Leaving purity culture for a life you love

Jul 24, 2022

~ 49 minutes ~

Joli Hamilton
So welcome to the product relationship podcast. Lauren, thanks so much for being here.

Lauren Elise Barnes
I am so, so thrilled to be here. Thank you for having me.

Joli Hamilton
This is exciting for me because we are making the shift. This happens to be recorded as the first episode of season six, where we're making the shift to video podcasting, we're making the shift to including more guests. And I get to talk to somebody who I don't know from the moment we connected through your time learning as a sex educator and my time teaching, I felt like we're gonna have to have a bigger conversation. Today is the start of that.

Lauren Elise Barnes
excited, so excited to be here. I'm so like you said I, from the moment I was introduced to you as a student NIC. Yeah, I just felt this connection like, oh, this human, I want to learn more from this human. So I've been excited for this day for a long time. So I'm glad to be here. Yeah.

Joli Hamilton
And, and, you know, I think it's really fascinating when I get to connect with people who are coming to the sex education world, from just a completely different perspective. So you and I just, we had very different growing ups. And yet, we both landed in sexual education. And specifically in D shaming. Like, I feel like that's the theme in both of our work is like, how can we d stigmatize How can we be shame? How can we let people have access to more of ourselves? So people have heard my story lots, but I would love for you to share. How did you get here caring so much about what you care about.

Lauren Elise Barnes
Such a fun story, I'll try to give highlights because it's something that fascinates me too. So my background is in musical theater. And so I think as a small person, I've always been fascinated by narrative. So I'm always so intrigued by the question you just asked, How did you get here, because in the theater, we're always asked to develop like a backstory of our character, right? They don't just appear on stage, they always brought something to this time in place. And that's I'm sure your experience in working with humans do, right? It's the our actions right now are indicative of whatever we came from. So while I grew up in theater, I grew up in a very small conservative town in central Virginia. It's called Lynchburg. And yes, is directly connected to lynching. And I mean, it's it's a tough space. I'm full of beautiful people, like anywhere in this country, but also full of a lot of evangelical Christianity, American Christianity, I like to always differentiate between because I think you go anywhere else in the world. And Christianity might mean many, many things. So I want to be really clear, very full of fundamental Evangelical, white American Christianity. And so fully meshed in it that I really didn't know anything else. So I don't, my childhood wasn't necessarily traumatic. Because my bubble my scope, right was like right here. I was like a horse with blinders. I didn't know any better. I really grew up thinking what I was doing was the holy way. What everyone else was doing was the sinful way. So walking that line, I was homeschooled. Both of my parents went to the very evangelical Christian School Liberty University. For those some might be aware of the whole Yeah, gangster capitalism podcast, which kind of highlights the corruptness of that place. And so again, I was homeschooled, my vantage point was very small. And yet, I was very involved in musical theater. So I, I kind of had one foot in both worlds, the creative, the fantasy, the dreaming, the play, but it's like that was for there. Not for my life. And as I was growing up my parents, I'm, you know, I'm the oldest of five children. So I was a guinea pig. They didn't know what they were doing.

Joli Hamilton
We call our eldest we call her the first pancake. You're like I did the best I could. Sorry,

Lauren Elise Barnes
Lily. Also, I'd like to tell everyone I work with I do not think that any parent goes in. Not and I shouldn't say any. Most parents do not go into parenting, desiring to harm their children. They don't go in with ill intent. I would say the majority. Sadly, you and I've worked with too many people. We know there are some evil.

Joli Hamilton
There are some really tragic stories, but

Lauren Elise Barnes
bad people. And yet, I do not believe that my parents went into policing me deep inside of what is known as a purity culture with the intent to give me life lasting harm. I don't think they were like, Ah, this is what we'll do. I'm so

Joli Hamilton
conniving in the background. No, yeah. In fact, it probably came from quite the opposite. They probably had great intentions.

Lauren Elise Barnes
No, my mom was a movie star. My dad was a division one athlete, and they both had real The traumatic other things happen in their lives outside of any form of space or spirituality. So when they found spirituality Christianity, right, it was, ah, we can protect our sweet baby girl from all the pain that we experienced by having a right and wrong and this type of thing. So, so

Joli Hamilton
the, from the heart, and I

Lauren Elise Barnes
really believe and yes, so, um, you know in the 1980s I won't talk too much about purity culture right now because we can have that discussion. But there was the AIDS crisis of course, and Christian communities were like a ha we have this the solution that is abstinence until marriage and only marriage between a man and a woman and that is the solution that is how we will make everything better. Then you throw in a little greed and corruption on the side and it makes it makes a spectacular little meal. So I mean, I was born in 1985. So I'm like, right in the whole blossoming of purity culture. I mean, named Joshua Harris wrote this book I kissed dating goodbye and it kind of went through all youth groups. And then I take it a step further was part of a Presbyterian congregation which for those who are on nonreligious would not know this, but they referred to as the frozen chosen. We are

Joli Hamilton
never heard that one. Yeah,

Lauren Elise Barnes
super theological, like super, super, super heady, Super Male, dominant, super patriarchal, and culture. Women were not to do anything. I grew up firmly believing that females should not be president, that they that their menstrual cycles made them literally incapable of holding positions of leadership. And I believed these things like I, I believed them deeply. So came up never dated, read all of these books on courtship that referenced the glory days of the early 1900s. And how beautiful things were back then if we could just return to the 1900s things would be

