Bottom Shame? It’s Time to Get Over It
Looking, the beloved gay HBO serial that crashed and burned after 2 seasons, was fearless in tackling gay sex from a compassionate and realistic point of view. Lead protagonist Patrick, who was timid and neurotic in everyday life, was equally insecure in the bedroom. During a hot session, his new boyfriend Richie shared that he wanted to take his turn as the top. Patrick immediately recoiled. It was an honest moment of bottom shame—one that most gay men have probably experienced at some point.
In a discussion about the episode, The Atlantic’s Joe Reid and Alexander Abad-Santos spoke about their own experiences with bottom shame. They recalled hearing phrases like ‘be careful’ and questions like ‘does it hurt?’ whenever they spoke about sexual activity with the heterosexual people in their lives. On the surface, their concern seemed genuine or curious, but it was born out of assumptions. Assumptions that they were bottoms. And assumptions that bottoms were incredibly at risk for HIV. Most gay men have experienced moments like these, too—when you’d rather jump off a cliff than describe gay sex to a straight person. Perhaps you felt even more uncomfortable if you had to talk about bottoming.
What is bottom shame?
Bottom shame is real. While there’s no official definition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it’s the feeling that being a bottom isn’t respectable. That somehow, because you’re a bottom, you’re not worthy of great sex, love, and pride in who you are. It’s basically a stone’s throw away from internalized homophobia.
And bottom shame is two-fold. The bottom feels it because of his own reasons be it preconceived notions about bottoms or a struggle to reconcile masculinity with gay sex. But the shame is also reinforced by the rest of society, inclusive of other gays. And some of those bottom shaming gays are probably bottoms, too.
There’s a prevalent belief, a prejudice if you will, that bottoms are all feminine, slutty, and HIV-positive. That statement might make you clutch your pearls and declare that you’d never say something like that. But a lot of our community’s sexual humor, and behavior, is founded in these beliefs. Bottoms are the butt (no pun intended) of many jokes. And if you’re an avid dating app user, it’s rare to see a top searching for a bottom without using the phrase “cum hungry”. There’s a lot of bottom prejudice circulating out there—hence the bottom shame.
Breaking down bottom shame
By believing that you’re less worthy or less deserving of pleasure because you’re a bottom, you hold yourself back from enjoying sex. You’re also blocking the path to loving and accepting yourself. Not to mention, your denial is actually putting you in harm’s way.
While it’s stereotypical of our community to think all bottoms are HIV-positive (obviously, they’re not), scientific research shows that bottoms are more at risk for STD transmission than tops. This is due to the porous tissue that lines the rectum and is easily ruptured. Every gay man should use condoms and PrEP to reduce their risk. But bottoms especially should take both steps to reduce their risk. However, because of bottom shame, some bottoms will masquerade as tops. They’ll refuse to take preventive steps, like getting a PrEP prescription, because they’re so afraid to discuss their sexual behavior. It’s silly to risk your sexual health because of social perception.
Aside from that, bottom shame from other gays is a bit hypocritical. Imagine a straight guy making fun of a woman because she has a vagina. Do you think that guy’s ever having sex with her again? Without the balance of tops and bottoms, we’d be all be forced to masturbate exclusively. And while self-love can be gratifying in its own right, it’s not the real thing. So, why make fun of a sexual role that’s crucial to your pleasure?
Getting over your shame
How do you get over bottom shame? We could just tell you to love yourself and everything will work out. But honey, self-love isn’t the cure for everything. You need to be realistic about the situation. Bottom shame is tied to masculinity—at least your perception of it as a social construct. If you can shed that perception, which isn’t easy, you can bottom with pride. Here’s a few ways you can start.
Realize bottoming is as manly as it gets: First-timers can attest—bottoming is no walk in the park. If anything, it takes a real man to power through that initial experience as well as back-to-back sessions. Especially if your top is well-endowed.
Stop tying your identity to sex: Who you are and how you have sex are mutually exclusive. Whether you’re a top or a bottom doesn’t determine if you’re a man. You don’t walk down the street wearing a sign or hat that says, “I’m a bottom”. Well, maybe some guys do, but they don’t need the advice in this article. You aren’t advertising your sexual role to the world, so it shouldn’t affect the way you present yourself.
Recognize others’ insecurities: If other gays make fun of you for bottoming, know that their teasing stems from insecurity and discomfort. It doesn’t mean they’re tops. It just means that their views aren’t evolved enough to accept that you’re not.
Enjoy yourself: You’re a bottom because you like bottoming. It’s your preferred sexual role, and it’s how you get the most pleasure out of sex. Why let others’ opinions stop you from enjoying sex? Life’s too short to pretend to be a top.
Empowerment: As the bottom, you’re in control of the sex. You direct the flow, dictate the position, and organize the details. And since you’re most at risk, you take the lead on the disease prevention stuff, too. Bottoms demonstrate the kind of leadership this country needs. Be proud of that. Own it.
Every gay man knows there’s a sexual hierarchy in our community, which boosts tops to the front of the pack. But tops shouldn’t be held on a pedestal. Recognize the beauty in the type of sex you like, and don’t feel bad about it. Brush off that bottom shame and do your thing. Bottom line (*wink, wink)—you deserve to enjoy yourself.