Pleasure Seekers

By Molly Oswaks Illustration by Edel Rodriguez

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“We’re going to move mindfully and thoughtfully, and very soon there are going to be fingers on clits,” says Ken Blackman. We’re downstairs in the Sutter Room, a large basement-level space at the Regency Center in San Francisco’s Nob Hill district. This is day one of OMX 2013, the first-ever Orgasmic Meditation Xperience. It is hosted by OneTaste, the organization for which Blackman works as lead orgasmic-meditation instructor. More than 1,000 people are packed into the room, all of them having traveled from around the globe to attend this three-day pussy-stroking session. Total cost: $395 a person (not including airfare or hotel accommodations, of course).

The room has a wide stage on the side nearest the door and includes the Sutter Annex off to the left. The blond wood floors are covered with clusters of yoga mats, buckwheat pillows and white terry cloth hand towels arranged in what OM experts refer to as “nests.” The nests are plotted in rows and distinguishable by numbered placards handwritten on lined paper and placed at the top of each mat. Pairs of men and women enter the room and mill about until they have located their assigned nest; some have come together as partners, others have met for the first time this morning. Those who have been trained in the art of orgasmic meditation and have OMed before wear green wristbands, while first-timers wear red. There are red pairs, green pairs and red-green pairs.

At their nests, the women strip from the waist down and lie on their backs, while the men wait in a line that starts in the middle of the room for their turn at a communal hand-washing station set up onstage. After they’ve washed their hands, the men—the “strokers,” in OM lingo—return to their nests, where they pull on white or blue latex gloves like a line of doctors prepping for surgery. Then the pairs arrange themselves in the nesting position: the woman on her back with her legs butterflied open, the man seated on a pillow at her right side, his left leg bridged over her core, the other straight out underneath her right leg. His right hand slips under her butt so that his thumb rests softly at her introitus (the opening used for penetrative sex), and he places his left hand on her pubic mound, thumb gently pulling back the clitoral hood, the pad of his bent index finger hovering just above the upper-left-hand quadrant of her clit (the one-o’clock spot).

Small glass pots of OneTaste-branded lubricant are available for purchase onstage and in an upstairs gift shop stocked with merchandise including T-shirts (THE PUSSY KNOWS, POWERED BY ORGASM, etc.), a set of small clit-themed stickers designed specifically for an iPhone’s small round “home” button, a collection of silver jewelry and a powdered green-algae-type water supplement. The lube, OneStroke, is oil-based and made with ingredients you might find in artisanal lip balm: olive oil, beeswax, shea butter, grapeseed oil.

Rachel Cherwitz, an OM coach who splits her time between New York and San Francisco, crosses the room to a couple settling into a nest and cups her hand beside the woman’s mouth. The woman spits out her gum, and Cherwitz rolls it into a stiff white ball between her fingers before tossing it into the garbage.

“I’m like a Jewish mother,” she says by way of explanation.

Onstage, Blackman announces, “We’ve closed the doors. This group is going to be the first to have an OM at the OMX.” The crowd claps and cheers.

Some of the men have already begun kneading the fleshy part of their partner’s thigh; this is called the“initial grounding.”

“This is the largest OM group yet,” says Yia Vang, another orgasmic-meditation teacher here to facilitate the weekend and this, the world’s largest finger bang. “You are history in the making.”

They cheer once more, then the talking stops. A staff member starts a 15-minute timer on her iPhone, and the largest-ever group orgasm begins.

OneTaste Inc. was founded by Nicole Daedone in 2004. She is part CEO, part guru. Tall, blonde and lean, Daedone, a vital and vibrant 46-year-old, is a former Buddhist nun-in-training and the author of Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm. She was raised in tony Los Gatos, California, an affluent town in Silicon Valley and home to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Pet Rock inventor Gary Dahl. Prior to OneTaste, Daedone taught gender communications at San Francisco State University, specializing in semantics, and owned an art gallery called 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco’s SoMa district.

