Sexuality in Conversation

Inside the Implosion of OneTaste, San Francisco's Orgasmic Meditation Cult

Orgasm doesn’t mean climax—it isn’t an event. It is a state of being—and Nicole Daedone had it. “Climax is like the spark that flies off the fire,” Daedone, the leader of OneTaste, informed us. “And now, I am the fire.”

Daedone later told me, in a 2013 interview, that when she first entered into a state of perpetual orgasm, it was so physically overpowering that she was convinced she had Parkinson’s.

For those in the OneTaste organization, the term expands even further. “Orgasm is qi, the life force that runs through you,” Ruwan Meepagala explained. “It is also the Tao, the universe itself. It is any feeling or impulse you have. Orgasm can mean OneTaste, or whatever Nicole says, or it can mean God.” Back in 2012, Meepagala had been like me—curious about a new practice called Orgasmic Meditation, or OM. It had been getting great press at the time, with journalists calling it “the next yoga.” OneTaste had recently opened a center in Manhattan, and groups of young, attractive OMers were out hooking pedestrians with lines like, “How’s your orgasm?

We took the same introductory class with 70 other people. I remember talking to a doctor, a stripper, and a kindergarten teacher. There was an older Hasidic man seated in the back, and a fat guy with thick glasses named Steve who claimed to be in the Special Forces and the CIA. Daedone was late as always, to build anticipation. When she arrived, she was radiant—and everything else seemed to dim.

“How many people are on this planet—seven billion?” she posed. “And, all of us come from at least one orgasm—so it goes all the way to our roots. From the root to the tip. Tibetan Buddhists use orgasm as a metaphor for enlightenment, because it’s the only time the filters are removed.”

“Why are you here?” she asked, focusing her attention on us, one by one. Someone said that when she looked at you, it was like plugging into a power grid.

“I’m here to learn how to better please a woman,” one man remarked.

“I just turned 30, and I’ve never climaxed,” another woman wept. “I’ve never been able to hand over trust, or let go of my power, or tell my brain to just enjoy it.”

“You’ve never been able to force your body to perform in a way it isn’t meant to,” Daedone corrected. “We call crying ‘orgasm from the eyes.’ My guess is that you were told that it’s more appropriate to cry than to be turned on.”
How many people are on this planet—seven billion? And, all of us come from at least one orgasm—so it goes all the way to our roots. Tibetan Buddhists use orgasm as a metaphor for enlightenment.
When it was Meepagala’s turn, he didn’t talk about his shy and anxious childhood—how his aunts and uncles called him autistic. He didn’t talk about his chronic depression, or his erectile dysfunction, or a feeling of inadequacy so profound that he was on the verge of joining the Marines in a desperate attempt to become a "real man."

“I don’t remember what I said to Nicole,” Meepagala recalled, “but I remember her response. She said, ‘You're coming off as a super cute frat boy,’ —which is how I always wanted to be seen. But then, she said, ‘That's not who you really are. Inside, you are a dark and dangerous man.’ It was exactly what I needed to hear. She hit it out of the park in terms of reading me.”

Nicole had learned her cold reading technique at the same place she learned OM—on a purple ranch outside San Francisco called Lafayette Morehouse. In 1968, an appliance salesman named Victor Baranco had a revelation that the world and everything in it was perfect. With a group of disciples, he founded a hedonistic commune based on that principle. They taught a practice called Deliberate Orgasm where a woman would undress from the waist down and a man would stroke her clitoris. In exchange, the strokee would give the stroker a token or a small gift.

In a lecture she later gave, Daedone described her first experience being stroked. “I found myself lying there… with my legs open… 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,’” she continued. “Then, I thought in my philanthropic way, ‘and I want everyone else to know how to live here.’”

The purpose of Deliberate Orgasm had been pleasure, but Daedone saw the potential for more. She added a 15-minute time limit, discarded the gift exchange, and repackaged the practice as meditation. She combined ideas from Lafayette Morehouse with those from groups as diverse as Scientology and Thelema, and that was the beginning of OneTaste. The name itself was pulled from a Buddha quote about enlightenment.

