I’d argue that a large proportion of our demographic leans one way or the other. Although we have may have tried it all, from topping to bottoming, to topping while bottoming, to everything in between, as we grow older we realize what works for us and what doesn’t. Some of us who start out as exclusive bottoms flower into wonderfully experienced power tops, while some of us know what we want and how we want it from the very beginning, keeping our preferences consistent and unwavering.
Naturally, the spectrum of human sexuality will also include those who experience fluctuations in preference. We all have friends who go months, even years committed to one position, and then they meet someone who shows them a new approach to hitting the prostate, or introduces them to the swing, or ties them up, and their sex life is changed for the next few months (until they reclaim their status as a dominant top).
But what about those of us who are consistently versatile, seeking out those that are able to please us in a multitude of positions? What are the implications of enjoying the eroticism of submitting to a dominant force, fulfilling our urge to be taken control of and at the will of our top’s wants and desires, while often simultaneously yearning to be the dominator? Are those of us who are truly versatile in our positioning preference opened up to a larger world of sexual exploration, or can our diversity of desire limit our ability to fully enjoy the satisfaction of long-term relationships? As a self-defined versatile gay, I argue that both situations can arise from this disposition.
Looking: a wider selection in the 2 a.m. search
Perhaps you come home from a night of partying and aren’t ready for sleep quite yet. You have your collection of “social networking” apps listed under your “fun” folder on your smartphone, and so the search ensues. For some, a Grindr profile bio that lists “bottom looking for top” or “strict top” in some cases deters those who don’t match up, while some are attracted to those of us who are firm in our preference.
I would argue that in this case, being versatile can be advantageous. When we’re out on the scene or at home looking for late night company, a versatile gay who’s in pursuit of a hookup can be stimulated by a variety of men that fulfill different internal fantasies. A manifestation of our ideal perfect top or delicious bottom can exist simultaneously in the same room, or as picture thumbnails next to each other on our social applications.
Perhaps this may make our decision-making process harder, but our selection pool is nonetheless more expansive. We find creative ways to fulfill both internal fantasies, sometimes in combining the two by making a guest star appearance in a couple’s threesome, or by recalling that chipotle burrito you had earlier and deciding that bottoming tonight would be a bad decision. Maybe you just go with the flow, seeing what comes your way and allowing yourself to be swayed one direction or the other depending on who approaches. Regardless of which method characterizes your hunt, more options remain open for the versatile thirst.
Relationships- a possible limitation?
I frame this subtitle as a question because it is not rooted in scientific experiments or any reputable studies, but rather my own personal anecdotal evidence. I implore you to respond to this post if you find my opinion to be far-off from yours.
I present the argument that versatile men are harder to keep satisfied in long-term sexually-exclusive relationships than their non-versatile counterparts. As a result, this dissatisfaction leads those versatile men to seek open relationships at a higher rate, or to experience a track record of failed relationships. Before you jump to provide me with arguments that oppose my case, please take into account the reasons that have brought me to this conclusion.
The “features” argument: different types of men fulfill different sexual fantasies
I consider myself to be sexually versatile, enjoying a diversity of positions and roles in the bedroom (well, maybe more than just the bedroom). What I find to be the case for myself and other versatile men with whom I have explored this topic of conversation is that different “types” of men fulfill different fantasies that entail a resulting binary sexual positioning. In other words, many versatile guys (myself included) seek out certain features in men when searching for a bottom, and these features often differ (sometimes drastically) from those our ideal top possesses. While this diversity of attraction makes for a larger selection pool when seeking out a sexual partner, does it make it harder for us to remain satisfied in relationships with a partner who finds these positions to be mutually exclusive?
As an example, I want to present my friend “Y.” As a versatile gay man, his taste in bottoms and tops is almost polarizing in nature. He prefers smaller-framed, youthful, often hairless Asian men when seeking out a bottom, but loves much larger black men when looking for a top. Although for many this difference in taste might not be as contrasting, it still poses a question of satisfaction- how can both fantasies, often so different in nature, be fulfilled by one person?
