Words by Liam Murphy | @Liamwaterloo

“Are you top or bottom?” – one of the first questions you’re probably asked on any gay dating app. While a lot of us like to play both sides of the sex-fence, there are those who identify as one thing: bottom.

Being a bottom isn’t as simple as just bending over/lying back/getting on top/leaning against a wall/climbing in a sling (delete as appropriate, you horny little animals); it’s something that can be a deeply personal event that can take time and a lot of preparation. We sat down with a bunch of bottoms (which may not be the correct collective noun) to ask them about their experiences.

The fabulous début

Everyone has a first time, and for a gay man, having someone put their penis inside you can be a daunting prospect. Some guys take to it like a thirsty fish to water, but for others it can take time and the right man before it’s enjoyable. 

These experiences are the polar opposite of Lewis’ first time. “It was, without question, the worst experience of my life. He was a lot older than me and I very young and stupid, and thought we were in love. I believed he was the best person to give my ‘cherry’ to. He was quite hung (both in length and girth) and was very rough. He basically rammed in and out of me, which was beyond painful and put me off anal sex for years. When I did try anal again it was as a top which I didn’t enjoy. About ten years ago someone talked me into trying it as a bottom again and showed me just how good it could be.” This inaugural outing is echoed by 32-year-old Joseph. “I didn’t have a great start to my bottoming career. It was a drunken fumble that went a bit too far. I remember being really keen to try it, possibly due to the amount of booze I’d consumed. The guy was older and after a night out, we decided to go back to his. 
“My first time was actually quite good,” admits 25-year-old Matt. “It was all very ordinary. It took a while to get comfortable with what was happening back there, but I ended up loving it. I think it helped that the guy I was with had a lot more experience than I did.” 36-year-old Cameron also revelled in his first ride: “I’d been nervous about doing it for a long time. I was lucky it was with my first boyfriend and he was well aware that I was a bottom virgin. He was really sweet and explained things to me like lube, which I don’t think I really understood before that!

He introduced me to poppers – also my first time using them – and explained how that would help. By god it did! I remember us trying lots of very different positions, and having lots of failed attempts with me not being able to take it, but after time we finally managed it. I remember being on the carpet with my arse in the air. Weirdly, I can’t remember if I enjoyed it, but I kind of knew I needed to get that first time out of the way. I remember a huge sense of achievement having finally taken it.”

After the usual fumbling, we decided to go all the way, and he grabbed the condoms. For a guy who I thought was used to this sort of thing, he didn’t seem completely sure. He couldn’t find any normal lube, but found something similar, which seemed like it would work. I got a bit nervous but I was calmed by the drink flowing through me. I’d watched a lot of porn and they made it look so easy! Oh, how wrong I was. I was on all fours, he was on his knees behind me, a little bit of licking and fingering and then he tried to put it in. I found it difficult to relax and when he tried again he got a bit further, and it was like a shooting pain went through me, and I had to fall forwards to get him out. It wasn’t glamorous or sexy, but for some reason I tried again. It went in slightly easier next time, but when he got quite deep it hurt a bit more. He pulled out and realised the lube he had used wasn’t condom compatible and it had ripped!” 

Be prepared

There’s a fair bit to think about when it comes to bottoming. It’s not always a case of lying back and thinking of England (rugby players). Sometimes there are a few things that need to be considered before you can pounce and bounce.

To douche or not to douche, that is the question!” muses Joseph. “Personally, with a fear of things getting messy, if I’m meeting a guy for a one-off or I know I’m going to have sex, I will usually douche with a small amount of warm water, nothing else. I feel happier knowing I’m ‘clean’ down there. I also shower and make sure it’s clean too. That’s not always practical, and not conducive to the throes of passion if you go away and do it every time, and the times I haven’t I’ve usually had no problems at all. It’s more a psychological thing I guess.”       

Nick, who exclusively tops, couldn’t agree more with this. “As a top, there’s nothing more off-putting than a guy who is unclean in the ass area. Obviously, some mess can’t be helped at times and I’m not squeamish – it’s a hazard of the ‘job’ – but it’s really clear when someone hasn’t even tried. I’ve noticed that if I sleep with older guys they seem to be more hygienic than some of the younger boys. It’s like douching has skipped a generation.” 

What makes a top top?

It definitely takes two to butt-tango, so what is it that a bottom looks for in a top? Is it a case of the bigger the better, or does technique count?

“I tend to look for the whole package, not just the cock,” says Joseph, “although there have been times when I have gone just for the cock. I prefer my tops to be manly-looking and built, and if they are hairy all the better. Most important of all is a top’s attitude. They need to enjoy it and feel it’s what they are there for – you can tell if someone is topping you and not being a ‘top’. Fucking someone doesn’t automatically make you a top!” For 21-year-old Antonio attitude wins out: “I really like a confident man, someone who seems like he knows what he’s doing, but also understands he might need to take it slow. The porn style of shoving it in and going for it doesn’t work. The reality is not always like that, it takes some time to relax and get into it. A guy who understands that usually means the sex will be good.”

