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In a scene, the top is the person who performs the scene's activities on the bottom. Negotiation beforehand plays an important role here as the top has no inherent permission or authority to engage in flogging, bondage, piercing, or otherwise doing things to the bottom, and must get the bottom's agreement for each activity prior to each scene.

It's often the case that once this agreement has been reached the top will then enact the scene with little direction from their partner, i.e., the bottom will quietly endure or surrender to what their partner does. Where the bottom takes a much more active role in determining or controlling what their top does to them through the course of the scene---such as via verbal instructions---this is called "topping from the bottom".

See also