Guys on the ‘Side’: Looking Beyond Gay Tops and Bottoms

By Joe Kort | Posted Jan 30 2015 | 17 Comments  


Gay men are constantly referring to and defining themselves as “tops” or “bottoms.” When they consider dating or simply hooking up, gay men typically ask the other guy whether he’s a top, a bottom or “versatile.” It’s important to find this out as soon as possible, because if you are planning to date or get into a relationship, it’s vitally important that you and he be sexually compatible with each other.

The whole issue of tops and bottoms came up recently with the release of a new study that looked at whether or not people can determine whether a gay man is a top or a bottom just by looking at facial cues. The study revealed that judgments made about whether an individual is a top or a bottom are based on perceived masculine and feminine traits.

There’s so much talk and discussion about who gives and who receives. I’ve had straight people tell me that they assumed that most gay guys simply take turns. Yes, some do, but most don’t. But what if a guy isn’t a top, a bottom or even versatile? What about gay men who have never engaged in anal sex and never will, ever?

I think they deserve a name of their own. I call them “sides.”


Defining a Side

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.


Sexual Shame and Masculinity

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.

If a man has undergone prostate surgery that caused nerve damage to the penis or suffers from hemorrhoids or other issues that make anal penetration impossible, uncomfortable or unappealing, then that physiological or medical reason takes most of the shame out of being a side. These men may be genuine tops or bottoms but become sides out of necessity.

The gay male community has its own preferences that often slide into prejudices, and a great many look down on anyone who’s not a top. Bottoms get talked about, even dismissed, as if they were women. As the joke goes, “Who pays for a gay male wedding? The father of the bottom.” While that may be funny, it shows a cruel contempt for femininity. It makes the insensitive presumption that a man “takes the woman’s role” by receiving, and that there’s something wrong with him for it, namely that he’s not masculine.

Straight men labor under the same misconception. If they enjoy anal stimulation for pleasure, they often worry that they might be gay. In my office I’ve heard straight men admit that they enjoy receiving anal penetration from sex toys, or by having their female partners strap on a dildo and give it to them. The slang term for that is “pegging,” and many straight men love it. I jokingly tell the straight men who are insecure about enjoying anal play that, as a sex therapist, I am obliged to tell them that the human anus has no sexual orientation. The opportunity for anal pleasure exists in men and women alike, whether they are gay, bisexual, straight or of any orientation in between. Whether a man enjoys anal sex or not is no reflection on his sexual orientation, and if he’s gay, it doesn’t define whether or not he’s “really” having sex.

Historically, lesbians were told that with no vaginal penetration, they were not having “real” sex (and even today, some still are told this). These erroneous judgments come from a heterosexist and patriarchal definition of the only “right” way to enjoy sex.

One problem with this rigid model (pun intended) is that as males age and begin to lose their ability to achieve a full, strong erection on demand, they fear that they will never have “sex” again. They must learn other ways to satisfy their partners. But in order to do so, they must first work through the misconception that the only good sex is penetrative sex.


It’s OK to Be a Side!

It’s high time for sides to come out and feel proud and secure about their sexuality. Not being a top or a bottom doesn’t mean that one is less gay or less masculine. It doesn’t make anyone any less of a sexual human being.

The Internet is showing us that people get into a wide variety of sexual pleasures, and whatever you get into is exactly right for you.

Given the freedom to experiment and explore new techniques, being a side becomes equally hot and exciting as being a top, a bottom or an aficionado of any other position or practice.

Come out and be the side queen you were meant to be!


Joe Kort, Ph.D., LMSW
Certified Sex and Relationship Therapist

About the Author

Gay Therapist Joe Kort, M.A. M.S.W, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Royal Oak specializing in individual, group and couples therapy, gay and lesbian issues, sexual abuse, sexual addiction and IMAGO relationship therapy.

Categorized as :
Dating & SexSlider

17 Comments Feel Free To Join The Cypher.

  1. African King | January 30th, 2015

    Very good article. I have wondered if penetration is needed. For example, I got a lap dance and that was amazing to me. I lost all control and didn’t even take my clothes off. Time will tell whether or not I will be involved with penetration.