At the end of the introductory course, we paired up to OM for the first time. A life coach named Amy approached me. The 38-year-old was an involuntary virgin due to vaginismus. She had tried a variety of treatments over the years without success, but had been assured by OneTaste staff that OM could fix her.

I still remember the moment when Daedone told all the women to undress from the waist down. It was so simple, so elegantly casual. As instructed, I donned latex gloves. I placed my left finger on Amy’s clitoris, and slid my right thumb into her introitus. She laughed, and I could feel it pulsating through her pussy.

I thought about the first time I had ever seen the place between a woman’s legs. I’d been a kid, back in Michigan, and had gone into the forest with a neighbor girl. We had walked deep into the wilderness, deeper than we had ever gone before, so deep that we got lost. And, I realized now, straddling a stranger in a room full of half-naked women, that the distance we had traveled had been the depth of our shame.

“Stroke,” Daedone commanded, eliciting a wave of sighs.

“There are 10 spots on the clit,” she continued. “When you stroke the deep back of the pocket, it feels like she’s in love. When you stroke the ridge, it has the feeling of reverence. If you stroke the base, it’s a deep exhale. These are notes, and you are making music. Play her body like an instrument.” The women began to moan.

A couple months later, I ran into Amy at an event. She had been OMing regularly with a series of partners, and was now no longer a virgin. Her vaginismus has vanished, just as OneTaste had promised.

In 2006, after leaving Lafayette Morehouse, Daedone formed a commune of her own in San Francisco. Around 44 people shared 22 beds in an open-plan warehouse. Everything from OMing, to fighting, to sex, happened in a shared space.

“You couldn’t hide,” a former resident explained. “There was nowhere to go, and you got used to it. Our ancestors lived in caves. They lived in longhouses. 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.”

They called themselves “human research subjects,” and under Daedone’s guidance, they entered into radical experimentation with one another. Everything from jealousy, to monogamy, to slavery was questioned.
When I first joined OneTaste, it really was utopia. We worked these 18-hour days, and stayed up all night laughing. It was a magical and beautiful time, before we all crashed from no sleep.
Another original member wrote about an early experiment that lifted the sanctions against physical violence. The idea was that “emotional pain is experienced in the brain exactly like physical pain.” “I don't automatically consider hitting bad,” he concluded. “Hitting can be a way that some people choose to interact. If we didn't hit each other, it wasn't because we'd been trained it was wrong, or bad, or not fair, or harmful—it was because we'd tried it and empirically concluded it had more downsides than upsides.”

By the time Meepagala joined OneTaste, the warehouse had been closed for several years, but its legacy endured in an archipelago of smaller communal OM Houses. “When I first joined OneTaste, it really was utopia,” he remembered. “We were all young, and full of energy, and without any doubt in our minds. We worked these 18-hour days, and stayed up all night laughing. It was a magical and beautiful time, before we all crashed from no sleep.”

As Meepagala explained, the utopia was a matriarchy, with a gender ratio skewed heavily female. “We got to see what the world would be like if women were in power and men were second-class citizens. In the regular world, with masculine-type thinking, it’s all about scarcity—but OneTaste was designed for abundance. You shared everything, and vulnerability was the norm. The behavior of the women in charge actually became more like what you would expect from men. They became the aggressors, and would compete with each other. The way that men compete over muscles, or wealth, or dick size—the women would complete with each other over "turn on"—like who could influence the most men, or who had the hottest pussy.”

Sexual abundance left the men docile—and competition, when it did occur, became subverted. “In a patriarchy,” Meepagala expounded, “we might brag about the women we slept with, but in a matriarchy, to boast about that was seen as too masculine. So, guys would brag to each other about how far they could go with other men. We were all straight guys, and we'd be talking in bro talk about what guys we made out with and who sucked our dick. The funny thing was that the women would get really frustrated, because we were turning down sex with them to go make out with other guys. That was us showing our bravado.”

