Are you a top, bottom, vers or side?

Sexual Wellness

Are you a top, bottom, vers or side?

Grindr added "side" to its filter. Launched in 2009, Grindr is a very popular social networking and online dating app. Most of its 13 million users are members of the gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.

The app allows members to create a personal profile which is then shared with other members based on filter and location settings. Members can contact each other, send pictures, make a video call, or arrange to meet.

Adding “side” to Grindr’s profile is a big deal. Gay men, especially on an app like Grindr, typically lead with, “Are you a top, bottom or versatile?” The question, though crude, establishes compatibility, or at least, sexual compatibility. Dating or hooking up in the instant gratification world of gay men compels one to fess up on the onset or the deal is off.

Setting aside the objectification and dehumanizing issues of this practice, what category does a gay man fall under if he is not a top, bottom or versatile?

Quick review: A top prefers to anally penetrate; a bottom prefers to be penetrated; and a versatile is fine with either position.

A side is a gay man who does not enjoy anal penetration, giving or receiving, but will engage in other forms of same sex activity such as fellatio, mutual masturbation, frottage, etc.

The term first appeared in a Huff Post article by Dr. Joe Kort in April 2013, “Guys on the ‘Side’: Looking Beyond Gay Tops and Bottoms.” It took a little more than nine years for the new term to break into the public consciousness, but it is here and it is here to stay. Dr. Kort is a clinical sexologist, author, lecturer and facilitator of therapeutic workshops who specializes in male sexuality.

Many believe that sex without penetration is not sex at all and they think those who don’t like penetrative sex are sexually underdeveloped, have unresolved psychological issues or are flawed in some way. Gay men who consider themselves sides have endured all kinds of stigmatization and shame for disliking or not participating in penetrative sex.

Dr. Kort wrote, “Sides typically struggle with tremendous feelings of shame. They secretly believe that they should be engaging in and enjoying anal sex, and that something must be wrong with them if they are not. Often they won't publicly admit to not engaging in anal sex, because of the judgments that other gay men might (and most likely will) make about them. I have heard gay men (and even straight people) say that if they aren't penetrating or being penetrated, they aren't having "real" sex.”

At Bite the Fruit, we believe penetrative sex is only one possibility among countless sexual options. If you love to fuck, more power to you. If you don’t, we won’t hold it against you. In fact, we tend to believe that you are probably much more sensitive and attune to intimacy than those who “wham, bam, thank you, ma'am.”

The extreme focus on penetrative sex among men could be hurting men. If sex is all about penetration, at the expense of intimacy, closeness or connection, the pressure to perform can be overwhelming. Hook ups or acquaintance sex can be fun and exciting but their transactional nature requires the ability to carry out a fantasy with just a nanosecond of real connection. The anxiety to perform brought on by a lack of intimacy or feigned intimacy can result in erectile dysfunction or ED. Studies show that psychological and relational factors can lead to ED. Many of its causes are organic, however, anxiety and stress are contributors as well. Men may want to redirect their efforts towards cultivating a meaningful relationship or employ sexual modes that are less performance driven.

Some gay men may choose to become sides. They may usually prefer to top or bottom but, instead, choose to side because of age, health and other physiological issues. Nerve damage from prostate surgery is a frightening but very real possibility for some men. Hemorrhoids or rectal disorders may make anal penetration impossible, uncomfortable or unappealing. As men age, their ability to achieve a full, strong erection diminishes. If men are unable to have penetrative sex for medical reasons or other difficulties, they may want to embrace a much more comprehensive definition of sex or resign to be sexually frustrated and dissatisfied. As a man’s body becomes less limber or less rigid in all the wrong or right places, he should examine his beliefs and attitudes regarding penetrative sex in order to maintain an active, vital sex life.

Consider the possibilities when we are willing to set aside our limiting beliefs about sex. What do sides enjoy?

According to Dr. Kort, “Sides prefer to kiss, hug and engage in oral sex, rimming, mutual masturbation and rubbing up and down on each other, to name just a few of the sexual activities they enjoy. These men enjoy practically every sexual practice aside from anal penetration of any kind. They may have tried it, and even performed it for some time, before they became aware that for them, it was simply not erotic and wasn't getting any more so. Some may even enjoy receiving or giving anal stimulation with a finger, but nothing beyond that.”

Penetrative sex is not the be-all and end-all for gay men. Actually, it is not by any means definitive for lesbian, straight, queer, or any sexual orientation. Being a side is just as sexy and provocative as any position on the Kama Sutra.

We love our side customers. We hope you don’t buy into the shame put upon you by those who don’t understand or are biased. You are desirable and you fit right in on the spectrum of sexual desire and expression.

Learn more:

Guys on the 'Side': Looking Beyond Gay Tops and Bottoms

Coming Out as a 'Side'... Guilt-Free

Gay Men and Sex: Tops, Bottoms and Sides

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