Joli Hamilton
on the porch. And you didn't call me

Lauren Elise Barnes
right. I mentioned all the other horrible thing. Amen. So yeah, I you know, wasn't permitted to date I will talk about the downfalls later, I had one guy that I was courted by, in later High School and truly thought it was going to marry him truly thought I was gonna marry him. And so when things just fizzle there that was devastating, and then met what ended up being my husband, when I was only 18 years old. And the the primary message of purity cultures, is that you will be a trampled rose a piece of chewed up gum. A cup of spit that's been passed around the music,

Joli Hamilton
scotch tape. I've seen that one. Yeah, there's a lot of metaphors for this a lot of imagery. Like

Lauren Elise Barnes
the more romantic and or sexual partners that you have. For some, it's really only sexual, but definitely for my upbringing, it was romantic attachments as well. So meet this guy at 18. My parents I think I thought liked him. He's seven years older, so he's kind of got his shit together. And I'm like, okay, like, all right, this guy, I can have the Romans I've been craving, if this guy will just love me. And so purity culture, again, teaches women that they are to be the subservient under a head of household a male, and that women are less than I grew up with all these confusing messages, like learn, you could do anything and yet remember your primary places in the home.

Joli Hamilton
Yeah, I'm thinking about this, like the 90s. In particular, there was this big tone of like, Girl power, it must have been at such odds

Lauren Elise Barnes
with it, you know, looking back like sweet poor parents, we grew up across the street from a like a women's college. powerhouse. Women's College. tutors were from there. They were like brilliant minds. We had them over all the time. And it was like, Yes, but you know, I don't I don't think they knew. I don't think they knew what they were.

Joli Hamilton
Most people don't think about what happens when there's a schism, right when we are presented to oppositional ideas with no sense of how to hold the tension of them, or how to navigate and find our own path, third path through them. I like we could talk about a lot of culture.

Lauren Elise Barnes
And then you make it a child's right with not their frontal. Your ability to make these decisions. I didn't have the ability to step back and go oh, whoa, whoa, there's a slight conflict in this logic here. Like, that's confusing. Could you explain this to me, mother and father because indoctrination again, my parents were to be obeyed. Right? There was no discernment that was ever talked about. It was just blind obedience, constant obedience. So meet the sky. Make myself less than less than, less than, less than less than less until and more and more and more But dependent till he needs me till I have proven that I am kind of like indispensable for his needs. We have a fine relationship now but he would be fine with me sharing that you struggle with mental illness, you struggle with all these things that I, it's kind of like I just cozied up in there, right like land make love, indispensable because that's what I'm supposed to be as a woman. And then it was just miserable. We got married and set a cataclysmic amount of events, addiction on his side, alcoholism, all of this stuff. And I again, for so many years never even considered that this was unhealthy, that he was not sexually attracted to me at all. I cried myself to sleep. So for so many years, and here I had been led to believe, right, that if I kept eight, I would have the most glorious sexual feeling filling marriage in the world. And it was miserable. But I didn't show it. I didn't tell anyone because sex was not to be discussed that was between husband and wife. You know, I think what I teach on so much now is the long lasting ramifications of purity culture. This, this goes far, much deeper into your psyche. I was married to him for a long time. And then somebody started having dreams about me. This is always such a fun part of my story. So when just started having dreams, and wouldn't leave me alone, they were like something is going on. And we need to talk. Yeah, and so gate for people listening to their intuition. Yeah, yeah. And all that led to is them insisting I get into counseling in a good way. And all it took was one visit with a counselor. I mean, it was years of progress. But one visit with a counselor where she said, That's what why don't we just put some boundaries in place, and then you know, the boundaries are broken, you can have a natural consequence. That's where they are. And that's it. And within weeks, he was removed from my home. And yeah, I went through a few years of completely deconstructing everything. I believed in everything I had been taught because the divorce ended up basically painting a scarlet letter across my chest of what a sinful harlot. And while I had been suffering, I was earning all these like brownie points, these like Christian brownie points, like, look how great Lauren is. But then the moment I started seeking help, and taking steps towards healing. Yeah, I was, the word was she's gone rogue, just everywhere. It was like, well, she's rogue. So

Joli Hamilton
that's correct. That's right. She's

Lauren Elise Barnes
not following the narrative that we presented to her. And I tell everyone, though, I wouldn't change it for the world. Because it was in that moment that all of a sudden, I saw, Oh, I followed their rules, right, and still did not do enough to prove myself worthy in their eyes. I was not believed I was sat at a table roundtable with 12 other white men, and asked to tell my story of sexual abuse and emotional abuse and physical abuse and psychological abuse over and over and over. And it was this like, yeah, it's like the blinders fell off. And I thought if this is being done to me, a heterosexual white girl, oh my gosh, like, this is what everyone's been saying that the evangelical fundamental Christian church in America has been doing to individuals. And so it was a beautiful moment of aha. Right? Yeah. And so during that time, I was working in maternal health and so side you know, bar everybody's always living like a nice little double life, right?

