Skills I’ve Learnt By & From Bottoming

A chalkboard with a mindmap on it, with a lightbulb at its centre. The mindmap is titled "Bottoming Skills" and has six bubbles, which say "boundaries", "self-care", "balance", "processing pain", "communication" and "mindfulness" inside

Last month, I asked my Patreon people what they’d like to see a blog post about for the month of October, and they voted for “Skills I’ve learned or am learning, as a bottom and a human”. So, naturally, I… proceeded to go about three weeks without writing or posting anything. My brain has been on the fritz again and writing about bottoming has fallen to near the bottom of my to-do list (get it?), but at least I can spin it in my favour this time, because one of the most important skills I’ve learned as a bottom is understanding and asserting my boundaries.

Looking after my boundaries comes under the heading of “soft skills”, and it’s a soft skill I’ve had to battle to learn. That’s not a surprise; I’m assigned female and recovering from abuse on top of that, so I’ve spent a lot of time acquiescing on my boundaries for the sake of my safety. In kink, though, the best way to ensure your own safety and wellbeing (and that of the people around you!) is to recognise and assert your boundaries, so that you don’t say ‘yes’ to something you can’t withstand. If you, like me, don’t care much about your own safety or wellbeing, you might find it helpful to reframe it as, “Part of being a responsible bottom is communicating about my boundaries and limitations. It helps my top/dominant if I am forthcoming about what I can and cannot do.” This helps you grant yourself permission to assert your boundaries, and the more times you voice a boundary and have it respected (and even congratulated, with phrases such as, “Good pup for telling me”), the more you’ll train your brain to connect asserting a boundary with having a good time, which is hugely helpful in non-kink contexts, too.

That’s the thing about soft skills like these: I learn or build them whilst bottoming, but they improve my quality of life in vanilla contexts, too. Skills in a similar vein include communication and self-awareness, as well as mindfulness and staying present within my body – something I struggle with, since 1. I dissociate pretty frequently and 2. My brain is usually running at ridiculous speeds and is never fully focused on a single thing. When I’m bottoming, staying present and attentive to my body and brain is essential to my safety as well as my enjoyment of the scene, and this has the pleasant side effect of teaching me that being present inside myself can be a good thing.

Another skill that I practice whilst bottoming and that helps me in my day-to-day life is processing pain. I have hypermobile joints that cause me chronic pain, with acute flare-ups often occurring in cold weather, when I’m ill, when I’m stressed, when I’m not eating right, and/or seemingly at random. It’s hugely helpful to have pain processing strategies to hand for these – things like deep breathing, visualising pain as heat which is radiating from my body, and learning not to freak out because pain is not always equivalent to peril. I’m not learning to ignore pain – in kink, because pain is part of the fun; with my joints, because pain is informative – but I am learning to cope with it.

Bottoming is also teaching me to prioritise self-care. I’m a better bottom (more engaged, more attentive, able to push myself) if I’m well-fed, well-rested and managing my chronic pain appropriately. It’s sometimes difficult to grant myself permission to perform self-care, so, much like with the assertion of boundaries, it’s useful to reframe it as being useful to other people, as well as mixing in the incentive that if I do more self-care, I can do more BDSM.

I have also learned and/or developed “hard” skills from bottoming. Some of these things are as minor and context-specific as coiling my Daddy’s rope for them, but some are bigger – like rope stuff helping me to improve my balance and proprioception. Bottoming-related hard skills are ones I’d like to explore more thoroughly; things like bootblacking would aid my hand-eye coordination, help me to keep my own Doc Martens in good nick and, as a nice bonus, put me into a service-oriented headspace. There are so many ways that bottoming has the capacity to improve one’s quality of life beyond just the bedroom/dungeon/wherever you do kink, and I’m excited to keep exploring them.

Why Bottoms Should Make Notes At Kink Workshops

Stock photo of a blank, lined, spiral-bound notebook, open and with a fancy pen sitting on top of it

I want to present to you my case for bottoms who attend kink and BDSM workshops making notes on the material they learn. I notice a lot of tops with notebooks and pens, but markedly fewer bottoms with the same, and I think those bottoms might be losing out a little as a result.

