The words ‘passive-aggressive’ should tell us something about the nature of those actions. After all, aggressive is part of that. But what is the difference between aggressive and assertive communication, and how does it affect us in the BDSM community? We asked writer Sienna Saint-Cyr to share her thoughts.


Good relationship communication in the BDSM community is something I heard about the moment I got involved. It made perfect sense too - I was going to be negotiating, giving and receiving pain, and playing with power dynamics. Clear, assertive communication was a must. But once I got into the scene, I found a lot of poor communication. People withholding information that might limit their play. Women, specifically, not communicating that they didn’t want to take part in something or saying ‘yes’ when they wanted to say ‘no’. This was horrible for all involved.

I’ve also witnessed tons of passive-aggressive behaviour. Some people have a hard time stating their needs and revert to a place of manipulation to get the other person to do what they want. I wondered why, when this community shouted loudly about healthy, assertive communication, I was seeing so much of the opposite.


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Seeking to understand

I thought back to a time when I’d set some hard boundaries with a woman that was harassing me. I felt pretty horrible about my response to her behaviour until later that day when I ran into a male friend of mine. I’d told him how I’d been a bitch to her and what I’d said. My friend looked at me and said, “That’s not being a bitch. That’s being assertive.” I felt like I’d been slammed upside the head. What did he mean, assertive? Surely he meant bitch. I’d set some hard-ass boundaries. And for a woman, that wasn’t okay.

It wasn’t until later that I learned assertive communication was healthy. Setting boundaries with people and giving them consequences was also healthy. From that point forward, I realized the only way I was going to enjoy my ds lifestyle was if I wasn’t passive and stopped tolerating that behaviour in others.  


Where does this behavior come from?

Over the years, I began learning more about passive-aggressive behaviour and why so many of us use it. I noticed that women use it far more than men, and often it’s because when a woman states a need directly, she’d be called a bitch. The more I watched, the more I saw our society pushing passiveness, tolerating passive-aggressive responses, and punishing directness.

I saw this mostly affecting women - thinking about how different my friend would have responded to the ‘assertive vs bitch conversation’ if he’d been a she. Would a woman have told me I did the right thing? Would she have said I was being assertive? Or would she have gasped and placed judgment on me?


Woman in BDSM lingerie practising assertive communication
Assertive communication does not mean being a bitch.


Assertive communication

Since then, I’ve honoured my feelings and communicated with clear statements, and my relationships have improved. Rather than taking half an hour to passively-aggressively ask to go to a party, I simply say, “May I attend your party?” People may struggle with my directness because when we’re used to passive responses, someone being direct can come off harsh. Even feeling untrustworthy at times because as a society, we aren’t used to that level of directness.

By being direct and assertive, I get my needs met far more often and without resentment on my partner’s side. I even began pulling out weasel words. Lacking power, they make our communication less effective. By using powerful words, I am clearer on what I want and need, therefore making it easier for others to meet those needs.


Having confidence and standing in our power

This leads me to my next thought. Powerful people, good leaders, and confident people never use weasel words. This is because they know they are worthy of what they want and need. Confident people are often labelled as being cocky or bitchy, but confidence and exuding worthiness isn’t the same thing as being an asshole. There is a reason why folks are drawn to confident people. If we believe we’re worthy, others will too. Another draw to those filled with self-confidence is they use clear and assertive communication. People that speak with power words don’t confuse things with cluttering weasel words. They are direct.

This isn’t to say that you can’t be shy or lacking in confidence and still communicate clearly. It simply takes practice. The bottom line is, be direct. The clearer we are about our wants and desires, the more honest we are—understanding that honesty doesn’t mean a lack of play—and the more assertive we are about our needs, the healthier our communication and relationships will be.

When there is power exchange or risk-aware kink, we have to be assertive enough that we communicate our wants, desires, needs, and limits clearly. While society may tolerate these passive-aggressive manipulations, the BDSM community is no place for that! Remember, standing in our power leads to the healthiest BDSM relationships.


Sienna Saint-Cyr writes erotica and blogs about kink, poly, body image, most things relating.


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