Daedone experienced her first OM at a party. “I was showing off all my Buddhist intelligence, and a guy said, ‘Oh really? I want to show you this Buddhist practice.’?” That technique, she explains, involved taking off her pants and letting him stroke her pussy for 15 minutes. “I can’t believe I said yes. Something deeper, I think, pulled me,” she says. “The practice was so mind-altering, it shifted me.”

A month later the man called Daedone and asked whether she was interested in watching an OM demonstration with a woman deeply experienced in the art. She hesitated, unsure about watching another woman orgasm, but went. The demonstration further changed Daedone. “I got switched on. It was like a light went on inside me. And then everything I had wanted from Buddhism, which was this notion of all of us being connected, looked possible after having that experience.” Daedone was getting a lavender facial when she decided to open the first orgasmic-meditation center. She named the company OneTaste after a Buddhist expression: Just as the great oceans have but one taste, the taste of salt, so do all the teachings of the Buddha have but one taste, the taste of liberation.

By necessity, orgasmic meditation follows a strict format. There is always the nest itself and the nesting position. Then there is grounding pressure—firm yet pleasurable touching—such as kneading the woman’s thigh, which is an opportunity for the pair to get into harmony. OneTaste advisors are quick to point out that OM is not foreplay, nor is it meant to be romantic. OM is a meditative partner practice that just happens to involve female-genital stimulation. As the literature explains, “OMing gives partners a stronger, more nuanced experience of orgasmic sensation.”

Blackman, the lead orgasmic-meditation instructor, is a former software engineer, a short man, maybe five-foot-one. He speaks confidently into a microphone that coils around his ear. “Look at your partner’s pussy and describe it,” he says. “The color, texture, sheen.”

This is called “noticing,” another standard OM component. Afterward, the men ask their female partners for permission to place their fingers on the woman’s vagina (in OM parlance this is known as “safeporting”). Then, for the next 14 minutes, the men use a bent left index finger to stroke the upper-left-hand quadrant of their partner’s clit, with very light, fluttering movements, the way you might gently itch a mosquito-bitten eyelid.

Moans of pleasure start slowly and then build inside the Regency Center. One woman whinnies like a horse. Others giggle, hysterical. Some make deep, guttural grunts. There are oooohs and aahhhhhs and OoOOooOHHHs. Women shriek, and some buck in fits of ecstasy. Someone shouts, “Oh God!”

As per custom, a two-minute warning is issued at minute 13, and the men administer slightly firmer, “meatier” strokes to bring their partner down. Then they cup the palm of their hand against their partner’s mons, applying pressure to ground her once more, and finish by pressing a terry cloth towel to wipe up any fluid and lubricant.

It is standard practice, and a key part of the OM routine, for the man and woman to each share a “frame,” a snapshot of a feeling that stood out for them from any part of the 15-minute OM. A microphone is passed around so that participants can share their frames with the entire conference.

“I felt the energy of the entire room in my finger and cheeks,” says one man. “It’s still there. I can feel everyone.”

“There was a moment when my pussy felt like warm, buttery, liquid caramel,” shares a woman with a woozy voice.

“I felt waves of energy from my pussy up to my heart chakra and spreading around us like a lotus flower,” says another. Then it’s time for lunch.

Two food trucks parked outside the Regency Center will accept vouchers that are for sale on the main level, Blackman explains. The staff will clean up the nests. The $12 food-truck vouchers are good for one meal each. For today’s lunch the options are sushi or sausage. Yes, really.

While I wait for my Provençale duck sausage and hand-cut fries, I chat with a shy, curly-haired man named Brendan whom I recognized as a conference attendee by his OneTaste T-shirt, the word PENETRATE printed across it.

