What Is a Pillow Princess? Everything You Need to Know About Queer Stone Identities

Photos via Getty Images; photo-illustration by Them

A couple years ago, I made an Instagram post about the term “pillow princess.” We’re talking pretty general — and what I thought were very common — sentiments. Think phrases like “pillow princesses are hot” and “pillow princesses deserve pleasure” on a frilly pink background. My followers — mostly lesbians, queer, and trans folks — are usually receptive and engaged, often responding to stories and posts with thoughtful comments or questions.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw not just a few but many comments disparaging pillow princesses as lazy, good-for-nothing lovers who were not in fact hot or deserving of pleasure. I was floored. But then, actually, I wasn’t at all.

I am a pillow princess. I am a lesbian who receives sexual touch but does not give it, at least in the traditional or transactional sense. My gifts lie in discovery, talk, and timing — think the atmospherics of sex rather than the mechanics. Though I know pillow princesses (and stone femmes as we’re sometimes called) are active, desirable partners in sex, it’s not always seen that way.

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As I looked at the comments flooding into my Instagram, memories came back, too. I remembered a close friend making fun of a new partner. “She just lays there,” they’d said, laughing in a sharp sort of way. At the time, I was embarrassed, but also angry. Why shame someone you want to be with? When my friend and I became lovers many years later, I was more than a little haunted by their laughter, second guessing the sex we shared and feeling pressured to perform. We didn’t work out. Even now, there’s a second where I hold my breath after telling someone new that I’m a pillow princess, wondering how they will react.

Clearly, talking openly about non-normative sexual preferences is still fraught territory, even within lesbian, queer, and trans communities. Those on the other end of the pillow princess spectrum — namely stone butches, stone tops, and touch me nots — are similarly met with confusion and stigma. With so many misconceptions, here’s a breakdown of the full spectrum of stone sexualities, what they mean, and how to embrace your identity.

What are stone tops, stone butches, and touch me nots?

There are a handful of terms used to express the identities and preferences of those who prefer to give sexual touch — specifically genital touch — but not receive it. Often, but not always, these words are tied to expressions of masculine lesbian identity.

  • Stone Butch: Probably the most well-known term of the bunch, “stone butch” emerged from lesbian communities of the 1940s and ‘50s to describe butch lesbians who don’t “receive” sexually, says feminist scholar and stone femme dyke Ollie O’Neill, M.A. The term became popularized with the publication of Leslie Feinberg’s 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues, which tells the story of a working-class stone butch living in the 1950s.

  • Touch Me Not: “Touch me not” is a cultural term some Black lesbians and queer people use. Often, touch me nots are masculine-of-center lesbians or studs.

  • Stone Top: Unlike stone butches and touch me nots, stone top is not explicitly tied to gender, masculinity, or lesbianism. Stone top is often used by queer, trans, and non-binary people who wish to communicate their sexual roles and preferences, like top, bottom, or vers. You may also occasionally hear this term in queer BDSM and kink spaces.

Of course, each stone butch, touch me not, and stone top has their own unique needs, preferences, and relationship to sex. There is also a spectrum of “no touching,” says Kiana Lewis, a pleasure mentor and sexuality educator with the LGBTQ+ therapy group The Expansive Network.

“Maybe that's nothing under the belt, maybe it's nothing at all, maybe it's only after their partner has received touch and pleasure,” Lewis tells Them. “These folks can receive a lot of physical and emotional pleasure from pleasing a partner.” Giving oral sex, for example, might be emotionally and erotically gratifying for a stone because it’s not mutual.

Stones also invite broader possibilities for what “counts” as sexual touch and pleasure, even in queer sex. A stone butch, for example, may experience deep gratification when their back is touched, their neck kissed, or their boot licked. Limiting physical touch can actually be an opportunity to center expansive pleasure, question dusty heteronormative sexual scripts, and create new forms of intimacy. Likewise, limiting physical touch provides many stones with a sense of agency and embodiment during sex.

“Being in control of their body might be very gender euphoric for folks who live in a world where others are constantly trying to control their body,” says Lewis.

What are pillow princesses and stone femmes?

The beauty of being femme lies in its explorative, malleable, and highly personal nature.

On the other end of the stone spectrum are those who prefer receiving sexual touch — specifically genital touch — but do not give it. This group can generally be referred to as stone bottoms. There are a few specific identities that fall under this umbrella:

  • Pillow Princess: A common term amongst lesbian circles and queer women, pillow princesses are a type of bottom who don’t reciprocate some or all sexual acts. Pillow princesses are usually femme (though not always), often lesbian, and range from sweet to bratty and everywhere in between. Many self-identify as a pillow princess, but it is also sometimes used as a pejorative. Always use caution when referring to someone else as a pillow princess and make sure it’s OK with them first.

  • Stone Femme: The historical origins of stone femme, unlike stone butch, are considerably murkier, according to O’Neill. But it’s helpful to think of stone femmes and stone butches as opposite sides of the same coin — intertwined yet distinct. It’s not unusual for stone femmes and stone butches to actively seek one another out, not just for sexual partnerships, but also for community, friendship, and acceptance.

  • High Femme: According to O’Neill, some people use the term “high femme” rather than stone femme or pillow princess, but its meaning is often lost or misinterpreted outside some lesbian circles. Increasingly, high femme is used as a general term to describe queer feminine gender expression. As always, it’s important to get on the same page with new partners and potential lovers about the words they use to describe themselves and what those words mean to them.

There are many different ways a stone femme or pillow princess may navigate touch, boundaries, and pleasure. It simply depends on the person. But what’s important to remember is that sex isn’t transactional — it’s transformative. For many stone bottoms, the ability to receive touch is in itself an active, deeply erotic offering to their partner.

“Owning your pleasure, especially as a femme person, is not a small feat,” Lewis says. “It should be celebrated in a world that constantly tries to make you feel small and teaches you to cater to other people's pleasure.”

How do I know if these identities are a fit for me?

Some people intuitively know how they want to show up for sex, what their hard limits are, and the language that speaks to their experience. For others, it can take some exploration to see what sexual roles and labels resonate. There’s no right or wrong way to identify.

What does it mean to be a top, bottom, or verse during queer sex?
What does it mean to be a top, bottom, or verse during queer sex?

Queer sex experts explain what top, bottom, vers mean in the bedroom.

“Labels are complicated,” sexuality educator Lena Peak tells Them. “They can empower people and validate their experiences, and they can also be weaponized to perpetuate harmful stereotypes or pigeonhole people into narrow social and sexual scripts.”

Instead of focusing on labels, first think about the sex you like to have, your fantasies, who you’re attracted to, and what you need to feel empowered and sexy and in your element. In other words, what gets you off? Then, consider how language can help you communicate your values around sex and the type of pleasure you desire. Your sexual identity may also change over time and you may ebb and flow through different labels, words, and roles. All of that is OK.

Community plays a big role, too. For O’Neill, finding a stone butch partner meant a deeper acceptance and celebration of her own identity. “My girlfriend says to me sometimes you're not a pillow princess, you're my pillow princess — for so long I thought that acknowledging this part of myself would limit me, but in fact the opposite has happened. I am exactly who I am meant to be, and with exactly who I am meant to be with,” O’Neill says. “I'm a stone femme no matter what, but it was through love and community with Stone butches and femmes that I felt able to finally accept that about myself.”

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Originally Appeared on them.