How Not To Be Afraid to Top

There was a huge shake-up within the NYC public scene late 2017 into early 2018. Some big names in the scene were accused of various consent violations, some of them several years old, one after the other. “Pillars” of the (gak) community, as it were. Long time educators and party/convention promoters went down in flames, one by one, almost overnight. The whole thing got very ugly, as we all watched and waited to see who would be next.

While it was going on, I saw a post from a newish top saying they were afraid to be a top because of the “hang ‘em high” atmosphere. There is also a frightening trend of bottoms deciding months, even years later, that something fully consented to at the time is suddenly not. We’ve dubbed it “retroactively withdrawing consent”, and it is a frightening prospect.

That post, and this new trend, prompted this piece.


There are people who point out that we have to have new subs/bottoms at the parties. Okay. Great. I agree.

We also need new tops in order to have a thriving public scene. If the tops are scared away by the prospect of having their name and reputation dragged through the court of public opinion by someone who was fully consenting at the time, who are the bottoms going to play with? It’s a double-edged sword.

There are plenty of “how to be a bottom” discussions. But there’s not very much “how to be a top” that doesn’t disintegrate into “you must aftercare or you’re a BAD TOP!!!” Once that happens, there can’t be any discussion about topping. The entire thread becomes mired in the endless DO TOO!/DO NOT!!! shouting matches that all-too-often just get a discussion closed.

Many people are focused on the poor, ever-innocent bottom and how that big mean top is totally going to violate them the first chance he gets. No one thinks about how a top might have to protect themselves.

As a top, you also have the right to protect yourself from bad situations. This is a candid article, experienced top to new top, about casual/pick up play at a party, and how to implement an ethic that can go a long way toward building and protecting both yourself and your reputation. Is it foolproof? No. I would never say that. But I do believe that having a plan, and sticking to it, is better than traipsing through the scene with no regard for the consequences.

First a few simple truths:

You don’t have to play with any and every bottom who asks you.
I’ve seen it happen to others and it’s happened to me. A bottom bounces up to you and all but demands you play with them. They don’t even ask. “I want a spanking from you” rather than “would you please give me a spanking”, then they have the nerve to get angry if you say no. Hold your ground. If they get angry that you refuse, would you ever want to play with that person? When someone shows you who they are, believe them.

You can refuse to play with anyone at any time.
Even if you’ve made prior arrangements to play, you can change your mind and not play with them when the time comes. If the bottom can back out at any point, so can the top. That shoe fits equally well on both feet.

You don’t have to have any reason other than “I don’t want to”.
If “no” is a full sentence for bottoms, then it’s a full sentence for tops as well. You don’t have to give an explanation if you don’t want to.

No one has the right to guilt or badger you into topping them.
If it’s not okay for a top to guilt or badger a bottom, then the reverse is also true and the bottom has no right to hound you for play either.

Implement a few simple rules and standards for yourself to follow. Below is a list of simple starting points.

  1. Only play with people who know and understand what they are asking for and agreeing to. Make sure their expectations are reasonable. When it’s clear a person doesn’t understand, or their expectations are unreasonable, respond with straightforward language. Ambiguity is your enemy. Be very specific.

Ex: The bottom wants a caning but no marks. That is an unreasonable expectation. Tell them straight up “You’re being hit with a hard stick. If you can’t accept that there will be marks, don’t do impact.”

You don’t know if the bottom marks easily or not. You don’t know how easily they bruise. You can’t know that. You cannot promise no marks. You cannot promise a bruise won’t pop up three days later.

  1. If the bottom is hesitant, or unable, to explain when you question their understanding of what they want, don’t play with them.

This may seem harsh, but we are talking about your personal safety and reputation within your local scene. Even if you don’t play in public, you can still earn a bad reputation if the bottom does attend events and decides to tell the world about your playtime encounter.

Not to mention: If the bottom cannot articulate/communicate appropriately BEFORE play begins, they won’t magically get any better at it once the endorphins start kicking in. Poor communication skills, from either end of the cane, are your enemy.