Joli Hamilton
Like, we have a work life and regular actual life,

Lauren Elise Barnes
pretending and people thought everything was fine, and was working maternal health because in the United States of America, our maternal health statistics are horrible. You'd be safer in 60 other countries to go have your baby doesn't matter skin color, just go somewhere else and have your baby because it's that abysmal here. Anyway, had been working in that field and the more I would talk to women, the more I would understand that they didn't know their bodies at all. They did. They didn't no pleasure, then and other bodies, many of them didn't know how they hit conceived. And I was just blown away and so I like would file it right and put like a little checkmark somewhere. That's funny. I don't mind here.

Joli Hamilton
We try to I got my start to when I was like, oh, yeah, yeah. Oh, like another another doula client who not only doesn't have an orgasm now, but actually, never really did. And oh, yeah. Over and over again,

Lauren Elise Barnes
over that. So in my organization that I had founded, we would have panel discussions because I truly it's just so funny, right to be like, You believed this but you were living this like truly believed in informed decision making right which is very principle. And so we would always have these panel discussions of did and educators or pediatricians or midwives or OB GYN who disagreed with each other. And I would say to the attendees, listen, this is so good, you get to see that there are multiple options to choose from. So it's just so funny what was coming out of my mouth and one world wasn't living at it in another

Joli Hamilton
way. Well, that's, that's fundamental. I think, for almost all people, we, we often have one area of life where we can operate with our executive function, with choice and at our best self. And then another area where we are low functioning, and not really able to just get by even I think that's, I, I want to say it's certainly typical. It's certainly typical. And we see it happening. I see it all happening all the time with people who are not recognizing their strengths, I see it with sis white men who don't recognize their strengths at and capacity at work, they could bring it home, they could, they could bring that home and like, Oh, now the home could run in a different way. Like there are so many cases of that, and you had one that literally could have led to your I mean, I don't want to overstate the case, but we're talking death and destruction, mental destruction, if nothing else, but like you are living

Lauren Elise Barnes
longer it would have gone on now you're getting like incrementally more dangerous every year that went on. And you see this all the time. And I am so glad also to the way that this opened my eyes to domestic abuse, because so often the risks of changing your life leaving, all of these things are so astronomical that a person who is in that domestic violence situation, can't even see like risks, benefits, survival was important. And I didn't

Joli Hamilton
write if you can't picture another life, too. I mean, my my own first marriage I left after it got messy, I got really messy at the end. And it was about imagining something else was the biggest block, right? Imagining there is anything else. Because if you were raised, I was raised to believe that I would be lucky if someone just put up with my shit, let alone like my father used to tease about tearing a $500 bill in half, taping half of it to the bottom of the ladder and the other half to my forehead. That will leave you in a spot where even though I don't think my first husband intended to harm me, I was wide open, I was practically begging to be harmed. Because I thought that that was the best it could be. I couldn't imagine something else. And the imagination is our most powerful tool.

Lauren Elise Barnes
100%, right. I taught children in theater for forever. And you and I talked about this a little bit before that. The beauty of a theatrical experience for me is the ability to imagine something and then create something from nothing, and to create an entire world. And yet if you can't see that world, right, I was given position papers on marriage and divorce from the Presbyterian Church, they use the word failure 14 times in the paper. So by failing to keep her marriage by failing to do this, I would be unfit for a marriage. Right? I would be like almost unfit, I would my like position in the church. My like membership of the church was going to be in question, right? My sense of belonging, and sense of belonging is huge to human beings. Right? It's so it's

Joli Hamilton
so your core needs beyond just your actual physical needs. I mean, you already I'm sure we're in the position of like, well, how do I even make my life start again, but now you're down to core psychological needs of I might dissolve, my personhood might be gone. My identity,

Lauren Elise Barnes
my reputation, which in a small town, anyone who lives in a small town knows, I mean, that's, it can be it's done. You know, I mean, word spreads. I mean, it was walking everywhere and seeing the Whisper whisper, you know, or the the turn of the head. It's, it is I talk a lot about primary loss, and then secondary loss and tertiary loss. There's, I mean, there are these ripples that were immense, immense. And, again, same time working in the maternal health sector trying to find panelists for sexual health topics, and could find no one there were two licensed sex therapist in the vicinity, one of whom taught from a purely Christian standpoint, totally their prerogative totally fine. But if you didn't align with that, and my organization was not a faith based organization, you kind of kind of had some run ins. And then one was also a psychotherapist and was booked all the time. So sex therapy was not their only project. So we just kept running into a dead end there. So again, little moment, and then then I get divorced. And I'm standing there looking at myself in a mirror thinking, well, if my sexuality doesn't belong to my father, or the church, or my husband, who Who does it belong to? And so it started just this slow, slow. I don't even like to call it a deconstruction I like to call it like an archeological dig. Then finding out where these beliefs truly came from, and then rebuilding who I wanted to be rediscovering regaining, reestablishing my own sexuality and what I even want, right? What felt good for me what was good for me, and what I was even looking for what benefitted me sexually as a human being. And then I'm just a storyteller by nature. So people would be like, oh, you should teach on this. And I thought, like, No, I don't have any like, I

Joli Hamilton
hear those words out loud all day long.

