For a person who writes about sex, I’m pretty certain I was the last sex writer on earth to hear about orgasmic meditation, or OM. I wasn’t just late to the party; I didn’t even know there was a party until a few weeks ago when a woman invited me to a one-day intro course, “How to OM,” via Facebook.
“I’ll try anything once,” I said, having no idea what I was agreeing to. Thinking I had stumbled upon a hot new trend, I emailed my editor only to have him inform me that playboy already covered orgasmic meditation three years ago. “But I would still be interested in hearing your take on it,” he wrote me. He might live to regret that.
It began with a woman from the OM organization, OneTaste, calling me that same day. She explained that OM involves a stranger describing my vagina before going on to stroke my clit—to which I said, “Excuse me?”
“Do you know anything about the OM practice?”
“Not a single thing.” I assumed it to be just another meditation technique, doubling as a kind of mental masturbation. I had no idea actual fondling would go down. I grew intrigued.
As defined by OneTaste, which has led the charge in monetizing the female orgasm since its founding in 2001, orgasmic meditation is “a practice that combines the power and attention of meditation with the deeply human, deeply felt, and connected experience of orgasm.” To hear them tell it, it’s “a 15-minute, partnered consciousness practice where a stroker strokes the clitoris of a strokee with no goal other than to feel sensation.”
I couldn’t help but lovingly nickname it the “Diddle Club.” After a Google search on orgasmic meditation returned almost 400,000 results, it became apparent that the first rule of Diddle Club is that you must talk about Diddle Club. The second rule of Diddle Club is that you must then write about Diddle Club. Every outlet from The Atlantic to Gawker has covered OM extensively and although it sounds weird as fuck, journalists, even the skeptical ones, have thus far come away with positive experiences. And then there was me.
I show up early on a Saturday morning to a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. “Anything can happen here,” the female registrar giggles as she hands us our nametags and itineraries. About 75 people are in attendance, two-thirds of whom are women. The men here range from single guys seemingly eager to finger a stranger’s clit to a few husbands obviously dragged in by frustrated wives.
As we wait to begin, I eavesdrop on the surrounding chatter and hear attendees talk about past experiences with everything from Landmark Forum and Kabbalah to Transcendental meditation, Bikram yoga and a host of other high-profile (and controversial) life-changing trends that all cost a fucking fortune. One man expresses his excitement for an upcoming Tony Robbins lecture. He thinks Tony will take him to the next level—sounds about right. Of course, my instinct has me thinking, What the fuck is this bullshit?
As a journalist, my challenge in uncomfortable and new situations is to balance skepticism with open-mindedness. Let me be clear: I have nothing against self-help, religion, a Diddle Club or anything else one needs to make sense of the human experience. I too am a “seeker” and my insatiable curiosity has landed me everywhere from an Osho ashram in Australia to chanting Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō. Based on the articles I’ve read, orgasmic meditation has helped many women overcome shame, process trauma and generally given them a better outlook on life—and their sexuality.
So while the cynic in me assumes any religion-like practice that markets enlightenment is a scam, the hippie in me wants to believe I can orgasm my way to a better life. Who wouldn’t want to believe that? Orgasms are fantastic. So on this Saturday morning, I think, Worst-case scenario, I leave having had an orgasm, right? Wrong.
First, there’s apparently no more diddling in OM. That’s because “there could potentially be litigation,” says one OneTaste rep working the event. Another group leader adds in that group diddling “scared people away" and they “want potential practitioners to become familiar with the OM technique without having to partake the first time they learn about it.” Because that doesn’t sound sketchy at all.
Upon learning no one will be looking at my shy vagina and diddling it today, I feel two emotions: relief and disappointment. Relief because the day prior, my therapist said, “I don’t like it. I want you to be very careful,” referring to my history with sexual trauma. (For those unaware, when trauma lives in your body, you never know what could trigger a flashback.) Disappointment sets in because—well, there goes my story. Suddenly, without the thrill of getting diddled by a stranger, I fear the day will turn into a long infomercial instead of a spiritual awakening.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s plenty of information about OM scattered about the internet, available to read for free. Amazon also sells entire books on OM, such as Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm. But joining an actual Diddle Club is anything but cheap. And like plastic surgery and Scientology, the deeper you go, the more expensive it becomes.