By the time Meepagala joined OneTaste, Daedone had become increasingly secluded. The founder had always been a mystery, even to her closest associates. Instead of a person, she often seemed more like a collection of anecdotes. She told me once that as a child, when she was waist-high, her greatest pleasure had been biting women on the backs of their knees. “I was a being who couldn’t restrain the animal in me,” she confided. “So, I learned to bite in a way that was funny or charming.” Wherever Daedone went, there were always rumors. People claimed that she traveled the world with a variety of wealthy men. They said that she had been a high-priced escort once, that she had lived in an acid house under a year-long vow of silence, that she had been molested by her father, who later died in prison for his crimes.

As Daedone withdrew, her lieutenant Rachel Cherwitz began to take over. Cherwitz had been featured at the introductory course as the ultimate turned on woman. According to her, she had once been rendered anorgasmic by years of childhood sexual abuse, but OM cured her. When Nicole stroked her pussy for the crowd, she shrieked and moaned like a woman on fire.

As the head of sales, Cherwitz channeled her orgasm into signing up what she called “marks” to OneTaste’s expensive courses. Her staff, called “lions, fluffers, or shills” were expected to do the same. The organization taught that money is only an “emotional obstacle,” and marks who didn’t have enough were instructed to take out loans, or risk “losing their souls.” Before long, Meepagala had accumulated $30,000 in credit card debt himself. “Money just stopped seeming real,” he said. Another couple reported spending $750,000 on OneTaste in a two-year period. “We created a lot of resentment with our methods,” a former staff member observed. “We bullied people, and we played on their fears. It wasn’t just unethical, it was bad business. We were strip-mining our resources.”
In order to better manipulate their marks, OneTaste events featured games that encouraged participants to divulge intimate personal details, which staff then analyzed. “Everyone had their specialty,” Meepagala noted. “An overweight woman would sell to women with body image issues. If there was a brash and arrogant pickup artist, I’d be assigned. Whatever they would say, I’d empathize with them, and echo some of their language to lower their guard. I visualized it as being an offensive lineman, where you don't push back, because you'll fall over. You just absorb, and absorb, and absorb, and you don't give the other person anything solid to push on. Then you can go anywhere.”

Simultaneously, the team engaged in “love bombing” campaigns, where targets would be inundated with positive attention. The objective was to get them addicted to the approval, and then suddenly withdraw it. The target, feeling confused and isolated, was then provided with ways to earn it back. “You’re the greatest, best, shiniest, newest, most wonderful thing in the entire world,” a former member named Diana recalled of her first six months. “I was Rachel’s pet and Nicole would text me. There was this huge level of validation. Then they shut it all down.” In Meepagala’s words, “No cult lets you stay powerful. They show you what you’re capable of, then take it away to sell back to you piece by piece.”

Despite the fact that Cherwitz was the head of sales and claimed to bring in four million dollars annually, she renounced commissions and expected her staff to do the same. “I wanted to collect the money that was owed to me,” Meepagala said, “but when I talked to Rachel about it, she would shame me for my ‘scarcity mindset.’ I would spend all day trying to get $10,000 from someone just to be rewarded by a bunch of emojis. They would say that they were paying us in orgasm. In a way, that was true.”

Orgasm was seen as an endless source of energy, and Cherwitz kept her hard-working staff constantly OMing and having sex to maintain their stamina and vitality. Partners were assigned. Sometimes, a new lover would be scheduled every hour for an entire day. Eventually, Meepagala even began to perceive a spiritual dimension to the practice. “It was a way to get off on anything, love any person, share your orgasm with anybody. I believe there is something to that, but some people were coerced.”

One of those people was Diana, who requested the use of a pseudonym. She followed her boyfriend across the country to an OM House in New York City. “I hated OneTaste from the very beginning,” Diana insisted. “I was sexually and physically abused as a kid.” Her parents had been addicts. “Sex and men have always been a thing for me. I hated men touching me. I could hardly OM without feeling sick.”