Later I find Brendan upstairs, sitting with his wife, Dawn, in a third-floor hangout room that has been filled with sturdy black-and-white blow-up love seats and oversize armchairs. He ordered sausage, while she opted for sushi. (I know, I know.) The room smells of rubber and meat. A large coffee urn and assorted creamers and sweeteners are arranged on a folding table against the back wall, like at an AA meeting.

Brendan and Dawn have been married for 27 years, and their marriage, like many others, has had its share of problems. Two years ago, Dawn, who has worked as a school nurse in Delaware and has a tattoo of a dragon covering her back, left the country to embark on an Eat, Pray, Love–style journey through Thailand, Bali and India. She heard about orgasmic meditation—she’d been involved in other self-improvement communities before—and when she returned to the States, she encouraged Brendan to try it.

Before OMing, Brendan says, he was very closed off, disconnected, not particularly mindful. OMing, they agree, has done wonderful things for their marriage. Brendan says he’s even thinking about moving out of Delaware, where they raised their three (now adult) children, and joining Dawn in New York, where she lives alone.

Brendan and Dawn feel so strongly about the positive effects of orgasmic meditation that they’ve persuaded their 24-year-old daughter, Sadye, who works in New York as a nanny, to get involved. Their 20-year-old son, however, is “weirded out” by the practice.

Dawn remains dedicated. “I’ve done many modalities of meditation, and it’s just that. My mind wanders and I have to come back to the finger on the clit.”

At the Regency Center in San Francisco, OM instructors set up “nests” including pillows, towels and OneStroke lube.

At the end of the first day a kick-off event is held in the Regency ballroom, a beaux arts grand hall with 35-foot ceilings, 22 turn-of-the-century teardrop chandeliers, a horseshoe balcony and a stage. Bryn Freedman, producer of the hit A&E addiction series Intervention, introduces Daedone, calling her “the Jimi Hendrix of stroking.” Not an unfit nickname.

Daedone takes the stage wearing a tight black minidress and black high-heel ankle booties as the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” booms from the speakers. She and a few of her staffers dance onstage, and soon the entire audience is out of their seats, shimmying, shaking and jumping.

“I am the nun that gets some,” Daedone says, settling into a tall chair front and center on the stage. She talks about OneTaste—it started in her art gallery, which had room enough for 40 people to OM—and how she is “no longer settling for security but living to build the turn-on.” Daedone envisions a world in which oxytocin (the so-called love hormone) “flows like the land of milk and honey.” Orgasmic meditation is about building and fostering myriad relationships, not just conventional partners, she says. “Connection is the new religion.… Tonight is the beginning of lighting up the power grid.” From time to time as she speaks, she spreads her legs, revealing a flash of fuchsia satin panties.

Daedone leaves the stage briefly and assistants bring out a massage table along with a round, wooden side table, on which they place a pot of OneStroke lube, a terry cloth towel and a single lily in a glass vase. When Daedone returns she is wearing a white butcher’s apron over her evening-wear and is joined by Justine, a blonde OneTaste employee who could pass for her sister. Justine removes her skirt and panties, climbs onto the massage table and assumes a prone position. Both she and Daedone are miked and spotlighted.

Justine is already breathing heavily when Daedone brings her gloveless, lubed fingers down between Justine’s legs. Daedone explains that she will start the OM by giving Justine “bread-and-butter strokes,” basic ease-you-into-the-moment strokes. We lean forward in our seats until Daedone says, “Everyone, exhale.”

Daedone fingers Justine’s clit, swaying and gyrating and contorting her body like an orchestral conductor with a hard-on, and Justine’s 15-minute orgasm plays on surround sound, amplified by the enormous floor-to-ceiling speakers on either end of the stage. Daedone’s face contorts like a concert pianist’s. At one point, she utters a very faint, raspy “Fuuuck.” It’s hard to tell who is enjoying herself more.

At the end of 15 minutes, Daedone wipes off her hands and blots Justine’s crotch with a towel. Justine sits up, her face glowing, eyes dark and glassy. Then the audience lines up at a standing microphone in front of the stage; it is time again to share frames.

