Sexually, I identify as versatile, meaning that I enjoy both topping and bottoming. Sometimes I like to channel dominant energy, so I top. Other times I prefer exploring my submissive side, so I bottom. It’s not that complicated.
According to research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, half of gay and bisexual men identify as versatile, while the remaining half is equally comprised of tops and bottoms. These figures suggest that versatile gays represent the majority, yet there seems to be skepticism when we voice this preference. After speaking with dozens of sexually versatile men, more than half said they’ve been subject to some form of judgement from partners.
“People always try to force you into picking one position over the other,” David, 29, tells NewNowNext. “When someone finds out that I bottom as well, all of a sudden you aren’t vers, you’re just a bottom. It’s frustrating because I enjoy both equally, it just depends on the chemistry I have with my partner.”
Adult performer Jeremy Feist is versatile but, like David, says the role he takes is entirely dependent on whom he’s having sex with. For example, he tends to top with his husband, but when filming, he more frequently bottoms. (That may be due to his lower back tattoo that reads “HARDER,” he admits.)
“The funny thing with the top/bottom binary is that if you’re anything other than a total top, you’re immediately cast into bottom territory,” Feist tells NewNowNext. “If you top 99 guys but bottom for one, you’re a capital-B bottom. I remember one time I fucked a guy. As I was leaving, I put on a jockstrap and he said, ‘Wait, you're a bottom too?’ Because apparently, only bottoms wear jockstraps.”
There are a number of theories as to why some categorize versatile men as bottoms, most of which stem from sexism and bottom-shaming. Some assume bottoms use versatile as a title to spare them from judgement, the implication being that bottoms are less “masculine” and therefore less desirable. Appearance also factors into this skepticism. When faced with someone of a larger stature, people tend to associate that with a conventional definition of masculinity and assume they are a top. On the flip side, someone who is of a smaller stature appears more “feminine,” and we assume they are a bottom.
“An ex, who was a total top, used to shame and gaslight me saying I’m not ‘man enough’ to top him and that I’d be more desirable if I were a strict bottom,” Wilson, 27, tells NewNowNext. “It definitely made me feel a certain way about myself for a while, but thankfully therapy and self-love has helped me heal.”
Adam Awbride, an OnlyFans creator, has had similar experiences when filming content. “The main thing I’ve witnessed as a versatile man is that people are shocked to find out that I like to top (despite having plenty of videos of it),” he says. “Some guys think it’s weird or unattractive that I top at all. One guy didn’t want to get topped by me because ‘it’s like getting fucked by a bottom.’”
Licensed psychotherapist Daniel Olavarria, LCSW, points out that queer communities are not exempt from misogyny, racism, or homophobia. “These internalized biases can manifest, for example, in the devaluing of receptive partners (bottoms) or those who present/identify as fem and a longing for those who fulfill a specific preconceived notion of masculinity (top)," he tells NewNowNext.
After conducting a follow-up interview for the aforementioned study on positional preferences, researchers found that 48% of versatile men bottomed more often whereas 52% topped. This confirms that the assumption that versatile men are really bottoms is not just foolishly presumptive but factually incorrect.
People are conditioned to view things from a binary perspective. Good or bad, masc or fem, top or bottom — it’s always either-or. “Over-reliance on this type of all-or-nothing thinking is a form of cognitive distortion that often results in oversimplifying complicated issues and ignoring the gray area,” Olavarria adds. A nuanced perspective, like sexual versatility, challenges this all-or-nothing framework, which can make people uncomfortable. In turn, they create a simpler narrative to help rationalize their confusion.
This same cognitive distortion is used to invalidate bisexual folks (who, similar to vers people, represent the largest proportion of the LGBTQ community) since their proclivities challenge binary thinking. But like bisexual folks, versatile people can still identify as vers if we prefer one position over the other. Things don’t have to be 50/50.
It’s worth noting that harmful presumptions exist within the versatile community as well. Many vers men expressed to me in interviews that their decision to top depends on the appearance of their sexual partner, often topping men smaller than them and bottoming for men larger than them. To make things more complicated, we’ve broken the versatile label down further to include “vers top” and “vers bottom.”
“These are deeply rooted narratives, so it will take a lot of intentional effort, and time, to reshape our representations of sexual dynamics, gender roles, queer identity, and other social constructs,” Olavarria says. “Attraction is not only about what we see, but also about the associations that we make based on those observations. In turn, those associations are informed by how we are all socialized in the world.”
We’re all entitled to our own preferences, but sticking to one side of the top/bottom binary may rob us of an enlightening — or just plain sexy — experience. Even if we discover that versatility is not up our alley, consensual sexual exploration can impart some valuable knowledge. During my eight-year career as a sex writer and journalist, countless experts, educators, and adult film stars have told me that the best tops know what it feels like to bottom and vice versa.
The fact of the matter is, our sexual identity is exactly that: ours. How we feel, experience desire, and act on those desires is legitimate. So, let’s take people at their word. Instead of judging gay or bisexual men when they say they’re versatile, let’s support them and interrogate our own preconceived notions. Believe them, and recognize that any skepticism stems from sexist, heteronormative ideals, which have no place in our community.