  2. tigerbreaux
    Tigerbreaux | January 30th, 2015

    There isn’t a better label than ‘Side’? I instantly thought of a ‘side dish’, as in not the main course or not being filling enough. My second thought was ‘side piece’, I’m sure I’m not alone in this lol. Furthermore, why do people who feel that way need a label anyway? It’s easier to say “I don’t have penetrative sex” than to say “I’m a side” then have to explain what that is.

    *Sidenote* Was anyone unaware of anything mentioned in this article? Not trying to be funny or shady, but I really want to know.

    • Dezmond | February 5th, 2015

      I agree, why do we need more labels?

  3. RolandG
    Rolandgarros28 | January 30th, 2015

    Damn. This is me. But I haven’t been embarrassed to put my business on here. LOL In the past, I’ve hesitated to tell guys that i didn’t engage in penetration because they usually ran for the hills. Of course this is when i was younger. But forget tops and bottoms, any other “sides” on here that wanna holla at a brotha? LMAO

    • SB3
      African King | January 31st, 2015

      Just curious, why not engage in it? Have you ever done it before? You can PM me if you don’t want to answer in the comments lol

  4. Coon_dalini
    Pensive | January 31st, 2015

    My dream dude would be a “side”. Someone who could truly give two fucks about anal sex. Or that could be with me seriously and go “fuck” someone else if it’s that’s serious.
    Unfortunately so may equate penetrating someone to conquesting them completely. As is that submission is the ultimate display of love.
    I have “versed” (sparinglly) in RELATIONSHIPS just to prove I was willing to give the pleasure my significant other was willing to give me.
    Anal fissures… Twice .. In two different relationships . Not good. Pure hell healing from. I just had to decide that my body is not built for that and I don’t care who it is.
    I was never one to crave penetration anyway. Yet I’ll admit the feeling of not knowing what planet I was on once the spot was hit after the initial pain. And I regret experiencing penetration because I know for sure it has made me a good “penetrator “.
    My last relationship was sexually perfect. I think my dude faked being a top. And shortly after the early stages of our relationship just conceded of his own accord to being the bottom in our situation. I think he just needed to know I’d bottom for him. Two years of never to be repeated unprotected bliss .

  5. klothesmindedsince78 | February 1st, 2015

    Very interesting article. Like some of the other squad members, I think that sheds some new light on things for me too.

  6. SB3000 | February 2nd, 2015

    Always been a proponent for the fact that penetration is not the be all end all.

  7. Rod Turpin
    Rod! | February 2nd, 2015

    This is really informative. I so commonly of gay men as tops, bottoms, vers, or asexual, its really enlightening to see how much more complex sexual roles can be. And it does make me wonder why penetration is the one act by which we define these roles, when it is only one of many possible expressions of sexual intimacy.

  8. PrinceOnyx (P.O.) | February 2nd, 2015

    This is very insightful and informative this brings something new into play in the gay community. I enjoyed reading this article and urge many others to read this and become informative about “Sides” and what it means to be one and what they go through so as best to have more understanding in our community.

  9. DFW Brutha
    DFWBrutha | February 3rd, 2015

    ‘what if a guy isn’t a top, a bottom or even versatile? What about gay men who have never engaged in anal sex and never will, ever? I think they deserve a name of their own. I call them “sides.”’

    meh…I’ll continue skipping the sides and just keep ordering the sammich or chicken only 😉

  10. Sidepiece | February 5th, 2015

    I have never shared my story with anyone, but here’s a long story, short. I relate to being a ‘side.’ I didn’t discover my affinity for men until I was 27 years old…two years after a series of major surgeries that left me with no colon, and ED due to nerve damage. It didn’t take me long to learn about sexual roles, so I knew there was no chance of a penis ever entering me. lol. Having ED to boot, unfortunately, my manhood doesn’t cooperate the way it once did, so the majority of my sexual encounters do not involve penetration. Jackin off and oral is my thing. I usually have no problem rising to the occasion for that. But some of my best nuts have been from a good frot and just damn good foreplay. By definition, I am a top, since I don’t get penetrated and the times I have had sex with men, I was the penetrator; however, I get pleasure from anal stimulation (not penetration), so that has led some to believe that I am a bottom. I can appreciate this article for highlighting that there is more to sexual encounters than top, bottom and even versatile.