  1. If they have a habit of making dramatic mountains out of meaningless molehills, don’t play with them.

Does a person gossip about other people all the time? They’ll gossip about you too. If they do it with former partners, they will do it with you. Don’t think for one minute that they won’t.

  1. During play, less is more. Always leave them wanting more rather than regretting they didn’t say stop.

Casual/pick up play with a stranger you’ve never met before isn’t often dom/sub play. It is topping and bottoming and both parties need to be able to say yes and no along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask “do you want (this) or do you want (that), less or more, harder/softer/the same?” Always offer the option to stop right that moment. If it is the bottom’s choice every step of the way, then it’s all consented to. Abide by the answer unless they are hesitant.

What if they are hesitant?
If they hesitate to say yes, then it’s no. Don’t do that thing.
If they hesitate between more or less, then the answer is less.
Err on the side of caution. Always.
You can always play a bit more later on during the event, or another day.

  1. Keep your fingers, mouth, feet, knees, elbows, implements, etc, away from where they ought not be.

You cannot take liberties with someone you have never played with before. It takes time to build the play partner relationship, to learn each other’s signals. That’s not likely to happen during this half hour of play at a very loud party, when you’ve barely talked about the weather let alone your entire sexual and playtime histories.

So if you haven’t asked if they want it (whatever “it” is), then don’t do it. That includes rubbing the butt or shoulder after a series of impact hits. Ask first, before you start play, if that kind of touching is okay. Some do like it. Some don’t. This is not something to assume once you get going.

Assume nothing.

  1. Regarding after care.
    There are those who demand that all tops and doms must absolutely give aftercare to every bottom, no matter what.

I’m here to tell you they are wrong. In my ten years of public play, wailing on dozens and dozens of different people, the only aftercare I’ve ever performed was to put a band aid on someone’s butt.

I don’t do aftercare. All manner of insults are hurled at me online for saying that. At the party, I get a response of “why would there be?” For all the yammering in online forums, there’s remarkably little of it actually happening at the dungeon.

Not all bottoms want anything more than a hug. Some don’t even want that much. If the bottom doesn’t want you to do anything for them when you’re done playing, then trying to force it on them would be wrong.

Some tops require the care from the bottom, which is quite a turnaround from what is generally considered the norm.

Talk about it as soon as the question “wanna play?” is asked. Whether or not there will be any sort of aftercare should be discussed before you even look at implements and decide what is going to be used. It must be agreed upon from the start. If the bottom wants something you’re not willing to do, or you want the care but the bottom isn’t willing to do what you need, then there’s no point in discussing what type of play will be had.

  1. If you, as the top, have ANY doubts, don’t even start to play.

    Listen to your gut and err on the side of caution. Always.

Watch how people play and behave. I have made decisions about bottoms I won’t play with just watching how they interact with others when asking for play or during a scene.

There’s always another party, another time.

  1. There is a temptation to go to All The Parties. Don’t.

    It’s downright exhausting to try to attend everything. Not to mention expensive. Hit this party or that party. Keep within the confines of your wallet. Find a place you like, or “like enough”, and establish yourself there.

Become known by the regulars of that venue. Learn the familiar faces and become friendly with some of them. As you gain experience, it’s easier to go with confidence to other venues and events.

As you find your place, find your footing, you might start to relax some of these steps. Or not.

It may also happen that someone close to you finds themselves in hot water, and you end up relieved that you’ve stuck to your personal protocols and standards. You might choose never to relax them.

Only you can decide what is going to be right and best for you.

About the Author

TylerRose. is known as Dame Tyler in the NYC public SM/Fetish scene. She is an award-winning author who has written two “lifestyle”, four cartoon, and twenty fiction books that you can find on Amazon.

You can find more of her work in Fetlife:

She enjoys crocheting and baking, and will no doubt die with a thesaurus open on her thigh.


  1. masodreamer says:

    Quite insightful advice!

  2. Thank you Dame Tyler, for this refreshing piece. It is a great reminder on how to conduct oneself, for the safety and enjoyment of all.

  3. Great advice! I’ve always been cautious of pickup play because I want to know who I’m playing with and what to expect with them. You give some great ideas and things to consider. Thank you!

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