Here’s What It Means to Be Vers, Top or Bottom

  • Posted on
Here’s What It Means to Be Vers, Top or Bottom

And yes, it’s a sex thing.

You may have noticed that there are all kinds of terms and identities out there to describe who and what people like in bed and how they like to do it. The labels “top” and “bottom” are often reserved for queer sex (usually between gay men and AMAB folks who have sex with AMAB folks). These terms often refer to the penetrating person (the “top”) vs. the person being penetrated (the “bottom”). Psychotherapist Lee Phillips, Ed.D, a certified sex and couples therapist, says these terms are used to describe the “giver” and the “receiver” in a sexual encounter by those who use them.


But what happens if you’re into *both* roles? Enter: “vers.” This stands for “versatile” and refers to those who enjoy being both the top and the bottom (and in kink dynamics, the Dominant and/or the submissive).


Reminder that there is an enormous amount of nuance when it comes to labels within sexual dynamics, so let’s go ahead and make one thing very clear: The only person who gets to decide what your labels are and what they mean for you, specifically, is YOU. And if you’re not sure if ‘top,’ ‘bottom,’ or ‘vers’ is right for you (or if you don’t want to label yourself at all), that’s okay!


Remember, self-discovery is a process, friends. A survey from The Archives of Sexual Behavior found that sexual position self-labels (like “top,” “bottom,” and “vers”) tend to develop over a solid 15-year timespan. Learning about ourselves takes time and patience, so if you’re unsure what label, if any, feels like a fit for you or what kind of sexual role you want to play in the bedroom, know that you’re not alone—most of us are still figuring it out!


Psychotherapist Ty David Lerman, a certified sex therapist, says a crucial first step in figuring out what labels, if any, are right for you is cultivating a willingness to learn about yourself: “Get curious about your fantasies, your literal dreams, and what you’re attracted to.” Understanding these things can help guide you along the path to figuring out what you like and how you identify.


Also key? Really getting to know the various labels that exist and what they mean. So let’s take a deep dive into what it means to be ”vers,” how it’s used in certain contexts, and how to communicate your preferred kinds of sex with your partners, shall we?



What it means to be vers

There are a two main sexual dynamics in which the label “vers” may be applicable:

  1. In penetrative sex (usually sex between two men, but not exclusively)
  2. In power dynamics (usually referring to kink, Dom/sub dynamics. In this context, “vers” is often replaced with the word “switch,” but not always)


As you’ve probably already surmised, being ‘vers’ means you’re into being both a top and a bottom and/or being both dominant and submissive. “A vers is a person who can be a switch,” Philips explains. “Therefore, they may enjoy being dominant and submissive. In sex between two men, they may enjoy being penetrated and being the person who penetrates.”


Being vers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re 50/50 in terms of preference for topping or bottoming. Lerman says some vers folks break labels down even further into sub-categories. “You can be ‘top/vers,’ or ‘bottom/vers,’ [which] refers to folks who are vers, but definitely have a desire or preference for one role or the other,” he explains.


TL;DR: Being “vers” means you’re versatile as a sex partner and are willing to take on the more dominant or more submissive role, and/or you enjoy being both a top or bottom during penetrative sex.



How can you tell if vers is right for you?

Experimenting with different roles and sexual positions can help you figure out if this label vibes with you, says Silva Neves, an accredited psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist who works with the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s important to go slow with these sexual experiments and ideally conduct them with a trusted, patient partner, he adds.


It’s also worth noting that labels or sexual preferences are often context dependent, says Neves. Meaning: you may be exclusively interested in topping with one partner, down to bottom with another, and hella open to switching on a dime with another. You may be your most Dommy-Dom self in certain situations and the littlest, sweetest of subs in others.


Your label preferences may also change with time and experience. You may go through periods of your life where you only want to top or only want to bottom. Or you may find you’re into being a sub at one point and a Domtastic Dom at another. Our labels can absolutely shift over time, and it’s all totally valid.


Lastly, you don’t even have to choose a label at all if you don’t want to. “Some people don't want to label themselves because they believe that having sex with [someone] is much more than a position preference and such labels are reductive,” Neves says. Again, labels exist to help people explore and embrace their own unique sexuality, not to box anyone in. If a label feels like a fit for you, great! If it doesn’t, ditch it!



Who can call themselves vers?

So can only men who have sex with men use the term vers? Nope! Lerman says that the terms top, bottom, and vers are certainly much more common in the gay community than elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean others can’t use them. They can be used by anyone of any gender and in any relationship dynamic to denote the more dominant partner vs. the more submissive partner and/or the person penetrating vs. the person being penetrated.


Really, anyone can call themselves vers if they decide it’s right for them. For instance, an AFAB person who enjoys both using a strap on to penetrate their partner as well as being penetrated may choose to refer to themselves as vers. Or, in a power exchange dynamic (as mentioned above), a heterosexual cis-gendered man may call himself vers if he enjoys being both a submissive and Dominant.


The only person who gets to decide what label is right for you is you. If you feel like you’re versatile, you can call yourself vers. Basically, the TL;DR of it all is: YOU DO YOU.



How to make your preferences clear with potential partners

One of the (arguably few) good things about dating apps? You can make what you’re into extremely clear right in your profile. You can legit just put “top,” “vers,” or “bottom” right there in the bio for all potential matches to see.


It’s also helpful—for both you and your partners—to be very clear about what you’re looking for, even if you’re looking to explore and experiment. “If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, that’s cool—just say that,” Lerman says. And if you’re SUPER sure you know what you want? Say that, too!


While all of this can make the process of finding potential hookups easier, Neves stresses that having more in-depth conversations about what your preferences actually look like for you is needed to ensure you have a safe and consensual experience that everyone enjoys.


“If people are not sure about what they like because they are experimenting, it is important to make that clear too so that they can choose a patient and empathic person to experiment and explore with,” he adds.


Figuring out what kinds of sexual dynamics work for you and which labels feel right for you is a process. Be safe, take your time, get to know yourself and your body, and, most importantly, have fun with it!



Written by: Gigi Engle on Cosmopolitan