The Big Question

submissive man being dominated

In the world of BDSM, there are a number of questions that will instantly start a heated debate. No, I don’t mean, “Is President Trump a submissive?” – although that can start an argument in a New York minute. What I mean are questions like, “Slave versus submissive?” “What makes a Master?” and “Is BDSM play integral to a D/s relationship?” (I have addressed some of these questions here on But, there is another, even more contentious, question floating around – the “Big Question” as I call it. It concerns the merits of the legendary Old Guard precept that, “You cannot become a Master or a Top without having been a slave or a bottom.”

Before we evaluate its intrinsic worth, a little (boring) history, as best as I can gather, is in order. The Old Guard Leather Societies came of age during the heyday of post World War 2, conservative America. The mainstream culture, at that time, considered S&M (as BDSM was called back then) extremely perverted, if not illegal. Factor in the fact that most of the Old Guard were gay, and you can appreciate why they would be paranoid and be exclusive rather than inclusive. It was not an open subculture; admission into an Old Guard house was purposefully made difficult. Although this was not the Mafia, there was one similarity — the Old Guard tended to be rather secretive. And what better way to keep out “infiltrators” than to keep the S&M bar high? As best as I can determine, there were many rules that raised the price of admission. Some were:

1. Experience in the lifestyle determines social seniority.
2. The more submissive one is, the less direct eye contact one should make.
3. No rules or codes are ever to be explained to outsiders.
4. Tops must behave, at all times, with honor, honesty and dignity.
5. A slave must keep the Master’s leather polished at all times.
6. Bottoms must walk behind and to the left of Tops.
7. And, of course, “You cannot become a Master/Mistress without having been a slave or a bottom.”

This last rule would, in and of itself, raise the “experience bar” dramatically. So it dovetailed into the way the Old Guard maintained itself during a time of “vanilla persecution.”

There is no doubt that knowing how a submissive thinks and reacts will make a Dom/me a better one. In our modern, Internet world, one can learn a lot about the psychology, makeup and proclivities of a submissive by exchanging information on the Internet. Sites like kinkweekly offer a wealth of information. But in those early days, you had to learn mostly by doing; there were few alternatives. Thus, bottoming could give you an insight that was hard to get elsewhere.

As with most ideas, those that work become popular, while those that don’t – like myspace — get discarded. The fact that this rule has survived for so long, and is still being discussed, is testament that it works. And the fact that switching is more popular than ever among the newer lifestylers shows it has worth. But as to bottoming being essential in the schooling of a Master, I disagree.

Bottoming is only one of a number of requirements to becoming a Master – both back then and now. Bottoming alone simply won’t cut it. Whether he/she attains this knowledge by bottoming or by soaking it up in other ways is immaterial. As the song goes, “It doesn’t matter how you get there, just get there.”

The Old Guard Leather Societies pioneered a lot of great customs in this lifestyle we now call BDSM. But all subcultures evolve. And though it might not be required in our era to bottom in order to become a Master/Mistress, it is a technique that still works, and works quite well. I believe that you can become a Master/Mistress in many ways, taking many varied paths. The equivalent result of having bottomed can be achieved by other means. For some, bottoming might be one stop on the road to achieving Mastery. But it is not the only stop, and it is surely not one that every Dom/me must make.

We will be examining “Old Guard vs. New Guard” both here on Kink Weekly and in a panel discussion at DomComLA in May!

By BaadMaster
After a ten year run as head writer for the legendary, and an equally long run as the host of the hit internet show “Baadmaster’s Dungeon,” we are pleased to welcome the one and only Baadmaster to KinkWeekly. His thoughts about all things BDSM will now appear regularly on these pages. From the mental aspects of D/s to the nuts and bolts of S&M play, Baadmaster will cover every facet of this ever expanding lifestyle.


  1. i think does should just be open to the idea that they don’t know exactly how it feels unless they try it! but then again everyone feels pain different so even if you have “submissive” or bottoming experience it only gives you a small, general gauge.

  2. It’s ridiculous to think that a Dom or Master must bottom first. Masochists process pain and submission differently than people who are not masochists. They eroticize it. Non-masochists do not. So it’s a false comparison.

  3. i agree that it is not necessary to sub or bottom in order to “become a Master or Top”. In fact, i think doing so could potentially psychologically mess with some Masters or Tops. i have arrived at this conclusion by considering my own feelings as a sub. As a sub i would never consider Domming or Topping. To me, doing so would be a betrayal of my sub self. It would totally contradict my sense of what i am sexually. In short, it would mess with my mind, and, for this reason, i would never consider Domming or Topping someone.

    Now, having these feelings about myself, i can easily see how some Masters or Tops may feel the same way about subbing or bottoming as i do about Domming or Topping. If this is true, if They feel that subbing or bottoming would mess with Their minds, i think They should never attempt to sub or bottom.

    And, as to the question of subbing or bottoming being necessary experience for Masters or Tops, i really doubt that it is, anyway.In this connection, there was a recent discussion in the BDSM Theory group, entitled “The Role of Empathy in D/s,S/m Interactions”, The purpose of this discussion was to postulate that Doms and subs and Sadists and masochists actually have a heightened sense of empathy for each other. Each has a heightened sense of how the other feels, If this is true, it should not be necessary for a Master or Top to sub or bottom to know how a slave or bottom feels.

  4. The Old Guard idea that one bottoms first is just one aspect of a more basic and important idea.

    Titles are earned and given to you. Not self proclaimed.

    Especially the title Master.

    • Customs and social standards always evolve. But one thing remains: as Richelieu states, “Titles are earned and given to you. Not self proclaimed. Especially the title Master.” That is as immutable as the tides!

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