I am surrounded by 50 strangers—half of them females naked from the waist down, legs butterflied open. I glance back at the face of the woman I’m intertwined with. Her eyes are closed. We just met. I think her name is Amy. I hear a voice above me...
I am surrounded by 50 strangers—half of them females naked from the waist down, legs butterflied open. I glance back at the face of the woman I’m intertwined with. Her eyes are closed. We just met. I think her name is Amy. I hear a voice above me, feminine yet firm, addressing the men, “Begin.” I tug at my latex gloves, soothing down the ripples. I anoint my thumb and left index finger with lubricant. “I’m going to place my hands on you,” I say. She nods. With all the jagged excitement and sultry trepidation of a first date, I press my thumb into her introitus, her vaginal entrance. She laughs and bites her lip, and I can feel the gripping contractions of it telegraphing up my fingernail. To experience an intimate moment like this in a room full of people - feeling a woman’s laughter ripple out from inside her body - for a moment I have the sensation that everyone is watching me - my body, strange and disjointed. I coax up the hood of her clitoris, and there begin to stroke, at first the lightest little eyelid-flutter stroke that blushes her pinks red. It’s a beckoning gesture. Come here. Come here. Over and over again. Come here.
As a boy growing up in the Midwest, I befriended some of the last elderly members of a dying religion called Lawsonomy. They believed that the human race is in the process of developing telepathic powers. Universal telepathy, they claimed, will lead to total empathy and the end of all lies. It was a beautiful utopian vision that made me acutely aware of the divisions between all people and also of the moments when those divisions appear to break down. Like Lawsonomy, the OneTaste movement has promised a means of attaining that kind of empathy through the partnered orgasmic practice I was engaged in.
OneTaste calls their practice Orgasmic Meditation, or OMing for short. Its roots stretch back to the 60s—to the fertile soil of San Francisco’s mystic underground. Former appliance salesman turned cult leader Victor Baranco was the man who planted the seed. He named the practiceDeliberate Orgasm or DOing, and the purpose was pleasure. By the turn of the millennium, when future OneTaste founder Nicole Daedone discovered it, she experienced something more than pleasure. At the time, Nicole was poised to become a Buddhist nun, renouncing the world; what she found convinced her to embrace it.
As she explained in a TEDx lecture, Nicole was initiated into the practice by a stranger she met at a party:
“Somehow I found myself lying there… with my legs open… I was where I always was… I was in my head… and then all of a sudden, the traffic jam that was my mind broke open, and it was like I was on the open road and there was not a thought in sight. There was only pure feeling. And for the first time in my life, I felt like I had access to that hunger that was underneath all of my other hungers… a fundamental hunger to connect with another human being.”
“I had a moment of thinking, ‘I want to know how to live here in this place,’” Nicole continued, “and then I thought in my philanthropic way, ‘and I want everyone else to know how to live here.’ And I set about learning how.”
Much of Nicole’s education arose through experimentation. She founded an intentional living community in a San Francisco warehouse. It had 50 residents, lots of beds, and no doors.
A former occupant of the San Francisco community described the experience to me over tea in the bedroom of her Brooklyn apartment. “You lived out in the open. You couldn’t hide. There was nowhere to go. And you got used to it. Our ancestors lived in caves. They lived in longhouses. It’s about limbic resonance. If you take a baby and put it on its mother’s chest, its heartbeat will regulate to its mother’s heartbeat. We need each other - to regulate each other, and if we don’t have that, things go wrong.”
“All of us decided to be human research subjects,” explained Nicole in a videotaped talk distributed by OneTaste, “and we discovered that a lot of things we were told would work don’t work, and that some very shocking things do. For example: ‘Stay connected no matter what.’ When you stay connected to another human being no matter what, you get the benefit of staying clean. Things move through you.”
This dedication to uncompromising connection precipitated hours of daily OMing, and other experiments like meals where everybody fed one another instead of themselves, and, as Nicole described, “having to sleep next to your partner who you just broke up with while they were sleeping next to someone else, so we could explore jealousy.”
When she finished with jealousy, Nicole turned her attention to other problems - and in this way, piece by piece, she cobbled together a practice and a philosophy that she now travels the world promoting. She promises, with seductive assonance, that anyone can learn to have a four-month-long orgasm. Under her guidance, supporters in 15 cities from Los Angeles to Copenhagen have established OMing communities.
I first heard Nicole speak in a small New York space last summer. She looked like a savvier version of that famous Botticelli with Venus standing on a seashell - the kind of woman who knew her way around a whip. She charged up the aisle in her usual formfitting black to address an audience of around 30 people. This December, when she appeared before us in a rented church (crucifixes safely stowed away) it was standing room only. In the last six months, membership in OneTaste has more than doubled to 1,624 members worldwide.