One size fits all
Maybe you’ve found yourself in a relationship or a hookup situation with someone who fulfills your hunger for both orientations. This person flip-flops with you with surprising ease, and is attracted to you for the same reasons-you fulfill both his topping and bottoming desires. This has certainly happened to me, and don’t get me wrong- the sex is incredible and electrifying. However, it takes more than just sexual chemistry to keep a relationship alive, and when separate life interests are revealed and no shared goals have been built together, we often see this relationship sadly come to an end. If you’re one of the lucky few, you find a way to build mutual interests with this person and make it work. Good for you. However, we know this is often not the case.
Are we limited to the “package” deal?
What if we allow ourselves to grow to enjoy someone’s presence for their personality, and we recognize shared interests and goals, and our physical attraction to this person blossoms as we become closer? The sex is good, maybe even incredible, albeit one issue-this person strongly prefers either a dominant or subdominant role. In some cases this person wants to make it work so badly that they make attempts at their less-preferred role. But what if it’s apparent that the enthusiasm and chemistry isn’t present in his attempts to take on this other role, or that he doesn’t possess the “features” you attribute to their less-preferred role? Is this relationship bound to fail?
The open relationship
One obvious solution that comes to mind is opening the relationship to accommodate the versatile partner’s sexual needs. Whether this takes the form of the couple including a third only in instances where they play together, or the couple is entirely open, such that each partner has the open option to do whatever (or whomever) they please, many couples resolve this sexual frustration by way of simply including a third.
Unfortunately, this method may be fueled by this “accommodation” mindset rather than a mutual interest in opening the relationship. In other words, the agreement to open the relationship is made by one party’s thirst for sexual variety, while the other partner (presumably the non-versatile member) agrees to this decision to keep the versatile member satisfied. Is this a fair situation for both partners in the relationship? Can a healthy relationship continue to grow on a foundation of unequal leverage? I think this creates instability, seeing as both members have different motives, despite, in many cases, having a mutual intimate love for each other.
Is there an alternative?
I think it is equally as unhealthy to ignore one’s sexual appetite for variety as it is to foster the unstable relationship described above. Ignoring or suppressing these desires leads to frustration, and this frustration can manifest itself in outbursts aimed at your partner over small, insignificant, unrelated things, also proving to be a destabilizing factor in a relationship. But how can one communicate these desires to his partner without experiencing guilt or appearing selfish?
A “don’t ask don’t tell” policy?
Maybe this works for you or a couple you know. Although self-explanatory, I’ll expand on this idea for those of you who are unfamiliar. Under this framework, each member of the relationship is allowed to participate in separate sexual exploits with the understanding that these pursuits are not shared between the two partners. Although the explicit sharing of information does not cause direct harm to the relationship (because no such communication exists), is it not bothersome to know, in the back of your mind, that your partner might not actually be at that meeting after work he told you about this morning? Is he sleeping in his hotel room bed alone on his business trip? What about his safety? Is he using protection?
An unsatisfactory solution
I unfortunately do not have a solution to share. Obviously all relationships (and people) are different, and so are our definitions of sexual versatility. However, there is one piece of advice I can lend that has always proved to be successful for me, and for those with whom I’ve had this conversation: verbally expressing the details of your sexual appetite to your partner always benefits both parties. You may feel guilty or shameful that you have these feelings. Perhaps you are scared that your partner will think you’ve led them on just to drop this bombshell on them. Worst of all, it is possible that your partner will internalize the details of your preferences, blaming themselves for your dissatisfaction. However, if the relationship is destined to experience future growth, both parties will find a way to tailor a solution to fit the relationship.
Is the versatile man selfish?
Of course not. As gay men we are brought up in a society that makes us internalize the shame of our sexual deviancy. We are criticized by the heterosexual majority for not adhering to the western norms of masculinity, while we’re equally as invalidated by members of our community who label us as too effeminate. We’re also subject to a psyche that is significantly different from our heterosexual counterparts. Why should we also feel selfish for not adhering to the binary constructs of a two-person relationships, rejecting the need to “fulfill our duty” as a top, similar to the role of the man in a heterosexual relationship?
These relationships require special care
I don’t think that a relationship containing one versatile and one non-versatile member is destined to fail. However, I think that these relationships require a special approach to communication and maintenance. They demand a safe space for communication in which both members feel equally heard. Finally, providing your partner with validation is essential. It is possible to communicate your preference while making your partner feel sexy, perhaps by providing them with a detailed explanation of what part of your personal sexual appetite they fill, and the ways in which they are incredible at it.