Lauren Elise Barnes
Let's get education. I have zero sex education. So like, what? I've read books, like a couple, but like, not enough. So then yeah, looked up and I see program. It was like, Oh, yes, embodied, holistic, integrated, yes, these are my words, not, I don't just want science. And I don't just want you to be gooey, I want something in the middle that understands that the mind and body are connected. And can also open my eyes outside of this tiny little town, I knew I wanted a truly inclusive and accepting and mind opening experience to and yeah, and then retired from maternal health, the end of the year. And now here I am, is a full time sexuality educator.

Joli Hamilton
So that right there is to me that the the positive outcome, that is the potential of everyone being exposed to a, a broad array of options, because I have an argument, that if the cultural container you were in, if it had fit you, then you wouldn't you wouldn't be here is some people are very well held by their religion, they're very well, like, they feel like it's a glove that just fits just right and they feel held, they feel nourished and nurtured. Awesome. And I still want them to have factual based sexuality related information, especially around how their body works and how pleasure works. And yet, a lot of people don't feel held by the container that they're raised in, a lot of us don't. And you're, what I'm hearing is you had to really not just fight your way out of this very closed world, but out of your the trap of your own mind. Because now you're inside yourself saying, not only was I supposed to be obedient to God, my father, my husband, but I'm also supposed to be obedient to something within I'm supposed to be obedient to my obedience. So I find that people get trapped in this loop right there where like, I can't even contemplate leaving the bigger picture because I can't get out of my head.

Lauren Elise Barnes
And I don't I don't think, you know, it. indoctrination is so interesting to write because I was, it was taught the Catechism, the Presbyterian catechism, when I was very little, and number one is I am justly deserving of the Lord's displeasure. And all the time, all the time, I am justly deserving of the Lord's displeasure without him, like lost basically dead. And so, again, I always, always want individuals to know that if they feel held and have a sense of belonging from the community that they are in, I am not here to tear that apart. I believe that spirituality and sexuality can be this beautiful dance this gorgeous celebratory dance. And if you are not held or you feel like your education isn't quite providing you what you want it to there, there are resources,

Joli Hamilton
your resources.

Lauren Elise Barnes
You don't have to go rogue, you can stay in a nice little lane. And yeah, I I don't know if that friends I've not had dreams, like how much longer I would have just stayed because it might have been forever, you know, because it was serving me enough. You know, I it was serving me enough,

Joli Hamilton
right? It when you can stay in, in that little space. Right? And you can be a little version of Lauren, and that's it. And, you know, my one of my core premises is that many people want to individuate they want to you know get on a path of becoming the most you version of you possible they and they want to continue doing that. And it's not a state that we achieve and we like get to win like Bo Doom I'm I'm individuated but they want to be on that path. And not everybody does and the reason I bring that up is because I remember growing up in a Christian church and feeling I did not feel shamed. I did not like I was not exposed and I was out as bisexual. I don't remember any buddy ever saying a word. It was just very like blase. They were like, I mean, we're not going to talk about sex, but it wasn't a big deal. And so I might have stayed in that world. And it might have been big enough for me. Turns out, I mean, I have, I have many questions. I was that girl who was questioning my pastor at eight years old, like shaking is shaking his pant legs and saying, How can you say that there's a there's a God, a benevolent God, and there was a hell and so I was that kid. So maybe I wasn't going to stay. But sex, sex is the thing that would have driven me out if I had not felt like it was okay to be me, I would have left and I wound up leaving in a very amicable I had the like, oh, it was sort of an Irish goodbye. It just sort of wandered off. And we never really spoke again. And yet, that's okay. Like that has worked really well for me, right, there's a, there's an opportunity there for some people to just say, oh, you know what, I'm gonna go seek elsewhere for my spiritual nourishment.

Lauren Elise Barnes
salutely, because no, no system could be all things for all people, nor should they ever feel the pressure to write, I used to say to anyone who walks through the doors of our nonprofit, we might not be your cup of tea. And that's actually wonderful. And let me connect you to someone who can hold you and nourish you, right, because I worked with people and pregnant and postpartum bodies, and they deserve support. And I wasn't going to be, you know, our team wasn't going to be crunchy and effort son wasn't going to be medical enough for others wasn't going to be this enough. That's okay. But let me find real place of belonging. So I actually think it's fine. When churches do that, like sure you're ready to grow outside of this box or into another box,

Joli Hamilton
by whatever. Now, that said, I'm very curious about how this so that's a that's a hell of a way to have to grow up and then live a marriage for on the order of years, and then leave. And I'm thinking about the you I know from Instagram, and I'm thinking about the you who poses these, these beautifully sensual pictures clearly in your body, feeling yourself aligned, and you you appear to have found a home in yourself. And I'm thinking between that between trying to find a home and yourself and figuring out what relationship will be for you. If it's not about obedience. Where are you today?

