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For every person that’s ever hated ‘going on top’, read this

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

Where do insecurities around going ‘on top’ come from and how can we fix them?

It’s a tale as old as time itself: you, a vulva-owner, is trepidatious about transitioning from a flat-on-back or submissive starfish sex position into an ‘on top’ rodeo of mortifying vulnerability. We’ve all been there.

Or I am being very presumptuous with the collective ‘we’? If I am, it’s in some twisted desperation to know that I’m not alone when it comes to insecurities in the bedroom. Have you felt that fear, too?


For more advice on spicing up your sex life, head to our Life section.


Because I haven’t shared enough gruesome, personal anecdotes here prior, I’ll start with getting the insecurities and ick feelings off my chest. Even if the lights are off or the curtains pulled, the undulating rolls of my seated stomach have been enough to deter my pleasure (or pursuit of pleasure) countless times in the past.

This isn’t just reserved for sex, it’s the thing that stops me from entertaining the idea of a bikini or baring my stomach in a now-trendy tiny top. Low-rise jeans? Literally couldn’t run away from those satanic things faster. 

More often than not, our own preconceived projections of ourselves (like in a mental stimulus of sorts) deter us from opportunities for empowerment or enjoyment. The bedroom and sex is a classic example of this, especially when it comes to ‘going on top’.

Feeling exposed, undertrained or inexperienced can dramatically and tragically hinder an individual’s sexual stamina and freedom. And it sucks. Girlfriends will say “That’s crazy!” or “You have nothing to worry about”, but the only person that can get over that mental roadblock is you. So, how does one do it?

I’ve overcome these fears on a personal level, and I think it all comes down to who you are with and the comfort level you’ve established with them. But that’s purely subjective. I also hate doing anything I’m not moderately good at, hence why I took months before rebooking my failed driver’s license test. Feeling like I’d do a mediocre job at going on top was another huge barrier to ever trying. 

To get a broader and staggeringly more professional perspective on the issue at hand, I’ve summoned sexologists Avril Louise Clarke of Sexology Girl and Georgia Grace of G Spot. My questions were far from groundbreaking, but as Georgia reassured me, “this is such an individual thing”. 

“Insecurities could be informed by messaging around what your body should look like, how it should perform during sex and conditioning around what ‘sexy’ looks like. The majority of people haven’t received sex positve, shame free, sex education most people are still turning to these unreliable sources to learn about sex and bodies,” Georgia told me. 

When you feel anxiety around something you think everyone else has under control, it’s easy to feel a bit broken or problematic. I’d implore you to take a look at the Big Sex Survey if you’re grappling with those thoughts. Australian pleasure toy empire Normal set out to quiz over 1000 Aussies, from Gen Z to Boomers and beyond, “to better understand the nation’s thoughts on sex, sexuality, and pleasure” in the investigation. 

One of the most frightening revelations in the study is that “females are orgasming less across every generation”. Another unsurprising, yet sombre one, is that body image is “the biggest concern for young females when it comes to enjoying sex, while younger males are most concerned with being able to give partners more pleasure”. Wow, you don’t say.

For a snippet of the juicy stuff, the below statistics pertain to the Gen Z female category surveyed by Normal:

  • Body image making it hard to enjoy sex: 33 per cent
  • Not knowing how to do certain sex acts or positions: 31 per cent
  • Not feeling confident during sex: 31 per cent

And it’s even higher for the millennial group (that I’d fall under):

  • Body image making it hard to enjoy sex: 40 per cent
  • Not knowing how to do certain sex acts or positions: 35 per cent
  • Not feeling confident during sex: 32 per cent

Avril blew my mind when explaining where exactly insecurities around being on top in the bedroom come from. She pinned it on “the Patriarchy!”, duh. “Being ‘on top’ is generally perceived as a penis-owning, dominating position. I believe there are definitely some messages from nature that lead to these insecurities about vulva-owners being on top in a heterosexual relationship.”

She went on to explain how being ‘on top’ as a vulva-owner is an advantage for clitoral stimulation. “If you are someone who needs clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm, having your hands free is a game-changer to introduce some manual or toy play to the penetrative sex.” This is quite the reckoning if you ask me.

But if it’s a body image thing really holding someone back from exploring new positions with a partner (casual or serious) how can they try to move forward and give things a go? Apparently, it’s all about a mental shift from the idea of ‘performance’ to the concept of ‘pleasure’, compounded by some little ways to feel more sexually confident. 

Georgia has learned just how “incredibly common” it is to feel insecure about how your body looks, feels or responds during sex. She also reminds me that it can arise at different stages in our lives or with various partners, being totally dependent on the situation and context we’re in. Naturally, we’re bound to feel more comfortable and confident with someone who amplifies our self-belief and self-love. 

“This could be through a range of mind and body inquiries, bringing touch and sensation to parts of the body you don’t feel connected to. It could include body mapping, working with practice and play sessions so you can practice a new skill (and then explore it), mindful sex practices to take the goal out of sex, sex-positive affirmations, boundaries and sexual communication. And a gentle reminder that if it’s affecting how you feel in your body or how you relate to others, professional support is always the best approach,” she says.

Let’s say you’ve progressed and feel confident going on top, but only with the lights off. How do you keep moving forward with that positive momentum to get past those most fundamental fears of being ‘seen’?

Georgia implores us all to remember “feeling comfortable and sexy in your body isn’t always about progression. It’s rarely a ‘10 step program to loving you!’. Sometimes, you feel great in your body, and other times not-so-great. And how very human of you! Instead of being hard on yourself, ask yourself: ‘What do I need to feel safe/in control/comfortable/confident right now?”.

The most valuable lesson bestowed upon me during this interview was the integral idea of sex being an experience rather than a performance. We must place the onus on ‘you’, remembering that “you are responsible for your own pleasure”. Sure, it’s a two-person act sometimes, but “if you don’t tell someone what you want, need, or like, then it is very unlikely that you’ll receive it”. 

Sometimes, communicating those vulnerabilities can be close to terrifying. But like most things in life, vocalising our fears and concerns and giving the things that challenge us a go can be the best ways to overcome them.

It’s weird to feel the same level of pride after doing something like going on top for the first time as you might have with going to your first F45 session or speaking in a foreign language. But likely, once you give it a go with someone you feel comfortable and good and at ease around, you’ll realise there was nothing to be worried about at all. You might even enjoy it.

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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