Diana’s aversion was quickly addressed by Cherwitz and the other staff. “I started getting reamed out for not having sex with other people. I was keeping myself small, they told me. I was not wanting to awaken. They called me toxic and a virus. So, finally I did it—and the first person I had sex with, I cried and shook the entire time. Afterwards, as I dry heaved in a corner, Rachel said, ‘Oh, you’re just purifying. That’s supposed to happen.’”

Diana’s relationship quickly deteriorated over issues of jealousy. “My boyfriend would hit me, and nobody did anything about it,” she said. “One time he gave me a black eye and a split lip. I remember Rachel saying that because I’d been hit as a kid, I was energetically pulling for him to hit me. He was just doing what my body was asking for. That gave him license to hit me more. He would say, ‘You made me do it.’”

Cherwitz’s solution was more intense sex. “She said that I needed to blow my lines clean, so the electricity could flow through my body. She said, ‘You need to get big, black men from Brooklyn, who’ll hold you down and fuck you.’ She would find all these guys for me on Tinder.”

Sex was also used to lure prospective members, Diana added. “We were set up to sleep with men who had money, and then sign them up for a $5,000 course, paid in full.” Similarly, Meepagala described being ordered by Cherwitz to seduce a certain wealthy woman. He complied, but the mission was too successful. The pair fell in love. Cherwitz accused them of “collusion.”

“When two people created their own reality together like we did,” Meepagala explained, “that was seen as a virus. Back then, I was spending a lot of time at her place, which was a refuge from OneTaste. We also began experimenting with monogamy, which is when Rachel really became furious. She started attacking this woman for stealing my orgasm.”

Eventually, Cherwitz was able to sabotage the relationship. “We were playing games at the time, where we would create super aversive situations for people,” Meepagala recounted. “The idea was that you’d cause someone to feel their greatest fear, and then they would learn to overcome it. So, Rachel instructed me to call this woman at work, and say ‘I'm leaving you for someone else and goodbye. I'll never talk to you again.’ After a few minutes, I was supposed to call back, and say it was just a joke. My conscience was totally against it, but Rachel said, ‘You’re just not awake enough to see the benefit.’ I was getting all this pressure from her and a couple other staff members, so I did it—and the woman was super, super heartbroken. We split up soon after that.”

With the ending of the relationship, Meepagala’s last external connection was severed. His entire world became OneTaste. As he continued to navigate the complex reality of the group, Meepagala found himself increasingly reliant on Cherwitz. “Everything was about getting her approval,” he said. “She would ask people for dirt on each other, and I remember feeling really good, like it was a secret just between mom and me. I didn't think of it as ratting. It was always sort of framed that these people were lost, and we were trying to help them. At the time, I felt so special that she was asking me, but she was really asking everyone, of course. I also used to feel so special that I got to make her lattes in the morning, but she had someone like that in every city. I wasn't actually that special at all.”
We were set up to sleep with men who had money, and then sign them up for a ,000 course, paid in full.
Meepagala had been in OneTaste for nearly two years when Ken Blackman left, sending tremors through the organization.

Blackman had been with Daedone since the founding of the community, and exemplified what it meant to be a “master stroker.” At just over five feet tall, he would have been easy to overlook, except wherever Blackman went, an entourage followed. They called him “Yoda” for his cryptic wisdom, and they worshipped his stroking finger like a holy relic. Women claimed that their pussies lit up the moment he walked into a room. When Blackman stroked a woman, it was said, he could feel everything she felt. He could get inside of you. All the strokers—sandpapering down their fingerprints to feel more, or strapping lights to their foreheads like miners to see more—all of them wanted to be Blackman.

“When Ken left, it shook the community to its core,” Diana remembered. His departure had been sudden, and inexplicable. “When anyone else would leave, they would tell us, ‘He said no to orgasm. He decided to be asleep,’ but how could they say that about Ken? It was a sign that something was very wrong.”

Diana believes that Blackman had been a moderating force in OneTaste, and with his exit, the organization began to shift from OM to religiosity. Daedone established an exclusive course for her closest disciples, called Magic School. In it, she promised to announce her greatest revelation.

