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Dom vs Top: the Breakdown



Madam Carmen’s Message: As a Dominant and B.D.S.M practitioner of over 10 years, I’ve experienced and learned a few things about various roles and titles within this life- style. Even titles that hold certain parallels and responsibil- ities to the D-type position or “Dominant” role. A Dominant is someone who has consented to the responsibility and authority of another’s wellbeing, safety and pleasure. A Dominant is the decision maker for the dynamic; they also facilitate the acts of pleasure of a scene. The assertion is also exercised through bondage and discipline. These practices all tie into the submissive’s desire to be of use and servitude to the D/type in hopes of being rewarded through various intimate and erotic practices. Some of these practices may include performance of sexual acts and incorporating an array of kinks and fetishes.

Styles of Domination

Now that we have an understanding of the D/s dynamic and the responsibility of a Dominant, it is also important to discuss various styles of Domination. A few common roles include “Master”, “Daddy/Mommy” “Owner” “Mistress” “Brat Tamer” and even “Rope Rigger”.


Often times a Dominant’s role and how they exercise their dominance somehow become synonymously defined, which can affect the roles and responsibilities when establishing a dynamic. One role that is often mistaken for a style of Domination is “Top” or “Service Top”. A top is not specific to practices of Domination, but Dominant holds a topping position in a dynamic. The biggest difference is the power exchange. While In a Dom/sub dynamic there is an exchange of power, when practicing various kinks and fetishes, a dynamic of top/bottom does not require those ex- changes. Not every Dominant is the same, nor are their practices. It is imperative we learn to establish our own practices, and master those skill sets. Whether you consider it a kink or a spritual healing practice, we as practitioners dont always need to implement kinks and fetishes into our practices, but they are great activities that can assist in establishing Dominance and sub-training.

Since it is understood what a Dominant “D-type” is, let us also understand that the D-type role can hold many titles. Though each are all positions of control, author- ity and superiority, their definitions are more specific to their title, such as Master, Mommy/Daddy, Owner, etc. As a Master, more responsibility – and often, more power – is being exchanged. In return, the s-type, usually referred to as “slave” is able to live free of responsibility and decision making for their own autonomy, since it has been relinquished to the Master they have consented to serve and worship. As a Master, it is usually required to have a good amount of knowledge, experience and history with owning, training, and practicing as a D-Type, but in this sense of explanation, it is more suitable to describe someone who is an “Owner” rather than the act of Domination.

On the topic of “ownership” Not all Own- ers are considered “Masters”; some are considered and prefer to be referred to as “Mommy/Daddy’’. These terms are usually used in the lifestyle of age-players. Age- play is a kink practiced by those enthusi- asts who enjoy the pleasures of roleplay- ing and channelling the personality of “baby-hood” or their “inner child” energy. These s-types are considered “littles” or “adult babies”.

There are also the roles of a Rope Rigger, and a Brat Tamer. These roles are based on various dynamics that incorporate specific kinks and fetishes such as Shibari rope bondage and bratty role-play. These roles still hold a topping position, especially when in association to various kinks and fetishes. It is important to note, these roles are also considered to be dominant roles rather than topping positions. They usually require some sort of power exhange, unless these roles are solely identified by enthusiasts who are skilled in specific kinks, such as rope bondage.

As a “Top” it is important to understand you DO NOT have to hold great amounts of responsibility for “s-types”. The great- est amount of responsibility is respecting the autonomy of all play partners as well as their right to consent and possible revocation. During a Top/bottom scene, everyone involved has a responsibility to navigate the scene. This means a bottom is more vocal and involved with how they’re receiving pleasure, and the pleasure isn’t tied to power exchange responsibilities, tasks, rewards or punishments as they would be for a submis- sive or slave. This is because, in scenes involving top/bottom, no dynamics are in place; instead, just partners expressing and sharing their appreciation and enjoyment of various mutual kinks and fetishes. As a Top, scenes are more about exploring an encounter with another, so even in a vanilla relationship/dynamic, top/bottom is used. In fact, that’s real- ly where the terms originated; in more vanilla practices and less Kink/fetish related. Top/bottom dynamics have often been expressed in the LGBTQ community as a way to identi- fy the preferred position of a person during sexual exchanges, often defined as “tops give, and bottoms receive”. Although most times this is in reference to penetration, it is not exclu- sively associated. Top/bottom can be referred to any sexual act of folks who give and receive. For example, a Top could be the person performing a handjob, or even footjob, and the the person receiving is bottoming. It is often stereotyped that Tops are usually identified by their image, and how they present themselves: some more masculine, and aggressive.