Lauren Elise Barnes
Partnership? I think that I can cry. Um, I think what I didn't know enough about was the incredible aspects of partnership, of what partnership in all its ways, right of the beauty of asking for help, the beauty of knowing what you wanted or needed, and asking for it and receiving it from work partnerships from these types of conversations, right? From romantic partnerships to and so now, I would say, I am so thankful that I have found myself in a partnership through that's a whole nother fun story for another fun day. With a person who didn't grow up with any religious trauma, so always learning and person in a male body. And, but is so excited to like, watch me in all my ways. Like, I remember crying at one point has all the trauma, I want everyone to know that like, you may survive purity culture, but those wounds, I mean, it's like a scar on your body, that scar tissue is woven in. So one night I'm crying in the kitchen, I'm just afraid I'm going to be too much. And he lifted my face up and looked at my face and said, Oh, you're too much as one of the first things I fell in love with. Right?

Joli Hamilton
That's it, find someone who loves you because of your idiosyncrasies, you're too much NIS all your things. Not in spite of that, that's how I was raised that like in spite of so if someone will tolerate you, if someone will love you, in spite of, you know, all the you that you are and I it's What a strange thing that so many of us because certainly I know I have had so many friends over the years who were raised in one way or another especially those of us born into cisgender are female bodies and then raised to be these women wait raised feminine, right raised to be a woman who were taught in one way or another, that we were just unacceptable as we are. And yet, I can't think of any parent who I would have ever spoken to who intended to raise their child that way, including my own. My parents are passed now. So I but I've had I had these conversations with them. I didn't mean to indoctrinate This way they didn't mean to. And so the walking out is still our like, there's no one for me to there's only me to walk out of this stuff. There's only you to walk out of yourself. But I am so curious, as a parent myself. What it is that I am unintentionally passing to them with, in fact, only the best of intentions, what is it? And I and I enter into a state of inquiry with my kids around this, like, what is it? What is it like to be raised by me? Because I'm, yeah, because there's no way we're not leaving our fingerprints.

Lauren Elise Barnes
Why Sol once told me it's not if we'll leave holes in our children's, it's just which ones, you know, we just will out of our own set of experiences. And I always say All I can hope is that I give I only have one child person in a female body who identifies that way. And she I just hope she has the tools. That's all right, like, I play therapy's amazing. I you know, and I hope that, you know, it's, it can be more, I know, I'm messing up exactly like you said, like, there's going to be something where she's like, I wish you would have just told me what to do instead of me, because what I was gonna say is I hope that she can just make her own informed decisions based upon you know, different things, but I bet I'm gonna get someplace where she's like, would have been really nice. If you just, that's

Joli Hamilton
it, no matter no matter which way we go, I have enough kids to to be humble around the fact that there is just no way I'm gonna get this right. Because as soon as you have like three or four, you're like, Oh, you get to seven, you're like, oh, there's just no way because they all need different things. And it becomes very, very apparent that there is not one comprehensive anything way. And this This is interesting around sexuality education, because we think of comprehensive sex ed, relationships are dynamic and changing and have so many moving parts, that it's not as simple as opening up a book and saying, here's how you do it. I mean, it's just I wish it were that simple. I mean, I wrote project relationship. Because I had this moment, I woke up one day realizing that I might die, and my children wouldn't be grown yet. And I wanted sought to have shared some of these relational lessons. So that they didn't have to start from nowhere. And I, you know, Scrye scratch that thing out in a month, I was just like riding like mad because I was afraid of my own death and not helping the kids. Like stand on my shoulders instead of having to make it all up. That said, I will now and I see already my kids are the eldest is almost 23, you know, and then down to 14, so I can see how, yeah, my advice isn't the right fit for all of them at all times. No,

Lauren Elise Barnes
I have a really critical thinker. Phillips, I'm one of five. So I just Amen to everything you've said. Because my, we're all so different. And we were raised relatively within the same worlds, right? And no, we are nothing all five of us. So vastly different. And we all have the same parents. But I have this, this person, this young human being that I'm raising, observing is what I like to say

Joli Hamilton
like that's it. Yeah. facilitating the growth of

Lauren Elise Barnes
the things feedings. But she will have conversations with me, like, for instance, mom, would she? Yeah, I'm not going to talk about her sexuality, but like, when do you think would be a good time for me to start dating? I think 16 She's 11. I'm like, Oh, well, why do you think that? Right? She's just self regulating in all of these. First, what do you think I should be? What do you think here? And sure, yeah, we talk about all the things, um, but so inquisitive. So planned, so yeah, just fast. You know, it's like their little brains, like, who knows?

Joli Hamilton
Right? And then the more what I have noticed is, the more the more options I lay out in front of them, the better and the more challenged, because they do sometimes want like, can you just give me the answer? Just tell me how to make this work. And, you know, so I want to make a right turn in this in this interview, and I think this is a moment because having the answers like knowing how to like, get what you want, feels like a really good spot. To jump off in kind of a different direction, which is, if you're raised with shame around sexuality, if you're raised in particular with shame, that's going to infiltrate all the ways you relate, and what relationship is even supposed to be. I've seen, I've seen a few people, a few clients who are trying very hard to break the relationship mold that they were raised with. So they want to have either monogamy plus or they want non monogamy, or they want a really explorative adventure into kink. They want something more, and they're clear on the wanting more. But the voice inside them is so loud, it is so loud. And there's so much opposition that even if their partner is 100% on board, and is like, yeah, let's get on this training go. We got it. There is just this immense amount of while scar tissue to work through. And I was wondering, because I know that there's a bit of a story here from you. And I would love to hear what it's been like for you to deal with that scar tissue and want to try something more.