I learned to OM this winter. Seventy of us paid $149 a head for a daylong course held in a yoga studio. The attractive women who met me at the door flashed bedroom smiles and gazed into my eyes unabashedly—naked flirtation in any other context—here, a sign of their status as permanently “turned on” women, a sensation one practitioner described as the feeling of “falling in love with no one in particular.”
I poured a cup of coffee to employ idle hands and scanned the assembly. There was an even balance of men and women, ages ranging from early 20s into middle age with some older folks here and there. There were doctors and lawyers, artists, housewives, a Hasidic Jewish man, a stripper, a kindergarten teacher. I took a seat between a 38-year-old life coach and a 26-year-old nurse.
Like any charismatic speaker, Nicole kept us waiting, building anticipation. When she finally emerged, she came out swinging, gesticulating, her hands sculpting thoughts in the air. Her fingers fluttered as she talked about birds.
“We have a triune brain,” she said, “One-third of the brain is dedicated to feeling into the feeling states of others. You know how all the birds are flying and then all of a sudden they turn? It’s not like one bird says, ‘Hey! Let’s go left!’ and they all go left. They’re sensing each other under a certain kind of radar and then they all move in unison. When you’re working with OM, you’re working with that ‘under the radar’ mechanism - that part of you that intuitively knows who to be and how to act.”
That mechanism, Nicole went on to explain, is our desire. “Let desire be your compass,” she said. To that end, she asked all 70 of us to complete the statement: “I’m here because…”
“I’m here because I just turned 30, and I’ve never climaxed.”
“I’m here because I feel I’m not good enough for any woman.”
“I’m here because I’ve been with my partner 15 years and I don’t know him.”
“I’m here because I want to live in the beauty that I know and not sabotage my life.”
There was so much pain and shame and sadness just beneath the surface. The tears fell in abundance. Nicole called that “orgasm coming out of the eyes.” Her attention swept like a searchlight over the crowd, lighting it up one face at a time. She didn’t even seem to blink. For every person, she had a ready response.
“I just wanted to learn something new,” a man offered.
“I can increase your sensation by 20 percent this week,” Nicole promised. “Remove the word ‘just’ from your vocabulary.”
“I’m here because I want to find an infinite connection with myself and others,” a woman stated.
“I have a word for you,” Nicole announced, “and that word is: predator.”
“I want to connect with everyone and take each other higher and higher,” another woman proclaimed.
Nicole responded with a tilt of her head, “Are you willing to take each other lower?”
There were many problems and one answer: Orgasmic Meditation.
Next came the demonstration. Out strode Rachel Cherwitz, head of OneTaste New York sales. Childhood sexual abuse had left her anorgasmic, she told us, until her first OM. It was with an older gentleman. “He was sweaty, he smelled a little, and he wheezed,” she explained, scrunching up her nose. “And then he stroked, and I felt this surge of electricity through my pussy and down my legs, like I had stuck my finger in a light socket. It was like a dam broke, and I started sobbing. I heard this voice say ‘Oh my god, I can feel!’ And I looked at my partner who ironically, had gone from being the most weird creature to the most beautiful human being I had ever seen in my life. It’s amazing what (pair-bonding hormone) oxytocin will do.”
Rachel pulled off her skirt and reclined on a table. She opened her legs, exposing her shaved merlot-colored pussy to the sea of faces. People were craning and climbing chairs to see—quiet as librarians. And in that moment, standing there with empty hands, I felt as exposed as Rachel was. I thought about the first time I ever saw the place between a woman’s legs. She was a neighbor girl. We were five maybe, when we escaped our manicured lawns and slipped into the forest. We went deep, deep through the trees, deeper than we had ever been, before both unceremoniously yanking down our trousers to discover in the other what we lacked in ourselves.
“I’m going to place my thumb in her introitus, so I can feel her contractions,” narrated Nicole. “I’m going to open her pussy now,” Nicole continued. In the OneTaste vernacular, a vagina is always a pussy, and a penis is always a cock. “Her inner labia are already getting swollen. You can tell because they stand up on their own. As I pull her hood back, you can see her clit pop out. That little pink dot, that’s her clit.”
Nicole described how the clitoris is divided into ten regions, each eliciting a different sensation when stroked: love, reverence, surrender. As a stroker progresses in the practice, he will know where to touch by following an electric charge or magnetic pull on the tip of his finger. The hands of master-strokers, like the almost mythological five-foot-tall Ken Blackman, are compared to Ouija planchettes and very nearly venerated. At his high level of development, it is said that Ken reaches a singularity with the women he strokes. He and his partner both feel the exact same thing. That’s where all the strokers want to be, as they go about searching for the thinnest gloves, or sanding down their fingerprints, or strapping on headlamps like miners burrowing down, deep into the source.