A Dominant is responsible for the submissive or “s-type” in an exchange of power. They hold the responsibility to assert order and control over the submissive through various con- sensual practices, training and care. Like any scene, there has to be balance between the energy being exchanged between all parties involved. In a scene, as a Dominant, there is a responsibility to enforce rules, expectations, and the direction and flow of the scene. Dominants also negotiate these things prior to scene, as they would as a top as well, but often discussed when negotiating the dynamic, therefore what is expected from all parties within the dynamic, and that is what is usually expected of any scene unless discussed otherwise. It is important that safety protocols are also discussed and understood, discussing what the safe-word system is and how it is used within the dynamic to help navigate the scene. Negotiation for a D/s dynamic usually isn’t based on a scene-by-scene basis, but what has been es- tablished. Also, when in a D/s dynamic, most scenes are usu- ally facilitated based on the Dominant’s house rules, training and servitude purposes. These rules and training details are how reinforcements, such as punishment and reward. It is important that s-types are aware of the intentions of the scene so they know what is expected of them and what to expect. While these activities are often practiced in a Top/bottoming position, when power exchange is included, it sets the tone for what is expected from the scene as well as what is and is not acceptable. Dominants are also known to navigate from their own rules, protocols and practices which better establish their own preferred pleasures of control and discipline.

There are big responsibilities that are to be expected by both the Dom and Top have when facilitating a scene, and yes both are the facilitators of a scene. A few responsibilities are setting the scene, establishing boundaries, discussing and negotiating kinks and fetishes, and ensuring safety protocols are reviewed and understood, including a safe word system. In any dynamic, whether Dom/sub, or Top/bottom, the roles and duties of all parties involved – including the s-types – are equally expected to be practiced and followed.


Facts to Remember:

L A Dominant incorporates BDSM dynamic – power exchange between partners. A dominant also holds the responsibility and well- being while they have a submissive(s-type) in their care.

Dominants also have more control of the process of pleasure in ex- change for someone’s servitude. While Dominants participate in the practice of “topping” by providing pleasure to their counterpart, the difference with topping is less initiative to take control over the scene. L Dominants are usually serviced by their s-type after the scene, or they have negotiated how they would like to be reciprocated in exchange for power control. This is usually a part of aftercare. Both Tops and Doms should discuss and incorporate aftercare with their play partners; this is a part of facilitating a scene. Aftercare isn’t specific to power exchange, but more specific to acts of compassion and comfort after any intense scene, no matter the roles or positions.


A Service Top or Top is more the position within an action, usually involved in more sexual acts, and is NOT always associated to B.D.S.M or kink.

An example when in association to kink, someone performing impact play (spanking, flogging, etc.) on another would be considered the Top, or topping their partner. This is based on the agreed upon terms of play. (No one is exclusively on top, or on bottom; top/bottom roles can be interchangeable. Often, if you explore both sides, you’re considered to be “versatile” or a “switch”.

A Top isn’t exclusive to dominance. You can top another person and still be considered a submissive(less likely) but for the sake of discussion, it is possible. Often, topping is used as a practice to explore elements of domination without exclusively identifying as one.

Topping is usually preferred and suggested to individuals who prefer to explore elements of kink but do not exclusively want to enter any dynamics or have no interest in full domination.

Domination is often practiced by individuals who prefer a more “committed” approach to BDSM, seeking interactions with individuals in roles of submission who willingly seek subjugation from another through an exchange of power.

Keep in mind, Dom and Top are NOT exclusively interchangeable during a scene, unless negotiated and consented (meaning, if you started out topping in a scene, you can NOT start implementing power dynamics without consent PRIOR to the start of scene.)

Neither has to involve sex. Neither have to be long-term or have any time restrictions. Neither are gender specific. Neither have to ascribe as sadists.


When exploring your desires within this lifestyle, it’s important to understand the dynamic which is best suited for you, whether or not you are looking for a more committed arrangement or something to experience from time to time. Whatever the choice, it is up to you on what it is you desire. Sometimes, giving yourself the opportunity to explore various styles and roles to see what’s a best fit for you – as long as you are practicing them ethically and all parties are consent- ing – you’ll eventually find the best fit for your endeavors. Do not allow discouragement to overshadow your freedom of expression and exploration.

Happy Kinking!

More from Madam Carmen each issue in Darkside Magazine!

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