The “How To OM” intro class I’m at today runs newbies $150. OneTaste’s OM Starter Package, which includes a weekend course and a free month of OM coaching, runs $499—“if you act now.” There are also four-day Desire Retreats ($4,000) and a seven-day Intensive Retreat ($7,000). Becoming a certified coach in OM, during which you’ll gain “competency in sales and marketing through undeniable confidence in your own value,” costs a whopping $14,000. And then there’s the granddaddy of them all: a week-long training with OneTaste cofounder and author of Slow Sex, Nicole Daedone, which has been advertised with a price tag as high as $36,000. That’s more than double the MSRP of a Chevy Cruze, by the way.
Despite the pyramidal pricing structure, OneTaste has managed to bypass derogatory labeling from outsiders—journalists included—as some sort of cult preying on lost souls. I attribute it to fantastic marketing. OneTaste has racked up endorsements from legit sources, particularly in the tech community. Daedone has spoken at SXSW and given a TEDx Talk. Futurist Ray Kurzweil dubbed orgasmic meditation a technological innovation in that it physiologically hacks the body. Tim Ferriss wrote about OM’s 15-minute female orgasm in his New York Times bestseller The 4-Hour Body. Daedone has even appeared on guru extraordinaire Deepak Chopra’s YouTube show. It appears the only thing OneTaste now needs to go fully mainstream is an endorsement from Oprah, who might have given one by now had she stayed in the business of handing them out on TV.
I try to remain focused, but all I can think about is how easy it is to start a cult.
Back at the warehouse, the course begins with us going around the room and sharing what brought us here. playboy brought me here, but I decide to say that I’ve always been self-conscious about my vagina instead. When other women start sharing the deepest, darkest parts of their souls, however, I feel like a douchebag. As more and more secrets flow out around me, a pattern emerges: the men in attendance feel like failures with women sexually, and the women have trouble coming. Many women say they’re processing some type of abuse, from incest to rape, and at the very least, shame and sexual dysfunction. This is why before partaking in any OneTaste course, attendees signs a waiver understanding that the “course is not therapeutic in nature” and that there are “emotional and mental risks associated with participation in the course.” Despite the intensity of some of the stories, however, the staff seems dismissive, brushing past confessions with trite responses like, “Gorgeous share.”
Full disclosure: Like one in five women (according to the Centers for Disease Control), I too have been raped. I also experienced something more insidious, at the age of 19, when a man whom I trusted used “spiritual exercises” as an excuse to get me naked and to lie next to him. I was just out of rehab; at the time, I desperately wanted to believe he had my best interest at heart. I could never shake the feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t right. It wasn’t.
But I decide not to share that part of my life at Diddle Cub, even as other women do. These days, I have a team of people who keep me sane, a strong network of friends and a great therapist. My ability to be intimate still requires patience, but I have no problems orgasming. I know what turns me on and I know how to ride a man to climax. And before today, I couldn’t imagine being a woman who has experienced sexual trauma and walking into a room like this without any support and desperate for answers. But then I realized, I too was once that exact woman. As I sit listening to story after story, a sick feeling in my stomach takes over. Diddle Club has suddenly taken a dark turn.
Two female leaders talk about their stories of transformation via OM, but I can’t hear a word of what they’re saying. Instead, I’m fixated on how they’re dressed: tight, black dresses and stripper heels. The whole vibe is weird; erotic yet New Age. Have you ever stayed at a strip club until dawn, after you’ve sobered up? That’s what this feels like.
After story time, it’s time to learn the terminology, such as “Orgasm 2.0,” which OneTaste maintains is different from “Orgasm 1.0,” the climax-driven, procreative orgasm we’re all familiar with. Orgasm 2.0 is different. It is goalless, intuitive and dynamic. It may include climax or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we listen to what our body wants instead of focusing on what we think we should what.
They talk about the science behind orgasmic meditation, saying the upper left quadrant of the clit (the part you specifically stroke during OM) has more nerve endings than any other part on the female body. I raise my hand and ask if that science is available on their website. They respond generically that the science is forthcoming and will be on their website soon. We are given safe words to yell any time we feel uncomfortable. Feeling “green” means you’re chill, “yellow” is where they want us—aka “outside of our comfort zone”—and “red” is “the danger zone.”
