A couple of months ago I was performing with Bawdy Storytelling and had the great pleasure of hearing Race Bannon tell a story about the first time he bottomed. Bannon is a well-known Master in the kink community and has been for years. He didn’t bottom. One night he tried it and his story is about how eye-opening that experience was.
This was followed by phone calls from two female friends both excited to tell me about how they recently fell into a dominant role in a relationship and how much they loved it. Both of these women had previous experience with kink, but always on the submissive side. They were not pursuing a dominant experience but when one presented itself, they explored it and discovered wonderful things.
This got me thinking about switching: changing your role from bottom to top (or vice versa). In the kink community, switches get a lot of disrespect. Switches are often seen as a weak, wishy-washy player although that is often far from the truth. If you have spent any time on kink boards, you have seen people harassing and bad-mouthing switches.
The reality is, even if we don’t identity as a switch, most of us have some desires which cross from one side of the slash to the other (that is, to experiencing topping when we are a sub or subbing when we are a top). That is completely normal. Even though we have those desires, many of us don’t actually try switching for fear of community reprisals, embarrassment, pride or fear.
Handcuffed to Our Roles
Most folks who have entered the kink world in the last five to seven years have experienced the pressure to declare our role in the community almost as soon as we find out that kink is a thing. In the United States, women are directed to be submissive and men to be dominant because of cultural pressures. Many players declare a role early and with great enthusiasm without much understanding of what that role really entails.
The pressure to identify with a side of the slash isn’t new. What is new is the great influx of folks discovering kink and the intense pressure to declare yourself. While Fetlife and a few other sites offer “exploring” or “unsure” as role options, choosing these comes with a cost. People looking for dating and hook-ups generally want “a sub” or “a Dom” and not someone who wants to try different roles.
This vocal and public declaration (most sites have a role along with gender and age as primary descriptors) tends to lock us into our kink role. Say you are a submissive and you get deluged with requests from dominants looking to play. Say you are a Master and subby things come crawling to serve.
The reinforcement of your chosen role by people seeking out someone in that role helps us create a kink identity. This can be useful. However, many of us eventually get locked into a singular role on one side of the slash.
With this role-identity, we also learn the cliches about the other roles. Dominants often see submissives as weaker and lesser people. Submissives grab the line that “submission is a gift” that we confer of the more selfish dominant. Dominants often develop the idea that they cannot participate in receptive sexual acts (if you want to get lost in a pointless debate, look up the conversations on Fetlife about if it is acceptable for a Dom to receive anal sex). Submissives come to believe certain sexual positions and acts are off limits because of their role and have never discussed them with their dominant.
Kink communities also work to reinforce roles. We separate our groups out by role (Dom(me) groups, sub groups, almost never switch groups). We identify others by their role (again very binary). We often compound race and gender stereotypes with roles. Men heap scorn on male submissives. This tends to be double true for Black male submissives.
Our titleholders and competitions are set up for binary roles. These role models then reinforce what it is to be a Dominant/Master or submissive/slave.
We fear losing status if we change our role publicly.
So why consider switching?
For most of us, our own sexuality and desires do not fall only on one side of the slash. We can identify strongly with a role, but sometimes want to break out of it. Submissives, very well trained and happy submissives, will often channel their inner brat as a way of asserting a form of dominance while staying within a role. A Domme may request a rim job or pegging framed as the submissive servicing her to partake in acts seen as “submissive” without leaving the role of the Dominant.
These are great options and I fully support people using them. However, switching includes actually stepping out of one role and taking on another. As a submissive, you may peg your Dom as part of service, but the power exchange remains in place. Switching requires both parties changing that power balance, at least for the duration of a scene.
Changing roles can be incredibly eye-opening. As much as anyone can read or talk about what it is like on the other side of the slash from your identity, there is something unique that happens when you actually switch. The intricacies, the power balance, the energy, your focus during a scene, your language and body positions all have an opportunity to change when you actually switch.
Changing things up like this can lead to a deeper understanding of your own role and your partner(s).
Switching can also provide you insight into yourself. As a service submissive, I get great satisfaction from anticipatory service and providing service to a partner. Topping forces me out of that comfort zone. I had to come face to face with the fact that when I am the object of postitive attention and service, it is incredibly uncomfortable for me for a plethora of psychological reasons.
I did discover, however, that I am great (pretty damn amazing actually) at sissification and humiliation play. While topping in these ways do not provide me with a sexual charge like submitting does, I adore humiliating a man in scene. And as a writer, coming up with great wordplay and brilliant insults becomes a personal challenge I joyously embrace. I love this type of play for reasons very different than I love submission, but it opened a whole new area of kink for me to explore.
How do I switch?
There are lots of ways to switch it up.
Some couples are happy to try and switch up roles in private. Like any scene, it needs to be negotiated and planned. Switching at home with an established partner allows exploration of your other side in private without having to declare anything to the wider community. It provides safety on an emotional level.
Switching it up with an established partner allows both of you to explore parts of your identities that are normally pushed to the side. It can open the door to conversations you may have wanted to engage in but were afraid too. It presents an opportunity for both of you to grow.
Some people find people outside their current partnerships to try this with. Many kinky folks have more than one partner or maintain the option to see other people. Finding a friend, a trusted member of your local community, or a professional to try a switch role with is an option.
Pick-up play, while not in my comfort zone, works for some people. Go to a local party and go in your switch persona. Meet someone on the side of the slash you are looking for and set up a scene.
The Aftercare for Yourself
Just because you tried switching or switch on a regular basis does not mean you have to change your kink identity. Its your identity. If your currently declared role still feels the most comfortable to you, there is no need to call yourself a switch.
You may find you get something totally different out of switching roles. I am and remain identified as a service submissive even though I occasionally top. I get my deepest emotional and sexual satisfaction as a submissive so that remains my identity. The fact that I discovered topping for humiliation play is wonderfully fun does not change my identity in relationships– it is just something I love to do for shits and giggles.
When you try switching it up, be gentle with yourself. There is an internalized pressure to judge yourself as a switch. Recognize that voice, then tell it that it really doesn’t matter what others think. As yourself what you liked and disliked about the experience. What did you learn about yourself?
Switch it up and see if you grow.