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A top is usually a person who penetrates, a bottom is usually one who receives penetration, and a versatile engages in both activities or is open to engaging in either activity.

Bottom may also describe a wider social context of submission within a romantic or sexual relationship, though this element does not apply to all people who prefer to bottom.

In gay male sexuality, a total bottom is someone who assumes an exclusively passive or receptive role during anal or oral intercourse. An oral bottom (alternatively described as being the "oral active" partner) is the exclusively receptive partner in oral sex, providing the penetrative partner, or oral top (alternatively described as being the "oral passive" partner), with unreciprocated fellatio and irrumatio.

The study also found that a top is also more likely to act as the penetrative partner in other sexual activities, such as oral sex and sex toy play.

Bottom is also used as a verb meaning "to be penetrated by another, whether anally or orally".

It requires a special kind of playfulness, creativity, curiosity, and coordination.

According to some, living a versatile lifestyle implies a certain openness to new things and an opposition to labels, stereotypes and generalizations.

Top is also used as a verb meaning "to penetrate another".

Top may also describe a broader personal identity involving dominance in a romantic or sexual relationship; however, this stipulation is not a requisite element of being a top. With regard to gay male sexuality, a Trevor Hart of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that self-identified tops were vastly more likely to act as the penetrative partner.

For example, in positions where the inserting partner lies on his back and the receptive partner straddles the inserting partner, the inserting partner is still considered to assume the "top" role, even though he is positioned on the bottom (and vice versa).

When used in reference to heterosexual and lesbian sex, the terms top, bottom and versatile usually refer only to position and not to the penetrative role.

A 2009 Austrian study on gay pornography has shown that at least 82.4% of all men performing in the male porn industry are versatile at some point during their career.

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