But before I delve any deeper, a small disclaimer: I go to a lot of rope workshops. And very little else. So this piece will be from a rope bottoming perspective, using rope bottoming examples, but it should still be relevant for spanking workshops, protocol workshops, humiliation workshops, and any other workshop you can conceive of where bottoms might be there, absorbing information and/or being practised upon by their toppy friends and/or partners.

I’ve written plenty about how actually being tied up feels for me, and why I like it, but I think there’s a particular art to attending workshops and classes in a bottoming capacity. I’ll likely never use the information provided at these classes for topping (since I’m dyspraxic as hell and sub-leaning besides), but I like to be more than a willing body for a top to practice on when I’m in any kind of workshop setting.

So I make notes.

They’re not notes that a top could use (at least, not on their own), because they don’t feature any technical details, diagrams or instructions. Instead, I make notes on the things I’ll find useful later, for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. When I’m in subspace, I’m not likely to retain information unless I write it down;
  2. When I’m overwhelmed by being in a noisy room full of people, I’m not likely to retain information unless I write it down;
  3. The physical act of writing keeps my autistic gremlin hands busy in a way that doesn’t look too rude (unlike, say, playing Animal Crossing on my phone), so my autistic gremlin brain can focus on what the workshop leader(s) is/are saying;
  4. They’re both informative and fun to look back over days or weeks after a class or a workshop.

“But Morgan,” you may be asking, “what do you make notes on, if not technical details and instructions?”

I’m glad you asked, dearest hypothetical reader.

I primarily make notes based on gut feeling – things that make my ears perk up, if you will. I start each workshop’s notes with the title of the class, the date on which it takes place and the scene name(s) of the workshop leader(s), and then I outline what we’re actually doing, like so:

Example Workshop – 12.05.19 – Led by Example McExampleface and E. G. Forinstance

Objective(s): full side suspension; gunslinger hip harness; eat as many aftercare snacks as humanly possible

After that, I might make notes on specific ties, both naming and describing them so that I don’t have to Google fancy shibari terminology every time I revisit my notes.

Tie: Tengu (the raptor hands one that makes my boobs look excellent)

The most useful notes I make, though, are usually based upon things said by the demo bottom (who often also doubles as a workshop leader). Demo bottoms provide invaluable tips on which things are the hardest to endure and how you might go about doing so, and they’re not usually tips that tops will take note of. Demo bottoms remind you to stretch and wiggle, encourage you to be a princess if something hurts in the wrong way, and give you straight answers about how uncomfortable or painful something might be. They make the world go ’round.

TIP: keep an eye out for circulation loss/nerve impingement in the hands for this one

Another key thing I include in my workshop notes is something a top simply cannot do on a bottom’s behalf – my initial reactions to all the activities we try. This is especially important for me as I have a hypermobility condition which requires me to be careful with the positions I put myself in (or allow others to put me in), and keeping track of which positions seem to aggravate which joints is key. For instance, if I’m having a Bad Knees Day™, I can use my notes as a tool in considering whether a futomomo is a good idea.

“Morgan, don’t you just remember when things hurt you?” you might be wondering.

No, dearest reader, I do not. If I remembered every position, activity or weather change that ever made my joints hurt, I would have no room left in my brain to remember anything else. I’m always in a little bit of pain, and often in a lot – so I often block it out, and I almost always forget about it afterwards.

Thoughts: that was hot as fuck, very much enjoyed the feeling of being compact & smol. Elbow joints ache, about 4/10 pain, but worth it (and could be fixed w/ ibuprofen and care)

Naturally, bottoms who might be inspired to take notes in workshops as a result of this blog post can deviate from the formula I’ve presented here. If you think you’d benefit more from making notes on the mechanics of something, drawing little diagrams of human anatomy or anything else, you do you. I’m just here to sell notebooks remind bottoms that they’re active participants in kink, and that their insight and learning is as valuable as that of their toppier counterparts.

Tips For Getting Suspended (and rope bottoming in general!)

Photo is of a curvy-ish white person (Morgan) suspended off the ground with rope. They are sideways, wearing a brown hoodie, grey short shorts and knee-high grey and white socks, and their head is turned towards the ground, their face not in view. The background is a room with red walls and brown flooring, and a yoga mat type thing is visible directly beneath Morgan.

If you’ve read my ropespace post, you’ll know I love to be tied up. If you’ve spent more than two minutes on my Twitter feed, you’ll know that I love being suspended. But if you’ve ever been in the same room as me whilst I’m getting hoisted into the air, you’ll have quickly figured out that I’m a little bitch about it.

