, a power bottom often times does not have to be passive and submissive; they can also be quite a delicious aggressor.
6. Are power bottoms rare? Do they have a “type”–that is, could you recognize one just by looking at them, or is it something you discover when having sex?
While it’s difficult to ascertain the number of power bottoms that exist, it is believed in some circles in the gay community that bottoms tend to outnumber their top counterparts. By scanning the sex personal ads available on the Web, one can frequently see that posts for bottoms seeking tops are in the majority. This is certainly not representative though and there are no statistics that I’m aware of to verify that as being an absolute truth.
And just like it’s impossible to detect who is gay from straight when out-and-about, it’s also impossible to determine who is a top vs. bottom by physical appearance. Effeminate men are often times stereotypically viewed as being bottoms (even in the gay community), but look out when one grabs you, throws you on your back, and gives you the ride of your life. He’ll debunk all those myths!
Much of the negotiating of sexual activity and what will happen is typically communicated before a sexual encounter. There are always those times as well where the sexual preferences and behaviors evolve in-the-moment of a heat of passion and the men follow suit with cues from body language and gestures. In some bar settings and gay community events, some men wear handkerchiefs, leather straps, and other insignia around a specific arm to advertise their specific sexual preference as a way to attract potential sexual partners or to define their identity.
Cheers! Power to the bottoms!
(c) Dr. Brian Rzepczynski, The Gay Love Coach