We move on to the “container.” The container is the safe space in which you get comfortably diddled by someone. Inside the container is “the nest,” where you sit (on the floor, not a bed). They say you should invest in OneTaste’s official nest: three pillows, a meditation cushion, a yoga mat, some plastic gloves, a timer and some lube. Don’t forget, “The lube OneTaste makes is the only lube you should ever use.”
I try to remain focused, but all I can think about is how easy it is to start a cult. Pick a bodily function. Let’s say giggling. Now make up some bullshit about how giggling has been repressed by the patriarchy. We need to learn how to giggle again. Invent some terminology: Giggling In. Write a book. Pay $10,000 to give a TEDx Talk about the importance of giggling. Find some scientists to back up your movement. (Giggling releases endorphins, don’t you know?) Get some buddies in Silicon Valley on board with investments and high ROIs. Pay some bloggers to write glowing reviews. Giggling is a life hack. Giggling will take your life to the next level. You need giggling and you don’t have it. You also need these special feathers for your giggle practice. Buy this app to show you the right way to giggle. Join this group, Tickle Party, to take your giggling to the next level; it’s only $100 a month. “Consider it a gym membership!” Charge $4,000 for retreats that teach you giggling as a healing practice. If you want to become a Certified Giggler, it’s $15,000 but hey, “you get out of life what you invest in it.”
The diddle demonstration is about to begin, and I have to pee.
“Can I go pee really fast?” I ask.
“No, that’s just your nervousness. It’s common when you’re about to experience OM,” the instructor replies.
“Actually, no. I’ve been drinking tea for two hours.”
“You can wait 15 minutes.”
As she walks away in her cheap plastic heels, I watch volunteers stop another woman on her way to the bathroom. I’m not at red yet, but I’m definitely seeing red.
A massage table pops up in front of us. Two demonstrators stand on the dais and explain how the woman will undress: from the waist down. They encourage us to call out any sensations we have, reminding us to not put judgment on the sensations. Instead of saying, “I’m nauseous,” we’re supposed to say, “I have butterflies in my stomach.”
And then the 15-minute practice begins. She starts moaning and he’s getting into that stroke like a DJ. DJ Diddler. During the demonstration, the leader keeps referring to the volunteer’s vagina as “the pussy.” In OneTaste lingo, the vagina is always “the pussy” and the penis is always “the cock.” (No one explains why.) But the juxtaposition of the plastic gloves and the word pussy makes me feel like I’m watching someone be violated. There’s something discomfiting about pairing an X-rated word with a practice that claims to be based in science. I’m off to the left, so I don’t see much, which is a good thing. I’m not sure I would have been able to handle an open-face pussy on top of everything else.
Someone calls out, “Heat in my balls.” And then for the next 14 minutes, I struggle not to die laughing. I keep my eyes on my feet, doing every breathing exercise I’ve ever learned to repress a fit of laughter. The call out things like robots describing sex.
“Tightness in my chest.”
“Tingling in my spine from crown of my head to my anus.”
“Blood filling up my penis.”
“Swollen labia that feels like fire.”
“Dick pushing against my jeans.”
Maybe it’s stress laughter. Or maybe it’s the fact that when I’m uncomfortable, my default mode is Stand-up Comedian. I’m flushed, but not because I’m turned on.
At lunch, a OneTaste rep asks me why I was so quiet during the demo. “Honestly…I was trying not to laugh.” I confess. “Oh, that’s just you not opening yourself up to the orgasm,” she explains.
Is she trying to gaslight me? I want to say it’s because I’m in a warehouse in downtown L.A. and I just watched a woman get off on a massage table in front of 75 strangers. I’m not crazy for thinking that’s not a little weird, right? Are we so determined to be open-minded and progressive that we’ve lost our fucking minds? It’s almost like the pendulum has swung so far away from puritanism, that instead of hiding our sexual urges, we now need to put them all on display.