  11. Tyrax | February 13th, 2015

    I’ve met some guys who are only into feet. They don’t really like to touch other guys’ privates and just j/o to playing with other guys’ feet.

  12. Manavie86
    Shammy Thy Manavie | May 20th, 2015

    There’s no need to have label, we gays have spectrums of definition when it comes to sexual practices. That’s why our flag is rainbow, we’re colourful, lol. Presumption of sexual stigma in gay relationship is because we compare it to straight couple, primarily comparing it to our parents. I for once never compare to my parent much but rather reduce our sexual nature back to a simple term, it’s “primal instinctual behaviour”, i compare us to a pack of wolf (no i don’t watch Teen Wolf), there’s always an “Alpha Male”. I’m a bottom, full pledge bottom (never top and never ever will lol). I’ve observed my own primal instinctual behaviour, i have the Superior-Inferiority Complex. I’m attracted to a man that is Superior than me, physically and personality. For physical, you can imagine the gym rat, lol, made it easy. But when it comes to personality and behaviour, a Superior male (the Top/Alpha) is more dominant. Being dominant doesn’t mean he’s treating you like a slave. For example, we’re gonna have a lunch together, he will ask me what i want for lunch? and i said like “i want fried chicken” and he will make the decision like “ok lets go to KFC”. He’s the decision maker but still consider what you want. When it comes to sex, it’s not about to make each other cums, its more than that. For both of us, it purely having the desire to fulfill each other’s sexual need. He want to satisfy my need and i want to satisfy his. By executing each others role, we’ve completed the circle of our primal sexual needs. He’s a top he want to pitch and i’m a bottom so im gonna catch. I definitely not gonna define anyone as a “Side”. If both top or both bottom, there’re many way to have sex, oral, frottage, mutual mast, ear sex (like in Family Guy, jeebus O.O) and many more. Like me when in the afternoon at weekend, my man on the couch reading mags, initially i just want to give a light kiss, when i sat on his lap (aka his bulge), bam he got hard, so just do a quick sucky sucky, and he dont mind. Doesn’t have to do anal, lol save it during bedtime. On one of them day i got stomach upset, we don’t do anal, i just suck him during bedtime, i need to drain his balls completely everynight lol. Executing your role in sexual relationship isn’t something to be ashamed, we complete each others needs without the interference of outsider discretion. Me as bottom never ever made me feel uncomfortable, especially when you have a man that have honour you the way that you’re in your bed.

  13. A4AOso4Interracial | November 2nd, 2015

    I would like to say thanks for this article. I’m a middle-aged gay man and a long-term survivor of HIV. I started out just being enjoying “side” activities, mostly oral and frot. After my family outted me and caused me so much mental and emotional pain, I sunk deep into low self esteem, allowing anyone I found interested in anally penetrating me, mostly unsafe, just for the sake of having the moments of affection and being wanted. For me, I became positive very early on in that period. Back several years ago, I just stopped desiring being bottom, top, or versatile altogether. My close friends often question my reasoning which I really couldn’t say other than I just grew to not want anal sex at all. I’ve had guys I really wanted to get to know judge me not worthy of getting know based on being a gay man who is a “side” type and even had one say that I was asexual and called me some rather hurtful things as well. I simply find anal sex penetration unappealing. I don’t judge anyone for their sexual likes or turns ons, and wish more guys would open up their hearts and minds to those who are interested in sex without the need for anal penetration. Again, I am happy this article was posted, maybe more guys will see, like myself, that “sides” are not alone out here.

  14. Elias | November 3rd, 2015

    Nice one this is eye opening

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