“My stomach burned, my palms burned, and I cried,” says a middle-aged man.

One woman says her vision blurred and she felt heat on the bottom of her thighs.

“My favorite part,” says Daedone, “is when I can feel the heartbeat in my thumb and the heartbeat in her pussy.”

She calls Justine’s postorgasmic afterglow the “honey blanket.” A roomful of rapt faces agrees.

The industry of orgasm is an emerging one, and OneTaste is on a mission to both disrupt and civilize. Over the course of the weekend, people tell me orgasmic meditation has changed their life, saved their life, given them life, but perhaps none more so than Joanna Van Vleck, president of OneTaste.

“I am the most unlikely person to find orgasm,” says Van Vleck, who is bubbly and friendly and eager to open up. Three years ago she was living out the last week of her life, planning to kill herself on her 27th birthday, when a gift from the orgasm fairy showed up on her doorstep. Seriously. The tiny basket contained one sunflower, two brownies and a note that read, “Happy birthday, from the turn-on fairy.” The gift was left by somebody from OneTaste, though she is not sure who.

Van Vleck had met a couple of OneTaste women a few weeks earlier, connected by a friend who knew Van Vleck was new to San Francisco and didn’t have many friends there. But the lunch meeting hadn’t resulted in an immediate connection, and Van Vleck believed that was the last she’d see of the women.

“I called my friend and was like, ‘They were weird. They don’t know a good place to get pedicures; they didn’t like drinking wine. We’re not going to be friends.’?” She was planning to kill herself anyway. “I was driving in my Lexus, and I had this flash: Joanna, it’s not worth it to live anymore.” The plan gave her peace. “It was like every part of my feeling capacity had been turned off. This crazy voice inside me told me it was okay to end my life. So I decided I would live out the last seven days of my life.”

The basket arrived on day five. On day six, the eve of her 27th birthday, something hit her. “I was like, Maybe there is something else for me to learn in this life, maybe there is something else to feel, maybe there is something else to connect to.” She scrapped the suicide plan. She was going to keep going, at least for a while longer. Then the same friend who had introduced her to the two OneTaste women introduced her to Daedone. They had brunch. Van Vleck, whose passion and experience are in marketing, was filled with ideas and inspiration. “Orgasmic meditation—do you know what we can do on the internet with that?” she said. “We can really do something amazing with this.” Daedone hired her on the spot.

To be clear: OneTaste is an incorporated business, and while its “product” is a meditative practice (or a richer orgasm, depending on how you look at it), when you put the nest away, the company is still a for-profit machine. Depending on whom I asked, between 1,000 and 1,300 people registered for the OMX conference in San Francisco. At $395 a ticket, that’s at least $395,000 in the bank before venue costs and speaker fees, though all the speakers have OneTaste affiliations, including Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, who does orgasm research at Rutgers University, and Reese Jones, a venture capitalist on Harvard Medical School’s Genetics Advisory Council and a trustee at Singularity University (who is also in a committed monogamous relationship with Daedone).

Then there are the classes. The one-day introductory class “How to OM,” taught at OneTaste branches across the country, costs $195 a person. OneTaste’s six-month mastery program (which includes classes such as “How to Fuck,” “How to Suck Cock” and “How to Suck Pussy”) costs $7,500. There are also one-on-one coaching sessions that cost more per hour than many licensed psychiatrists charge, even in Manhattan, and a men-only class that’s $495 per guy.

Orgasm is a lucrative—and growing—business, so much so that OneTaste plans to launch an Orgasm Business Mastery Program, in which participants learn how to run their businesses based on the principles and connection of orgasmic meditation. The three-month program, held on weekends, will cost $4,995. There will also be a community-building class, with turn-on training in London, Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York, costing $2,750.

