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Dear Andrea: My girlfriend is really into BDSM. At first I tried and played a convincing (I think) top-dom, but it just wasn't hot for me, so I looked some stuff up to get inspired. As I was reading-watching, I would really get off on it, but the sex with my girlfriend still wasn't hot. Then I realized that when I was masturbating to all this I was fantasizing about subbing. Oops. I am way in love with my girlfriend, but she is a bottom. Period. She might switch it around if it meant a lot to me, but I would know that it wasn't really making her happy. I don't know what to do. Can I become a top? Can I teach myself to like it? I'm going to do it either way but I really want to get into it, so please help! I want us to be good in bed together but two bottoms don't make a top. Help! Love, Topless
PS We're lesbians, if that matters.
Dear Tops: It sure doesn't, but thanks for the info!
I was just thinking about this last night when a friend was catching me up on her latest dating adventures. She was lamenting that some potential dates seem to come equipped with a set of kinks perfectly matching her own, and though that sounds good, it is of course no use at all. As you have discovered to your frustration, one wants a date with a complementary set of kinks, not a matching one. It's not an uncommon problem, and its most common manifestation is exactly the one that's driving you nuts: there are too many bottoms in this world and nowhere near enough tops to keep them satisfied. Why this is (beyond the fact that topping is hard work) I couldn't tell you for sure, but I bet any number of eager grad students are currently proposing theses on the subject to bored advisors who have read enough similar stuff already.
Here's my theory: There are people for whom BDSM is a core part of their identity, running as deep as, say, homosexuality or monogamy. Some may always have recognized this element in themselves, even before they had the language to express it (these are the kids who always want to play pirates or whatever game involves somebody getting tied to something or intentional infliction-receiving of pain, even when the other kids are long since ready to move on). Others don't realize it until they're exposed to S-M in some more adult context, but then it just clicks in, key into lock, and they know. Your girlfriend sounds like one of these BDSM lifers, who tend, in my experience, to be pretty set on their preferred role even if they do switch experimentally on occasion (a good idea, if only to find out how painful-exhausting it is to experience-produce any particular sensation).
Then there are the anything-goes people, who are happy to pick up a flogger or don a dog collar, what the heck, as long as it's fun. This type of player may not identify as an S-M person per se but may just enjoy a little power exchange on the occasional Friday night, no biggie. You may fall more on this end of the spectrum, but even what-the-heckers will usually discover some sort of preference, as you have. Most people do have a preference: Rare or well-done? Black or with milk? The perfect 50-50 switch is almost certainly as rare as the perfect 50-50 bisexual, but plenty of people find something to like in either role. I do think you can develop an appreciation for topping and get some satisfaction out of a job well done (there are resources like The New Topping Book by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy to help you with this), but you can enjoy and get good at it without every really becoming a top the way both of you are currently bottoms. Be careful about taking on a role that isn't really you, though. Nobody loves a martyr, and you're still going to want to bottom sometimes. I worry about you starting to resent your girlfriend for getting to have all the fun.
I have a suggestion that might save your relationship or might strike you as all sort of wrong and make you hate me, but here goes: you guys find a willing top, maybe somewhere in your extant social circle, maybe online or by joining a BDSM social organization, and bottom together sometimes. This kind of shared adventure can be hot, hot, hot and very bonding, sort of like getting lost in the woods together and surviving through mutual trust and interreliance, but a lot more fun. I think if you do that sometimes, and play top sometimes, and stick with the vanilla sometimes, you'll probably be OK, provided you both take care of getting your itches scratched. Love conquers ... much. Love, Andrea
Andrea's on vacation this week; this column ran previously (7/05/06). But she's still checking e-mail and eagerly awaiting your questions about love and lust!