Ask Jake

I don’t know if I’m a bottom, and I’m embarrassed

Hi Jake,

I’m fairly new to the gay world, and still trying to figure out where I fit in. I spend a lot of time chatting on the apps, and everyone is always asking me if I’m a “top, bottom, or versatile.”

The embarrassing truth is, I don’t know. I haven’t had that many sexual experiences to figure it out, and some were totally awkward, so I don’t know if I should judge anything based on those.

The worst part is I feel a pressure to pick an identity. When I leave that blank in my profile, it’s the first question I get from potential hook-ups, and it’s been hard to dance around that issue. Even in my social groups, I don’t really know what to say when my friends make jokes.

How should I answer people when I’m cornered about my sexual preferences, and how do I even begin to know what I like?

Lost in the Sack

Dear Lost in the Sack,

Figuring out your sexual preferences is a journey we all go through, and the thing about a journey is that it’s constantly evolving rather than taking you “gayly forward” to a destination.

That said, you get to experiment however you want, and define yourself in whatever way feels comfortable to you. I encourage you to move forward in this exploration at a pace that feels right, without allowing yourself to feel pressured one way or another. And if you do feel pressured, don’t be afraid to vocalize it to your partner. A simple “let’s slow down” will suffice.

As for how to label yourself, it’s a shame that the gay world puts so much emphasis on identity when it comes to sexual position. If you box yourself in with your identity by picking a role you aren’t 100% sure about, you may feel like you have to “perform” in a way that doesn’t feel authentic to you. Instead, tell your partners that you’re “still figuring that out.” If you absolutely can’t resist the pressure to identify yourself in the apps, I’d say “vers” gives you the most flexibility of the three identities. With vers, you’re able to go with the flow and it gives you the freedom to say “yes” or “no” to whatever comes up in the moment.

Just like with gender identity and sexual orientation, you’re also allowed to change your mind at any time, as you learn more about yourself and what feels right to you. Just because you’re branded a “top” in one particular situation, doesn’t mean with a different partner you might want to bottom. Or maybe you’ll even enjoy both!

Take your time, find partners who will support you in your discovery about your preferences, and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” or “it depends.” Talking it out with a therapist is often helpful as well, or with a supportive friend. And remember, you can change your mind any time. Just like the Q at the end of LGBTQ, I might suggest we add “questioning” to the list of sexual preference roles. There are worse things to have to have to figure out in life, just be safe and have fun!

Jake Myers is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and the Founder of Gay Therapy Space, the first online therapy platform for and by the LGBTQ community. He has a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles, with a specialization in LGBT Affirmative Psychotherapy.