Are You a Femdomme or a Female Top? What’s in a Label?

shibari for female tops

One of the first things you learn when you enter the kink community is that definitions, like both gender and sexuality, can be fluid. A term that means one thing to one person can mean something rather different to someone else. A good example of this are the terms top and domme.

Generally, a top is someone who does something to a bottom within a negotiated BDSM scene. A top doesn’t necessarily have any power over the bottom. For example, a bottom could negotiate an impact scene with a top. The top agrees to spank, paddle and flog the bottom until the bottom has had enough. The two are engaging in kinky play, but the top has negotiated no power over the bottom. Topping and bottoming are things people do, but they can also be ways that people identify. Someone who only likes to give impact scenes might call themselves a top. Someone who only like to receive them might call themselves a bottom. (And someone who likes both will usually call themselves a switch.)

Topping and bottoming are things people do, but they can also be ways that people identify.

The word domme refers to being a dominant in a D/s (dominance and submission) relationship. A domme need not top her submissive to be a domme, although she often does because it’s fun! Being a domme is not about what a woman does. It’s about the power her submissive has given to her to hold over him. A domme definitely does not need to do anything sexy with her submissive to be his domme. Many do. But some dommes have submissives who do chores for them and receive only praise or corrections in return.

This can be a tricky line for people to understand. When most men say they are looking for a domme, the majority aren’t really looking to take out a woman’s trash. And, honestly, it would be a rare submissive for whom that would be enough for long—if all he was getting out of the relationship was the honor of taking out a woman’s trash.

It’s been my experience that when most men say they are looking for a domme, they are really looking for kinky play. They are looking to be topped.

This truth is borne out on a myriad of complaints from dominant women on message boards about men who say they want a dominant woman, but who actually want a “fetish dispenser”—a woman who will do the kinky, sexy things these men want the way they want them done.

There is nothing wrong with topping or bottoming. It’s perfectly fine to admit that you’re a masochist, and you are looking for a sadistic woman to hurt you consensually—and that together you will reach an understanding of what a scene will look like. The truth is that even in most D/s relationships these negotiations will occur regularly because communication is important in BDSM.

One of the biggest red flags to an experienced domme is a potential submissive who says he has “no limits,” because no one really has no limits. That just signals to a domme that this is someone who either hasn’t really thought about what he wants or doesn’t want to take any responsibility for the relationship. (And yes! Just because you’re a submissive, you do still have to take responsibility for your relationship! Even if you have a Mommy Domme, she doesn’t want to be your actual mother.)

One of the biggest red flags to an experienced domme is a potential submissive who says he has “no limits,” because no one really has no limits.

Probably the most common expression of femdom in couples is those who have a (mostly) bedroom dynamic only. The couple is largely egalitarian in household and financial matters but likes to practice dominance and submission sexually. Usually, if those couples are asked to explain their dynamic, they will say that she’s the domme and he’s the sub. But some people who engage in FLRs, female led relationships, where the women really does have control over most aspects of the relationship, would argue that the couple doesn’t really have a D/s relationship. They are only playing at D/s, when in actuality she is just topping him.

This distinction would depend on a lot of factors. How much control does she have over him sexually all the time? Does she control his orgasms? Does she decide when they have sex and when they don’t and what they do or don’t do? If so, that’s probably closer to D/s. Or is it a game they play within individual scenes?  If so, that’s probably closer to topping and bottoming.

The real question is does this matter? Who cares?

If you are in a relationship, and it’s working for you, it doesn’t matter at all. You can call yourselves whatever you want. You get to define your own relationship.

However, if you are a potential bottom/sub who is looking for a potential top/domme or a potential top/domme looking for her bottom/sub, understanding these differences can save you some aggravation and failed relationships. If a woman is looking to be truly dominant in a relationship and your idea of that is to direct her to do you sexually the way you want, that relationship isn’t likely to go well. Conversely, if you’re a woman who just like to top guys sexually and you meet a very submissive man who wants you to take control of every facet of your lives together, you could quickly find that stifling.

While these definitions themselves don’t really matter, people should consider what they are really looking for in relationships and be clear about it to give them the greatest chance to find what they actually want.