Lauren Elise Barnes
I would love to was one of my favorite things to talk about. And I don't get to talk about it often. Because I'm working mostly with folks who are not to that point, right? Like, that would be a conversation for a couple years down the line for some

Joli Hamilton
guidance. First we want like can you find your orgasm? Do you know how your body works? Can you set boundaries? Absolutely. Exactly. First, yeah. Oh, we

Lauren Elise Barnes
got a lot of other stuff to do. Um, but yeah, but personally, right. During my period of archeological digging, of course, I came across so much incredible research and knowledge on consensual non monogamy, or polyamory of whatever all the different names we love to name and label. We love labels. Love it, it just makes everybody feel so much better. And I remember thinking, Oh, wow, okay, this makes a lot of sense. It's always so funny, right? I'm sure you talk. It's got the concept can sound delightful.

Joli Hamilton
Yeah, the philosophy is yum. And,

Lauren Elise Barnes
and, okay, so perfect examples are when I first started having casual sexual encounters is what I like to call them. My poor little heart when I would know, because it was all consensual, and all, you know, everybody was sharing, like, would know that one of these other partners had had another casual sexual encounter, which was all part of the relationship agreement. Oh my gosh, she would have felt like, like 5000 people were stabbing and this was just in casual dating. Oh, my gosh, I don't know if there's a name for that. Do you have a name for that? Like that initial period?

Joli Hamilton
Yeah. So it's interesting that that initial period, we could just call it dating. We could write like, if it weren't for mono normativity. Right. If Manono if, if, like habitual and like, for her I hate to use this word, it feels like a lot. But if normative monogamy is what we're given, then. Dating more than one person at a time can feel like a huge threat to the nervous system. I can feel like a huge threat to our belief system, even though there's nothing really in the rulebook that says we like you're not breaking monogamy if you just break it down Mano one mer gammy married so you're not married so you're not breaking that rule but there's it goes deeper than that. It is that compulsory. There's the word I was looking for. Yes, three monogamy Elisabeth Emmons talks about this beautifully. That compulsory monogamy it it drives most of our culture around dating. And so then your poor heart your poor little

Lauren Elise Barnes
baby heart Allison Armstrong representative references it as this like, biological primal, like, need to be like protected from lions as a person in a female body like back to like caveman days, right? And if I can't out at out attract all these other people in female bodies, then will the caveman defend me right? And so my nervous system felt like it was on this constant alarm. Also, I've been thrown out of a community right? I've also been I Trauma still literally in the wilderness. Like there's gonna be a lion. I'm going to be nobody cares. Like, that's what my nervous system did so, so that was a great dating experience, because that's exactly what it was. It was just dating. No one had claims on anybody's body but I did. It was really good for me. It was really good for me to think through and get to decide that if consensual non monogamy ever was a part of my future and part of my story in the future, I would want a primary partnership. I was like I true. This was a really good moment for me because I was like, No, I actually really enjoy partnership I enjoy cohabitation. I enjoy shared work. Like I really I really like get off on that that like mental connection, sharing a home sharing chores I really enjoy that enjoy, like cooking food for a family and so that was really good to say like, okay, like the maps that doesn't have to do necessarily with your upbringing sure it competed but it's okay for you to want that. So that was like a good like, boom. Okay, so then part of my little relationship story now with my current fiance, we call it my partner but we are engaged was that we dated he moved here to my town from California, that it was too much because the pandemic hit and he was like, I cannot be in this tiny town only isolated with you because we had committed to not being each other's everything. Not sexually at that point. But we were just like, No, no, don't want codependency and then pandemic kind of was like forced codependency.

Joli Hamilton
Oh, for so many people. Everybody was like,

Lauren Elise Barnes
survive in this little grouping. Please don't leave your house. I mean, it was it was intense. So he left to go back to Long Beach. We broke up dated other people. Um, and then we're like, No, we really there's, there's like a love here. We need to do this together. And so we started dating again, but it was gonna be long distance cross country. And we said you know what, what if we try primary partnership with with consensual non monogamy now like if there's ever going to be a time this is it. Were open heartedly, we discussed partners, we tried to figure this out, we had put out a Google Doc, that we would just write back and forth to each other of like, this is an experience, we would let each other know if there was an opportunity. He was on some apps, I was not mine were just like past casuals type of stuff, stuff. Um, and it felt bad in my nervous system for my psyche. And I think this is what, it's probably really good for any listener, foreigners to hear that. I had to come to a point where I mean, like laid out on the ground. I said, Am I okay? Am I okay with the fact that my individual trauma has brought me to this point where this might not be okay. For my nervous system. Yeah. Is it just as beautiful to choose something for myself? That I don't think is as cutting edge or as as evolved or as enlightened? And like a year you go again, learning disappointing yourself? Can I love myself enough? To truly think that this style of relationship is beautiful for some, and yet respect and honor my own body enough to say I can't do this? The sex was wonderful. I was great, creative, wonderful sex with all these other people. It was it? No, no one harmed my partner will say that he did not share completely, that he had been in different sexual encounters with a previous relationship from years gone by. So there, there was a breach of trust, which I'm sure you educate on all the time. I mean, it's