The pictures that go onto my Twitter feed (or onto my Daddy’s Instagram) make me look perfectly content up in the air, and I often am… after a fashion. During the process of being lifted, though, I have a tendency to squeak and squirm and repeatedly shriek the phrase “I’m scared!” with my eyes scrunched up shut. However, I do end up in the air, and I have some wisdom on how to make it from A to B as a bottom without completely freaking out that might also be applicable outside of suspension scenes.

1. Let your top know how you respond to fear and to pain, if that’s knowledge they don’t already have. If this is someone with whom you regularly do edge play and/or S&M stuff, they might be aware of your reactions to fear and pain already, but a refresher doesn’t hurt. For instance, I make a lot of squeaky noises when I’m frightened, but they don’t necessarily mean that I’m so frightened I want to stop the scene – in fact, fear and adrenaline are two of my main motivators for getting suspended. Conversely, some people fall into complete silence when they’re trying to process pain, and if you’re one of those, make sure your top knows that! Otherwise they may well worry that something isn’t going well, or even that you’ve lost consciousness.

2. Accept that suspension is going to be scary and that it may well hurt. The first few times you get suspended (at least), your fight-or-flight response might well kick in. Not only are you more or less immobilised by rope, but you’re no longer on the fucking ground, and no matter how much you trust your top you’re going to be terrified of falling. The only way I’ve found of soothing this fear is a. Acknowledging that this is an inherently fuckin’ terrifying thing to do, b. Reminding yourself of all the ways that the risks involved are being mitigated (your top has received training on suspension; there are crash mats beneath you; the rope you’re suspended with is as strong or stronger than climbing-grade stuff) and c. Breathing as slowly and deliberately as you can manage. The only other thing that will help this primal terror subside is practice and time – that’s how demo bottoms & performers can be inverted and spun around like yo-yos with naught but a serene smile on their face.

As for the pain: you’re putting most of your body weight through ropes, which are not renowned for their generous surface areas. I usually revel in the pain where I can, and I remind myself that part of being a good bottom is communicating my needs when something hurts too much or in an alarming sort of way. You aren’t going to ruin the mood by saying, “Could you adjust that thigh cuff, Sir?”, or even, “I don’t think I can do this – can we try something else?” – any rope top worth their salt will be not only happy, but excited to experiment and improvise to find a tie or position that you’ll truly enjoy.

3. Move around in the rope! Remember how I just said that being hoisted into the air with just rope and carabiners is terrifying? Well, we’re gonna go ahead and make that more terrifying by wiggling. This sounds counter-intuitive, but moving around in the air might actually make you less afraid in the long run, since it’ll show you how much control you still have over your body (and might flood you with a little more adrenaline). In addition to that, moving around in a tie while you’re still on the ground will help you find all the kinks (haha) and less comfy areas so that your top can adjust or reassess that aspect of the tie, and moving around in the air can shift the pressure from one part of the tie to another, meaning that you can stay up there for longer. Oh, and wiggling your fingers and toes can keep your circulation going, and alert you if you’ve lost sensation or motor control – always important.

4. Remember that it’s supposed to be fun. Oh, God, I am shit at this one. As soon as my dodgy joints or my autistic overwhelm or the universal limitations of the average human body get in the way of my being able to stay in a tie or in a suspension, my chin wobbles. I become simultaneously apologetic and whiny. I am consumed by guilt, Impostor Syndrome and disappointment in myself. But suspension, and rope, and kink as a whole isn’t a competition or a test or a judgement of your worth as a bottom or a person. If you can’t do something, or you need a tie adapted, or you just plain aren’t enjoying yourself, it’s okay to stop! It’s okay to try play around and try something else, and it’s also okay to bundle yourself up in your Sonic the Hedgehog blankie and call it a day. In kink, we play with bodies in some intense ways, and with brain chemicals arguably even more so. Even if the stuff you’re doing doesn’t look as physically draining and fucking wild as some of the stuff you see in videos and performances, it can have a huge impact on you – so make sure it’s a positive impact, and respect the limits of your body and your brain.

Oh, and always bring a lint roller along if you want to wear your clothes anywhere other than the rope scene itself. Rope fibres get everywhere.