At this point, OM feels like a hostage situation. It’s like I’m on a timeshare vacation, only there is no vacation, just the pitch for the timeshare. I’m now taking note of all the little things that stick out as cultish: the way the volunteers serve the leaders, jumping at their every demand to "get me water” and “move that stool”; the fact that they make us put our lunch plates under our chairs during testimonials to give them our undivided attention; the full-court sales pitch from the minute you walk in.
Despite all the red I see, I decide to stay for the technical demonstration, which is done over-the-clothes. Again, they try to sell me some lube and sign me up for private, weekly sessions where you can take your OM practice “to the next level.” There is even an “if you act now!” deal “if you just run back to the volunteers with your credit card.” A woman asks if she can go home and try it with someone now that she’s learned the technique. “Sure,” the leader responds, “but I wouldn’t ever let anyone who wasn’t OM-certified touch me.” It’s a trick that cults, scams and pseudo-spiritual groups have used throughout the ages. How can anyone buy this?
I leave early and I’m furious. First of all, I feel like I wasted an entire day of my life. Secondly, at no time did I believe anyone there had my best interests at heart. Because despite multiple women mentioning trauma in their introductory statements, not once did a OneTaste representative address what to do if you’re triggered by OM. Thirdly, almost every piece I read about OM was written by a female journalist. None of them mentioned how if someone has suffered sexual trauma, OM might not be right for them.
The founder of OneTaste claims that OM got her through her trauma—but that doesn’t make it a cure-all for everybody. Human sexuality is too complex. Something like orgasmic meditation will affect every person differently. OneTaste knows this, which is why its waiver explicitly mentions “emotional and mental risks associated with participation in the course.“ But safe words aren’t a substitute for help in the event of a traumatic flashback.
My rage is rooted in feeling abandoned by the bloggers who have come (and cum) before me.
When trauma is triggered, you can physiologically lose track of space and time. If you don’t know the cues or have tools to deal with PTSD, it can be dangerous and in fact, you can be re-traumatized, which can be worse than the original trauma. And by the way, trauma flashbacks don’t always occur the moment they’re triggered. Mine hit me a week later and I needed extra time to finish this story because I had to overcome PTSD. Based on my experience and research, it does not appear OneTaste employ licensed health practitioners at its introductory courses.
Part of my rage is rooted in feeling abandoned by the feminist bloggers who have come (and cum) before me. That’s not to say some—or many—women haven’t found healing through OM and OneTaste (they have), but what the journalists neglect to mention is that for every woman who has found relief, one may have left feeling distressed. No surprise, after doing deeper research, I came upon a forum hosted on the cult-education network that linked to a slew of negative OneTaste reviews—on Yelp of all places:
At least six women I saw were totally triggered and there was no processing or even acknowledgement that it is common that people find that this process brings up a lot of challenging emotions.
Following the first OM, I woke up two days later and was so ungrounded I found myself unable to work. My symptoms progressed to full blown PTSD.
During the OM training, there was no mention of the nature of the journey that oming can often open for women with childhood sexual histories. I assumed there would be a journey, but to offer no forewarning or no roadmap when one is totally available is, in my judgment, wholly irresponsible.
Bottom line: Look elsewhere to expand your sexual education. Their main goal is to make money teaching sexual techniques with a veneer of pseudo-spirituality.
Not reporting on these perspectives is careless, and I’m surprised how many high-profile reviews (yes, even playboy’s 2014 story) have buried them. It’s quite possible that all of the female writers before me were blind to this because they have never experienced sexual trauma, and that’s a beautiful thing. But I didn’t even experience the diddling; I just witnessed it, and that was enough to fuck me up for weeks.
A practice that advertises a sexual act as a healing practice to overcome trauma needs to be delivered with a massive disclaimer—not a mild acknowledgement in some fine print. Of course, it’s impossible to claim wrongdoing when you require signatures on liability releases—and that is not what I’m claiming. But having no licensed professionals at your practice? Well I guess it just drives home the fact that this is all fun, right? Just a light-hearted way to get in touch with your inner-self through sex?
For this sex columnist, it’s bullshit. As someone who is living with past sexual trauma, I don’t recommend OM unless you’re going in with a solid sense of yourself and a strong support network that exists outside of this community. A feminist woman selling female empowerment is, at the end of the day, still selling something. If it’s not therapy, it’s entertainment. While some people may really want to help you come, a lot more people probably just want your money.