Joli Hamilton
the it's like giving out how to talk about this with Cornerstone, right, like, right, so

Lauren Elise Barnes
important. And so that that was shaking, but it had almost less to do with that, more to do with my little personal experience and lived experience up to that point. And I think what was really empowering for me was me getting to voice to this person, I love so much that I come to the point where I loved myself enough that this needed to be a choice for me. But I loved him enough that if that met relationship with me was not something that was right for his personhood, then I wished him all the love in the world. Like I this, if consensual non Monogamy was for him, go have a beautiful life. It wasn't gonna work for me. And so it wasn't like a you got to choose. It was like

Joli Hamilton
no partnership. That's partnership. That's what you're describing. Can I say to you are naming something that I feel really strongly about this? I think a lot of people hear about polyamory. They hear the philosophy and in my research, I found that people, some people were philosophically aligned. Some people were behaviorally aligned, they were like, This is a choice I'm gonna make I could choose either way. And some people were orientational align, they're like, this is me to the core. Maybe I don't have to act on it, but like it's not going anywhere. And the number of people who felt philosophically aligned Yeah, so many people are like, yep, that all makes sense. Check, check, check. Totally, I'm not in possession not in the ownership. I Good, good, good. But then you get down to the practice of it. And it doesn't always feel like the right choice or the version of it that you think you have to do doesn't feel like the right choice. And this is where I think we need to start having more nuanced conversations around. It's okay to choose the hierarchy, but talk about it, it's be able to express that to your other partners. It's okay to choose monogamish. But express that it's okay to choose swinging, which has like fallen out of favor as a concept. But if what you're looking for is sexual contact, but you're not you're you're polysexual. But you're not poly romantic. Great. There are so many options that in this realm of like creative, monogamy, and polyamory and monogamy, and like everything, we could fit this all into this huge umbrella of love. How would you want to love? Yeah,

Lauren Elise Barnes
I use your turn, I when you started using this beautiful term creative monogamy. I told my partner he was like, that's it. So he got exactly it. That is exactly it. And it was funny, we decided to describe our journey with consensual non monogamy as, like pickles. And some people really like pickles. And some people are not pickled people, some people like certain kinds of pickles. But we don't we don't despise anyone who likes pickles. We're not like you or wrong with you. Why don't you like pickles? let's equate it with that like, no, like, it doesn't mean anything, actually, it just means that maybe your mouse didn't like the flavor of those pickles.

Joli Hamilton
Right? And now, right now? Yes, yes. When we ground this in like, this is what feels good. This is why I really love when people set an intention and commitment and then set a date where they're going to revisit it, which doesn't mean we're going to change anything, but we're going to revisit it because you are a change and growing human. Ken and I use an every three year policy, we completely renegotiate every three years. And every year we do a full check in whatever three years we have an actual off ramp, like no harm, no foul, you can get out of this, we will just decide and we'll go to the mediation we'll do the things and that revisiting let us stay so present in I choose you, I choose me, let's do this together.

Lauren Elise Barnes
Three, and I say that daily, like I choose partnership about that choice, because that's where the power is. And what's so funny is that that's like how I was raised with Christianity to is that Jesus Christ chose us. And so how beautiful is that? Right? So it's, it's just so funny, like, full circle, right? Because, yes, the fact that of being a partnership model being chosen, gives it all that much more beauty. It's like, oh, this person wants to be here.

Joli Hamilton
Right? And they want to do it this way. And, and if we have a discrepancy, I see a lot of people who either start with a discrepancy or as they start to figure out, like okay, what are the ground rules? How are we doing this? What are our agreements, they discover that there are discrepancies in a lot of places. But negotiating around discrepancy is where we create something that is completely unique to this relationship at this point in time with this set of needs. I share a lot of times like my brother died living in my house like he's he stayed with us. He went through cancer he died. You think I was going out dating during that time? The answer is no. What was I less polyamorous? No. For me, it's an IT. I feel oriented to it. This is part of me. i It's never separate from me. It has nothing to do with how many people I'm fucking and everything to do with how I've discussed described and felt into this and then being in my agreements. And that actually reminds me very much of how I was raised in the church and that I guess I never really think about this. I was raised Congregationalist it worked pretty well for me, because I got to choose. My parents didn't go i My grandma my my great aunt went and so I just like to go she she brought me when I was like a nursery school. And then I just liked it. So I stayed. So I chose every single Sunday was me getting up and going, which meant I was always volitionally there which meant when I was done I was just done and it was also gentle. And that what I've never thought about how that modeled for me that even in this like massively patriarchal system. I was at choice.

Lauren Elise Barnes
You walked out and I

Joli Hamilton
can walk back in tomorrow. And it was okay.

Lauren Elise Barnes
Right and I don't I don't like when we get like so accusatory towards systems and I'm like listen, folks, sometimes systems help people. And what is powerful is our ability to choose whether or not we go into or are removed from a system, right? Because marriage is a system, it's just construct right? systems. They're everywhere. Like they're everywhere.

Joli Hamilton
Non monogamy is a system to I mean, we've got all this language, we've got all these all and people like me teaching about it, which means it starts to be a construction real quick. They can all be used for, for good or for really, really bad. I think.

