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What does it mean to be a side?

What does it mean to be a side?

beyond the binary of top versus bottom. 

For all our talk of sex beyond the binary, it’s a constraint (and construct) that still lingers in the bedroom. Take, for example, the top versus bottom debate: for far too long, it was an either/or situation for gay men and other queer people on apps like Grindr, where a user was forced to categorize themselves as top, bottom, or verse (AKA, versatile). Unsurprisingly, these three words didn’t do nearly enough to capture the complexities of how one might identify in bed, much less elsewhere. Thankfully, in 2022, Grindr added one more option: side. Out in the world, meanwhile, many of us were left wondering – what exactly does it mean to be a side? How do you know if you are one? And what might the world of queer sex look like without the dual bookends of top and bottom? 

In the realm of sexual preference, identifying as a side conveys that you are not into penetrative sex. As for everything else? Fair game. You write the rules, and you draw the boundaries. 

Writing on the Grindr blog, columnist Bobby Box describes his own exploration of being a side after a traumatic anal sex experience left him less interested in penetrative sex: “Sloppy makeouts, mutual masturbation, oral sex and some other kinky activities were all I was featuring at the re-launch of my newly refurbished hole and, truth be told, these were some of the best sexual experiences of my life.”

If being a side is about everything but penetration, it is a category defined by the absence of something. That doesn't quite capture its expansiveness, though. Being a side isn't about missing out, or remaining “technically” celibate; it’s simply different than intercourse, because it’s outercourse. Perhaps it goes without saying that non-penetrative sex can be just as kinky, wild, comforting, and pleasurable as its opposite. And, like many other subjects in the queer lexicon, “side guys” existed before there was a term to categorize them. 

At this point, defining the side is starting to feel like the makings of another binary: penetrative versus non-penetrative; in versus out. But if we can resist the urge to put things in tidy boxes, if we can instead think imaginatively about what queer sex simply is instead of what it should be, maybe then we’re getting somewhere – somewhere that’s, well, you know, off to the side.

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