Wished I knew the difference between a Top and a Dom/me when I started.
I would have saved myself the grief of picking the wrong play partners, i.e choosing women who wanted a Dominant rather than a Top ... I had a significant play partner who moaned one day that she "wanted a Dom and not a Top" ... and also to have known the not so subtle differences between a bottom, submissive & slave.
A Dominant is ...
A dominant person enjoys being in control of a submissive person. Reasons for this are said to include demonstrating skill and power, having ownership of another person, and being the object of affection and devotion. Domination may be the way in which the dominant feels most comfortable expressing and/or receiving affection. Service oriented dominants would add that it is obviously useful to have the resources and abilities of another human at their disposal.
There may be other motives, including pleasure taken not only in sheer power but in the suffering of others, thrill seeking in taking risks and outright self destructiveness. That is why many in the BDSM community are concerned with establishing the motivations of those involved in an encounter and advise caution in making BDSM connections.
.. whereas a Top is
A Top is a partner who takes the role of giver in such acts as bondage, discipline (e.g. flogging) or humiliation. The Top performs acts such as these upon the bottom.
The top is sometimes the partner who is following instructions, i.e., he tops when, and in the manner, requested by the bottom. A person who applies sensation or control to a bottom, but does so to the bottom's explicit instruction is a service top.
A Top who has been given more power in general over their partner and might give orders would usually be termed a Dom (or Dominant) or possibly a Master/Mistress, or other gender equivalents.
A Top need not be a top (i.e. insertive sex partner). Activities between a Top and Bottom might or might not include sex.
- extracts from Informed Consent