Lauren Elise Barnes
I think that goes to like the crux of who we are as human beings. Again, I think I think we do really want belonging. And so I think it's like, who those people think like me, right? Even if it's, even if it's kind of like, I don't know, new agey, or whatever. It's like, oh, let's go find them. And then before long, yep, we're doing the same damaging ream of ramifications that more conservative systems do. And in my belief system, that can never be the answer that the great they can never be the ostriches. Ostrich isation

Joli Hamilton
ostracization? Yeah, but I like how there was an ostrich in yours. And because I think that's good. If I were gonna draw an image of it, it would be of the ostrich like sticking their head in the sand. I mean, like, all those people are gone now. Gone?

Lauren Elise Barnes
Gone. I can't be the answer. I don't know. It can't be further I get removed from Yeah, fundamental reformed evangelical Christianity, then we're like, oh, it's everywhere. These little constant like, now.

Joli Hamilton
There's no like safe haven to go to where you're like, oh, no, yep, it's true. And so the only the only possibility, as I see it is for us to have these conversations and say, How can I help you feel like you belong? Like, from where I am, we're not even in the same state? How can I help you feel like you belong. And one of the ways is by creating these conversations that we literally publicly put out, but another is just belonging to this, this community of people who decided to take their own sex education in their hands, take it in your hands. And then and then take it to be make it whatever you want it to be. I love that you're doing that work with people? Would you tell people how they can find you? Because I know some of my listeners are gonna be like, where has Lauren been my whole life? How can they find you? So that they can?

Lauren Elise Barnes
Okay, so website is simple www.sexedforyou.com. And then Instagram handle is very similar. If you type in sex ed for you will find me there's some underscores in there, but it's not necessary. Facebook at SEC said for you. I just started tick tock, I am too old, want to do tick tock,

Joli Hamilton
I was just told to be on tick tock, myself, and I'm 10 years older than you. So I think we're just going to have to be on the on the tick tock train. I mean, we can bolster each other

Lauren Elise Barnes
with together, my Instagram friends are all like these videos, which the things that are great, are being referenced, or these videos that I make, just kind of in one minute, deconstructing some of purity, culture and educating because for me, that's important. For me, it's important that we don't make decisions because other individuals told us to. That's just a perpetuation of everything that harms me. And so I always want any student of mine and a client of mine, to decide for themselves to decide for themselves. So yeah, all those are the handles, if anyone wants to send me an email, it's Lauren, it's sex ed for you. I do six week courses, group courses, because I think there's such power in group education and normalization and the me to feeling so you're helping

Joli Hamilton
people with group you, you have group offerings, where people can be in connection and in community with other people who have been touched by purity culture have grown up in it have been impacted by it. Because the way out is through more belonging. Right.

Lauren Elise Barnes
And I can't even group education has always been phenomenal for me, and it's something that I've gotten to do thankfully, for over a decade. And, you know, I think if we're deconstructing those types of systems, we also have to deconstruct like, teacher student, this like this hierarchical dichotomy of,

Joli Hamilton
she told me, yeah,

Lauren Elise Barnes
so it's so amazing to watch these attendees, students, whatever you want to call them, teach the group bring their wisdom bring what has begun in them what they're stumbling across. So yeah, all of my group classes are nice, small group, eight to 10 is my max. My preference is about six individuals in a group, we always have a whatsapp chat that's going on at the same time. So there's community there's that sense of belonging. So do those I do some for tweens and people in like middle school bodies, because that's how old my kid is right now. And that I do one on one education, and I would say the primary clientele that I serve right now is folks trying to stumble through purity culture, ramifications, whether they're still happily in a monogamous hetero Sexual heteronormative marriage, they just are like, Oh, I don't know what pleasure is. You know, so I, I enjoy working with that too. I'm not here to just blow up everything here to like,

Joli Hamilton
a future Lauren is there but for now.

Lauren Elise Barnes
You know, I just Yeah,

Joli Hamilton
I love that though, so people can find you at sex ed for you. And really, for anybody who's listening to this who's thinking, I didn't even realize that I maybe grew up either in purity culture, or purity culture adjacent or perhaps that's my partner, you, I can imagine some of my listeners hearing a reflection of like, oh, maybe that's what's going on for my partner, because you have a very extreme and crisp and clear vision of what happened for you. But I know that there's, there's a lot of lighter shades of gray there that where people might still be impacted by this. So I want to encourage you to follow Lauren and reach out because this is something we've never talked about. And the only reason Ken didn't join me is because I knew that you and I were going to get right into it. But knowing that there is a resource, he was like, Oh, thank God, somebody's going to talk about this because he saw it. He grew up in the baptist church and he saw it. He knows there is shame everywhere. So if you're shamed, know that there are people to help you walk out of the shame rather than add to it. And if you're not even sure, I think Instagram is a perfect place to start learning about that. Perfect spot. Thank you so so much, Lauren, for being with me today. I couldn't possibly be happier. And I'm certain that we'll have to have you back.

Lauren Elise Barnes
We'd love that. I would love to talk about Yeah, you know that Lauren in a few months, who's blowing up things you know, right.

Joli Hamilton
Awesome. Well, thanks, everybody for listening to project relationship.

 

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