Announcing that she would play Rachel like an instrument, Nicole swayed and arched with every stroke, screwing up her face, barring her teeth like a rock star. Rachel moaned like a Stratocaster. When it was over, they handed out unsharpened pencils and had us practice stroking clit-erasers until lunch. After lunch we were to pair up and OM amongst ourselves following a precise ritual.
As an army exercises hard discipline over its soldiers precisely because of the killing power it unleashes in them, so too does OneTaste rely on the stricture of ritual to control the power of sex. A stroker’s finger is referred to as a sex organ, but there is no stroking of male genitalia here. The cock is referenced abstractly, more as a spiritual force than a physical one. An erection still has the potential to offend. While the predatory power of the male and his possible desire for more is evident in the rigid structure of the OM, its acknowledgement is taboo. When pressed, the rationale given for this asymmetry is that men and women need to rewire their historically skewed expectations around giving and receiving.
It was time to find a partner. “Asking someone to OM,” instructed Rachel, “is like asking if they’d like a cup of tea. Sometimes you feel like tea and sometimes you don’t. You wouldn’t get offended if someone didn’t want tea, would you?”
It’s an exchange bearing the elegant simplicity of a haiku. The way to ask is codified: “Would you like to OM?” The words are so unadorned that there is nowhere to hide in them. The answer is either “Yes.” or “No.”
If affirmative, the man takes the pillows and blankets he’s ported through the city and builds a ‘nest’ for his partner. She lies down in it and he sits at her side, left leg over her abdomen, right leg under her knees. The rooms are always too small, so everyone is pressed together, leg to leg. Occasionally the women hold hands. Often, during the OM, their moans - filling the air like winter breaths - synchronize in a complex tonal harmony.
Next comes the ‘obnosing’ or ‘noticing’ stage where the man looks at the woman’s genitals and describes what he sees. I’ve used words like, “origami,” “oak leaves,” and, “tectonic plates.”
Afterwards, the man asks permission and proceeds to massage the woman’s legs in preparation, to "ground" her.
At the instigation of the timekeeper, the man begins stroking the woman’s clitoris with his left index finger—the finger of Adam that God is reaching out to touch on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
“Keep your eyes on her clit,” the instructor remarks. In this culture, for a stroker to look back at his strokee’s face is a minor faux pas. “Stroke her clit for your own enjoyment,” we are told. “It’s called, ‘taking touch.’ Touch her in the way you touch velvet. You’re not trying to please the velvet.”
The OM is exactly 15 minutes long. Afterwards, the stroker presses the palms of his hands hard into the woman’s pelvis. This is to push the blood that fills her swollen genitals back into her body. “You can push harder,” the instructor encourages, “We can take a lot more pressure than you’d think. After all, we squeeze babies out of there.”
The ritual ends with the reciting of ‘frames,’ where each person describes a sensation they experienced during the OM.
“There was a moment when I felt my face detach and float off, up into the air,” one woman reported.
“I had a sinking feeling like moving through water,” a man offered. “heat, nausea, bright pink light.”
“My hips felt like glass,” a woman explained, “and my pussy like warm, melting caramel.”
“There was a moment when I tasted strawberries,” a man announced.
They send us home with the warning that our orgasmic state is a kind of intoxication. “Avoid driving if possible or operating any kind of machinery. There have been accidents.”
I leave feeling good - not quite crashing-cars-good, but serene. I feel as though I don’t particularly want or need anything. For the next day or so, women seem more flirtatious, men seem to smile more. And still, I’m not entirely sure why that should be. To ask a hundred practitioners the question, “What is Orgasmic Meditation?” is to receive a hundred different answers.
“It’s not just this one woman I give gratification to,” explained James Kim to me as we sat on his couch before a sprawling view of Manhattan and New Jersey. “When she gets turned on, she carries that out into the world with her. She’s happier and the people around her are happier, and I can see that OM creating a chain reaction of positive outcomes.”
In a post on the community forum Evangeline De Vermilion shared an experience she had living at the San Francisco OneTaste Center. She recalled having a craving for cake one afternoon. She headed to the kitchen where she found her friend crying over a letter from her son in Boston. “I gently picked up the letter,” she explained, “and asked her if I could read it aloud. By the end of it, we were both in tears. My heart felt hollow and constricted in the same way it does when I miss my own children.I held her and we comforted each other. We felt better, and then I thought, ‘I was going to get cake.’I no longer wanted cake. What I really wanted was connection.”
Previously by Roc Morin:
The Frenzied Consipiracy Theories of Jeff Boss