Kink in exile

Notes from a kinky nomad


In 2007 maymay wrote a post called On Kinky Competence, which I am sure I must have read at the time, but I reread it a few weeks ago along with the accompanying epilogue in which one reader, Dev, mentions being intimidated by the idea of playing with May.  This struck me as incredibly surprising.  I have known May since 2005 or 2006, and while I couldn’t tell you what kind of partner he was in 2007 as I was on the opposite side of the world, I have found him to be one of the most inviting bottoms I have ever played with.  Ever.  Really.  In fact, now that I think about it, that should read “inviting, accommodating, and communicative.” But this is not a yelp review, so back to competence…

I mentioned my confusion to May who said something along the lines of “oh, yeah, that’s competence as a bottom.” Oh.

If you haven’t already read On Kinky Competence, you should.  Here’s the link again, I’ll wait…ok, fine the cliff notes version is that competence in kink is important, intentions are just not good enough, and competence in a bottom is just as sexy and necessary as in a top.  The important point here is that competence is as important a quality in bottoms as it is in tops, this is sometimes not obvious  but “…perhaps this is because of the unfortunate misconception that bottoming is inherently a passive act and that the entirety of a valid kinky encounter involves a purely active top and a purely receptive bottom.”

Or for the cliff note skimmer: the idea that bottoming is passive is a lie, just like the cake is a lie, but worse.

So what this whole conversation and blog post is getting at is that maymay isn’t just made of magic, he has actually developed a skill set specific to bottoming.  This should totally not be surprising, and yet it totally is.  The fact that I feel invited to top May, that he responds to my cues, but also offers reassurance and prompts when I need that is actually by design.  Which brings me back to my recent frustration with the fact that the only classes I see offered for bottoms are “Pain Processing 101” and maybe the occasional service/protocol class.

I started writing “hell, I’m frustrated that most of the classes for tops are about specific skill-sets (rope, knife play, needle safety etc.) when so much of what makes a scene work is the subtle detail, the communication (verbal, tactile, whatever)…” and realized that I don’t actually know how to teach the important things.  Tools you can learn to use with enough practice, but when I think about what makes good scenes good, the best I can come up with is “being grounded enough to maintain safety and boundaries within the scene and in flow enough to let yourself go with it.”  Not exactly teachable skills.

Maymay writes:

What does a competent bottom look like? I think competent bottoms are self-reliant, emotionally hardy individuals who have a discerning eye, and have the presence of mind to act responsibly—to be willing to get things wrong and make things right again—and to act with empathy and generosity towards their partners. In other words, the same exact qualities that competent tops share. Try that on for size.

I’d add the ability to empower their partners to do their thing (and yes that goes for bottoms and tops equally).  Playing with maymay isn’t intimidating because he holds space for me, and he invites me into that space.  He’s awesome at that and I don’t know why I didn’t realize that this was actually a skill and not a happy accident before, but there you have it.

What skills do you bring to your scenes as a top or a bottom?  Are they teachable or instinct-based?

Written by kinkinexile

November 7, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Posted in headspace, personal, topping

7 Responses

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  1. […] in my world so is any skill-set which I do not posses perfected by someone I know.  Maymay possess kinky competence as a bottom which I find magical, not least of this is his combination of resilience and the […]

  2. Hi KinkInExile,

    Stumbled onto this by way of roundabout internet wanderings, and I was wondering if you have any more thoughts on it since you wrote it. Have you discovered other skills that you bring to a scene or skills that you’ve realized the bottoms you enjoy playing with are bringing?


    August 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    • Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for the note! Hmm, I think I wrote a little bit more on the subject here:

      In a scene, I can’t really think of discreet nameable other things at the moment. I know a lot of what I find interesting in other people’s scenes is how they communicate (verbally and non-verbally) and how they adjust, error handle, and shift throughout the scene. A lot of what I pay attention to in my bottoms is body language, the position of their hands, pupil dilation, depth and pacing of breath, and conversation patterns relative to their baseline.

      Honestly, the most exciting thing for me in a bottom isn’t kinky at all, it’s a shared interest outside of sex. I realized a while back that I could either meet ppl in the kink scene and then have to filter for people I can have a conversation with but be basically guaranteed shared sexual orientation, or I can meet people in engineering, hacker, and art spaces and have to filter for shared sexual interest but be guaranteed an interesting platonic time, I decided to go with the latter.


      August 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm

      • Thanks for responding. As I was looking more closely at the idea, it occurred to me that skills/assets that I hear are often valued in a bottom (clear negotiation, communicative response to play, encouraging and exploring the limits of the top, engaging exploring their own limits) are not visibly evident in the play itself. These concepts are created before the scene, shape the scene and the satisfaction of all players, and bring the scene to effective and happy conclusion — but you can’t see them when you’re walking through a dungeon and stopping to watch a scene.

        Conversely the skills that we talk about tops actualizing (e.g., using a flogger, safety in needle, good with their hands/rope/cane, etc) are very visible both in the scenes themselves, in the player’s reputation, and as a genre in lectures/presentations at kink gatherings.

        I’m looking, I suppose, for counterexamples to the idea that skills bottoms carry are intangible & exist in experience of the players, and that the skills tops carry are concrete and observable to a bystander.



        August 19, 2012 at 6:58 pm

  3. Interesting thought, Daniel. I’m not sure I have a counter example just now. I actually feel like we often emphasize the wrong topping skill…most physical things can be summed up as “start light and see how it goes” and I think we should be thinking a lot more about communication and emotional drivers than about how to throw a flogger. Never the less, as far as the Scene(tm) is concerned you’re probably right.

    When I’m playing with someone those intangible things are actually very evident to me – they are in the body movement, and the chatter, and the passive action (I really like it when my play partner licks my boots just cause they’re in front of his face, I also consider that to be very active bottoming) – but you’re right, they aren’t evident to the casual observer. I guess one counter example would be around service or anything protocol related which requires the bottom to be more visibly active.


    August 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    • Oh, and as an aside, one *very* specific skill that melts my heart – the ability and willingness to pack me a toy bag and include the thing that you hate and I love.


      August 19, 2012 at 11:19 pm

  4. […] mean that you’re any good at it. Bottoming and submitting are skills, and it is possible to suck at […]

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