At the end of the weekend, Van Vleck announces onstage that the first seven people in the hall to physically reach her will receive free tuition to the OM-based business-mastery program. She counts down backward from five, four, three, two…. At one, men and women leap from their seats, sprinting. Women in short dresses clamber over the stage, and men, abandoning any pretense of composure, flail outstretched arms toward Van Vleck. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” plays through the giant speakers, and those not running for a scholarship dance.

To bring the weekend to a close, Daedone passes a microphone around, giving the hundreds of men and women packed into the hall a chance to share a final thought on their experience. They address Daedone as though she were a shining celebrity, a guru, a goddess. They are all excited to speak directly to her, as if they are communing with God him—or her—self.

The prompt: Today, I am leaving here with…

“One thousand questions.”

“A huge crush on you, Nicole.”

“Orgasmic determination.”

“More. Lovers.”

“Magic.”

OneTaste staff members onstage at the OMX conference, which included more than 1,000 attendees.

A few weeks later I meet Sadye, the 24-year-old daughter of Brendan and Dawn, the married couple from the conference. We meet at Anfora, a wine bar in Manhattan’s West Village. It is late summer, and Sadye wears a white sundress and sandals. She is the picture of purity, sweet with her blonde hair.

“My mom is always on some journey to find herself,” she tells me. So is Sadye. The duo has even attended Tony Robbins conferences together. They share a very “dynamic,” candid relationship. When Sadye moved to San Francisco last year to work as a nanny, her mom said, “There’s this thing I’ve been doing; it’s kind of weird, but you’re right in the heart of it.” Dawn was referring, of course, to OM. “You should check it out,” Sadye remembers her mother saying.

Sadye’s first OneTaste experience took place at a 15-person coaching session taught by none other than Daedone. “I just jump into things,” she tells me. “And I’m a very sexual person anyway.” She had been put off by the “very masculine energy” of Tony Robbins and his “get shit done” approach to self-improvement. OneTaste resonated with her on an intimate level, honoring the mixture of emotionality and sexual energy that someone like Daedone would refer to as “the feminine.”

We talk about OMing, sexuality and self-help. About needing to “let her feminine out.” About becoming more deeply integrated in the community and what it’s like to have parents in that same community.

Sadye invites me to join her at an OM circle, so the next night I wait for her outside a building on a crowded stretch of Broadway in SoHo. When she arrives, Dawn is with her, and they’ve been shopping. We ride the elevator to the seventh floor, where the OM circle is being held in a space borrowed from an organization called Friends in Deed, a crisis center for people with life-threatening illnesses. The room is warm, with large windows, a communal table and couches clustered with large pillows.

The crowd is a smaller version of the conference: men and women, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, buttoned-down and hipster, pretty and plain. Tonight Sadye will be OMing with a man her mother has OMed with already. The impromptu mother-daughter partner switch happened by accident: Dawn had OMed with a man who suggested they OM again at the circle. Dawn, he said, could be his number two; he was OMing first with a new girl named Sadye.

“I don’t know if there’s enough room in that circle for me and you,” Dawn says.

“It’s weird,” Sadye tells me. “But then again, this whole thing is weird. And as long as it feels okay to me, I’m going to keep doing it.”

Tonight’s group contains about 40 people. They OM behind closed doors, take a break, recenter, OM a second time. When it’s over, everyone is glassy-eyed and glowing. They beam. They quickly come up with plans to go out for a group pizza dinner. Sadye tells me it will definitely be a while before it doesn’t feel weird to share an OM partner with her mother.

As I say good-bye to Sadye and Dawn, I consider that what OneTaste is selling—be it sex tips or self-help—is essentially well-meaning. The intention is good: help people help themselves to a better quality of life through orgasm. Besides, it brings families together—at least tonight.

Out on the street I remember a conversation I had at the end of the OMX conference in San Francisco. I was outside the Regency Center when I recognized a security guard who had worked the conference all weekend.

“What did you think?” I asked him. “Learn anything?”

“Me?” he replied. “Nah, I’m already a professional.”


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