After decades of feeling pressured to repress his sexuality, 31-year-old Shahmeer recently experienced a life-changing epiphany: He’s a “power bottom.”
“In gay terms, a power bottom is someone who receives during sex and is known at being super good at it,” says Charlotte Johnson, resident sex and kink expert at MegaPleasure, an online sex store. “Basically, it’s a cock destroyer.”
According to Johnson, one definition of “power bottom” is someone who gets fucked fast and often. They also “guide the scene by telling the top what to do, how to do it and how they like it.” “It’s all about the intensity of the act itself, and it’s not for the soft-hearted,” she says.
This is only one definition, though — power bottoms can also get fucked sensually, slowly and infrequently, as long as they’re the ones calling the shots. In other words, power bottoms love to get railed, but they do so on their own, often very specific terms. “I think us bottoms actually own and retain all of the power,” says Shahmeer, a pseudonym.
But to him, the term is more than merely functional. “I’m Pakistani and grew up Muslim, so unlearning internalized homophobia took a long time,” he tells me. “I’ve always considered myself a late bloomer, but now I’m having the post-vax, hot girl summer of my dirty ol’ [power] bottom dreams!”
The trigger for this realization? A series of tweets by pop megastar Lil Nas X, in which he paraphrased one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s feminist monologues to argue bottoms are taught to “shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller” in order to not “threaten the top.”
Lil Nas X isn’t the only one to speak on-the-record about his love for bottoming — everyone from Troye Sivan to Special creator Ryan O’ Connell have alluded to their love of being fucked, and forums are rife with speculation on celebrity power bottoms. As for Shahmeer, he believes Bon Appétit’s Andy Baraghani has “power bottom energy” and says it’s a term that could probably be applied to “every internet microcelebrity.”
Self-identified power bottoms are usually gay men, but some straight people claim to be power bottoms, too — anyone can get railed and take total control over the dynamic, so technically, it’s a pretty all-encompassing term. However, it does specifically stem from the age-old “top/bottom” dichotomy within gay culture, which leaves a lot to be desired. In this context, some see terms like “power bottom” as being rooted in a desire to project heterosexual dynamics onto queer relationships, and claim hetero “power bottoms” are therefore co-opting queer culture. Others think the top/bottom binary excludes “sides”, a slang term for gay men who don’t have anal sex.
These debates are more about cultural context, but at the same time, terms like “power bottom” do serve a purpose when it comes to looking for hookups. In a nutshell, terms like “top” and “bottom” come with wider implications about how we like to be fucked — i.e., tops are dominant and bottoms are submissive. For Shahmeer, the term “power bottom” subverts this. “It lets me take control of my own narrative,” he tells me. “It reminds me I have agency over my body, and who gets to fuck me in what way.” Which is to say, power bottoms are obviously people who receive sensation and/or penetration, but they’re also in control.
Not everyone has such a straightforward, positive relationship with the term, though. Ty Mitchell, a writer, MEL contributor and OnlyFans creator, hasn’t identified with the label since he was “like 22 years old,” and now sees it as a “pretty nebulous term that can mean completely opposite sexual preferences for different people.” Therefore, he tells me, it’s “useless when it comes to finding compatible partners.”
Likewise, Mitchell often sees the term used in varied and often contradictory ways. “I’ve heard people describe a power bottom as one who can ‘really take it’ in a piggy and submissive way, as one who’s extremely assertive verbally and physically during sex and as one who essentially favors riding positions,” he says. In Mitchell’s eyes, this web of contradictions can make it hard to discern exactly what people mean when they say they’re a power bottom. So instead of using labels like this, he prefers more specific communication about exactly how he likes to be fucked, something he does without ascribing to one term in particular.
Maybe, then, the true essence of a “power bottom” depends on how you look at it. From a purely functional standpoint, Mitchell argues it’s essentially redundant due to its endless memeification. But from a political perspective, it subverts a series of assumptions about “bottoms” more widely — that they’re submissive, feminine, etc. — which are inextricably rooted in misogyny-laced homophobia.
For Shahmeer, however, the term has been an entryway into gay culture that’s helped him claim his sexuality on his own terms. Maybe that’s the ultimate point of “power bottom” as an enduring term — if it helps guys like Shahmeer live their filthiest bottom dreams without shame, surely it’s a tongue-in-cheek identity that’ll stay on top.