I asked Daedone once what OneTaste’s endgame is, and she spoke about a transformation of consciousness. “In the same way we have a virtual internet,” she explained, “we will create a global limbic internet—an orgasmic internet, where we can read each other instantly.”

She had already attempted to establish a similar network on a smaller scale through the development of telepathic powers. “Your job,” she told her personal assistants, “is to know what I desire before I even know it myself.” Assistants recalled being punished on numerous occasions for not being able to read her mind.

By the time Magic School opened, Daedone’s orgasmic internet concept had further evolved. In a room of a hundred followers, she revealed that the next Buddha, the messianic figure Maitreya, would not be a person, it would be a community—their community. They would all become one, she promised, and soon the whole world would join them. Meepagala was there. “I remember that after she mentioned Maitreya, Nicole even said, ‘Wow if anyone ever heard what I just said, they would really think this was a cult!’ And, everyone just laughed, but that was a transition point for me.”

Soon after the revelation, OneTaste executive Joanna Van Vleck asked him to formally commit his orgasm to the organization forever. “I didn’t say no, but I didn’t say yes either,” he recounted. “Everybody was hard on me after that. They would attack me over little things. I just couldn't have friends anymore—and it was very abrupt, because I was a leader and a spokesperson just a week before.”

At the end of Magic School, Daedone appointed seven Priests of Orgasm. “They were the men Nicole chose to be the lineage carriers of OM,” Diana explained. Her boyfriend was one of the seven. “It links back to the temples of Ephesus and Isis the Egyptian goddess of sexuality and the dark feminine. Nicole was the high priestess, and the priestesses were the women of the executive team. Nicole would anoint you, and you would get a little necklace with a moon on it.”

“Every guy who was named as a priest had either committed his whole life or his whole life savings to the organization,” Meepagala noted. “I hadn't, so clearly I wasn't a priest. It felt like a jab at me for not committing myself. I was jealous.”

“The priest thing was a way to make people stay,” Diana observed. “It gave those men status, but only within the community. Those little necklaces don’t hold any sway in the outside world.” 
 When the end came, Meepagala was totally alone. Cherwitz arrived at the OM House with a pack of her lions. They had come to banish him. “These were the people I spent 24 hours a day with for two years,” he recalled, “and they had all turned on me. Anyone who might have supported me, Rachel just shut them down. We called that ‘killing.’ You kill someone so they can't speak anymore. I looked around and saw that everyone was on Rachel’s team. I thought, ‘Touché Rachel.’”Over the next few weeks, Meepagala became ill with hand-foot-and-mouth disease, “For a long time, I thought that Nicole had put a hex on me. Later, when I was cooking steak in a pan, something exploded, and the cover shot me right in the throat. It almost knocked me out. I had a big gash right on my trachea, on my throat chakra. My first thought was, ‘Nicole did this to silence me.’”

Eventually, Meepagala recovered, paid off his debts, and became a relationship coach, operating out of Thailand. Within a few years, in the wake of several lawsuits with six-figure payouts, Cherwitz and Daedone left OneTaste too. “It's a way different organization these days,” Meepagala observed. “With those key players gone, it's kind of like they exited the body, and it’s just a mannequin now.”

In retrospect, Meepagala has no regrets. “I'm super grateful for OneTaste,” he admitted. “I learned a lot in the classes, but I think I learned the most from simply being in an oppressive environment.”

A former top executive explained it another way. “Imagine a woman in charge of a foundation to protect women from violence. She’s on national TV, and she’s going to become a senator someday. But, imagine her trajectory started when she got raped in college. She wouldn’t become a senator unless that terrible thing had happened to her. That doesn’t mean though, if you walked in when she was about to get raped, you wouldn’t stop it, right? Well, OneTaste would say that you’re fucking with that woman’s trajectory. So, maybe I’m the one who’s wrong."

“Ultimately,” she concluded, “you could argue that, when I first signed up for OneTaste, it was to meet the woman I became at the end, who was incompatible with OneTaste. They created the perfect course to transform me into that person.”

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