In the realm of sexual wellness, how often do we define respect for ourselves and the relationships we place ourselves in? Without an understanding of RESPECT, we set ourselves up for harm, be it physical or mental, which can produce deep long-lasting scars. Additionally, healed scars from other traumas can be reopened and create greater harm.

For a community or an individual to grow and not turn into callous destructive clicks or individual destructive time bombs, all voices and experiences must feel welcomed and seen as valued contributors that are part of the greater whole of the community, moreover, realizing that one is part of something bigger than self is important. For integration into a broader community to take place in a healthy way, one must know self.

In looking at sexual wellness, Dr. Lana Holstein, a Yale-educated M.D. presents an interesting idea about sexuality. Dr. Holestien describes sexuality within seven dimensions (biological, sensual, desire, heart, intimacy, aesthetic, and transpersonal) which committed couples can use to transform their relationship from a day-to-day operational process devoid of human-to-human engagement but instead more towards a magnificent experience that strengthens the bond and provides grounding for both individuals in the relationship. An underlying ingredient to these various sexual interactions between two humans is RESPECT. The World Health Organization asserts, “Sexual health when viewed affirmatively, requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.” The view of pleasurable is a state of being that is defined by the individual, and how the individual defines pleasure for self. What it means to feel safe in sharing that understanding with another is also self-defined. In the self-defining and sharing of self, one is defining R-E-S-P-E-C-T and they are telling another what it means to them.

In real-world situations, a non-judgmental state is necessary when interacting, as superficial appearances are subjective and ill-advised as a basis for judgment. Consider a Black Leatherman walking into a bar, one may infer from the formal leather appearance, officer’s cap, and riding crop under his arm, that said Leatherman is a Dom top, evoking many variations of assumption to fill the mind before saying hello. In another situation, imagine seeing a local Porn Hub celebrity out at the club. Because you saw their performance online, does one take this as a definitive statement of one’s willingness to engage or participate in sexual activity or willingness to be groped by others in a public situation? For RESPECT to be active, all participants in any interaction must communicate with each other and be willing to find out what Respect means to all involved with the interaction. Unspoken fantasies cannot be the grounding for any relationship, be it a one-night stand, ongoing friends-with-benefits or a long-term relationship. Moreover, respect is not some perceived understanding gleaned from an old archaic signal, but instead, it is a verbal statement and request of what is wanted and where the boundaries lie. Talk to the Leatherman and the Porn Hub celebrity in an open-minded, judgment-free way. You will find that they are humans with their own unique desires, interests, and comfort zones just like everyone else.

The non-profit organization Yourtown in Australia, conceptualized respect nicely in its basic understanding of it as an intentional action of accepting somebody for who they are, even when they’re different from you or you don’t agree with them. Respect within relationships creates feelings of trust, safety, and well-being. Additionally, respect is a learned behavior that does not come naturally – one must be open to learning about oneself and others.

So, with all this new understanding of respect, what is the next step? Aretha Franklin, put it perfectly, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T… Find out what it means to me.” Look at yourself in the mirror and define respect for self, what you find pleasurable, and how you want to be treated. Moreover, as you engage with others verbally share your desires and listen and learn how others want to be treated. If you are open to it, allow a shift in your thinking about self, but do so in an informed and thoughtful manner, not in a manner of coercion, mental or physical.

If you have access to music, your authors invite you to listen to Aretha Franklin’s song, Respect, and then meditate on the words.