Cameron believes that it’s the cock that can make the bottoming experience a great one. “I actually think the size of the cock matters. I’m not saying I go for massive cocks, but if I am being honest a four-inch cock isn’t going to make me drool over a top. I’ve had all shapes and sizes top me, and I’d say my favourite is something meaty around seven to eight inches. However, a good girth is more important than length. For me I want to know I’ve been topped the next day – not in a painful way but in a way that just reminds you all day. If anything too much length is painful.” Joseph, however, thinks cock size isn’t the be all, “I like the idea, like most warm-blooded bottom guys do, of taking big thick cocks, and the pleasure it would give. I’ve taken a few cocks of varying sizes, and I’ve actually had some real difficulty taking the big ones. I’m quite tight anyway, but I met a guy with a big thick nine incher and I couldn’t take it all the way, which was disappointing for us both. I’ve had great fun with smaller cocks.”

Bottom of the pile?

Sometimes a bottom can be subject to the rough end of the stick in the gay world (so to speak), and unfortunately some find there’s still a stigma attached to being the bottom. 

“I’ve known people who think the bottom is taking the woman’s role and therefore must be effeminate,” agrees 40-year-old Tom. “This isn’t the case at all!! Some of my gay mates wouldn’t admit to being bottom as they think it makes them less masculine.” Lewis believes the perception of bottoms being less of a man is gradually dying out. “Growing up I think there was more of an attitude, even among gay men, that you were less of a man if you bottomed. I think that attitude is on its way out – even with straight people. I remember a friend of a friend asking me if I took it or gave it, when he found out I was gay, and when I said ‘took’ he just looked at me and said ‘Wow you are more man than me’. To quote a famous drag queen: ‘it takes a real man to take a cock up the arse’.” 

“I find the recent rise of the ‘power’ bottom interesting,” says Matt. “I think it could be a way of bottoms trying to exert some kind of masculinity. To me it makes no difference – there are camp-as-tits tops and butch-as-hell bottoms, as well as the rest of us on the spectrum! I would say there is a stigma though, just in light of the denial in some areas.” 

“For me there’s nothing I respect more than a good bottom,” admits ‘power top’ Nick. “As a more dominant guy, I think it’s great when another man can take it well. I don’t think less of them, I think more of them! It takes a lot more for a guy to bottom – douching, dealing with the pain, the physical intrusion – than it does for a guy who sticks his dick into something. They have my full respect.”

So taking everything into account, how do you go about being a safer bottom? We asked Matthew Hodson of GMFA about the risks of bottoming. “The risk of picking up HIV is much greater if you’re the bottom. The lining of the arse is extremely absorbent and so if you get HIV-infected cum in your arse it can go directly into the bloodstream. It’s estimated that receptive anal sex is almost eight times more likely to result in HIV transmission than insertive anal sex.”

Matthew adds: “Being a ‘total top’ will reduce your risk of picking up HIV but it’s still much more risky than, say, oral sex – even if he cums in your mouth. Receptive anal sex is also about five times riskier than vaginal sex, which is one of the reasons why the gay community has been hit so hard by HIV infection. Heterosexual people do have anal sex too, just not so frequently.”

“Condoms are very effective at reducing the risk of HIV transmission, whether you’re the top or the bottom. Also, transmission is much less likely if the positive partner has been diagnosed and is on effective treatment. If one partner has HIV and doesn’t know it, he is likely to be much more infectious.” 


PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV  medication to keep HIV-negative people from becoming infected. PrEP has been shown to be safe and effective. A single pill taken once daily, it is highly effective against HIV. The medication interferes with HIV’s ability to copy itself in your body after you’ve been exposed. This prevents it from establishing an infection and stops you becoming HIV-positive.

PrEP is currently available to all who need it on the NHS. For more info visit, www.lgbthero.org.uk/PrEP

Useful links:

How to get fucked: www.gmfa.org.uk/how-to-get-fucked

How to fuck: www.gmfa.org.uk/how-to-fuck

Pain while getting fucked: www.gmfa.org.uk/pain-when-getting-fucked

Messy sex and douching: www.gmfa.org.uk/messy-sex-and-douching

Condoms and lube: www.gmfa.org.uk/condoms-and-lube

Know your arse for better sex: www.gmfa.org.uk/know-your-arse-for-better-sex

To buy cheap condoms and lube, visit the Freedoms shop at: www.freedoms-shop.nhs.uk