Book Excerpt: The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Tristan Taormino
Tops, Bottoms, and Switches
During a scene, a top is the “doer,” the person who is in charge, initiates activities and actions, and does things to the bottom. A bottom follows the top’s lead, receives stimulation from the top, and has things done to him or her. For example, in a spanking scene, the top is the spanker and the bottom gets spanked. Top and bottom can also be used as verbs, as in “I topped my girlfriend last night.” A switch is someone who enjoys playing both roles. Whether a switch becomes a top or a bottom can change from one scene to the next; switches may take on a particular role based on the partner they play with or the activity. They can also switch between both roles within one scene.
Sadomasochism is the enjoyment of giving or receiving pain or discomfort. A sadist is one who derives pleasure from inflicting pain, intense sensations, and discomfort on someone else. That pain or discomfort can be physical (like during a spanking), emotional and psychological (as in an interrogation scene), or both. This is just a brief definition; Chapter 16, Inside the Mind of a Sadist, by FifthAngel, is a thorough, thoughtful look at sadism. A masochist is someone who enjoys receiving pain or intense sensations, being made uncomfortable, or being “forced” to do something they don’t enjoy. Remember that sadists and masochists experience these desires and pleasures in the context of consensual BDSM scenes.
Let’s talk about pain, since it’s part of SM and comes to mind when people think of activities like flogging, caning, or piercing. When people experience pain, adrenaline, endorphins, and natural painkillers flood their nervous system. People get off on this chemical rush, which many describe as feeling energized, high, or transcendent. Pain is not just a physical event; like many things in our culture, it is also socially constructed and reinforced. When we see a person slap some- one’s face, we think, That hurt, that was unpleasant. But, in the context of a sexually charged scene, some people, when they are aroused (and their pain tolerance is much higher), process a face slap in a different way: it feels good. They like how their flesh responds and their pulse quickens. It may feel shocking, intimate, stinging; add the taboo of dominance, punishment, humiliation—whatever that slap signifies for the two people—and you’ve got a recipe for an intense experience. In certain contexts, one person’s pain can be another person’s pleasure. Or, as Patrick Califia writes in Chapter 15, Enhancing Masochism: How to Expand Limits and Increase Desire, which delves much deeper into this subject, “Euphoria and agony are next-door neighbors.”
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