> "Once I got to the conference, though, it was
> clear that the only way to witness the Group OM
> was to participate. "
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> What is the secret to unlocking your personal
> potential and creating a more harmonious society?
> A San Francisco company says you can find it
> between every woman's legs. Gawker's Nitasha Tiku
> investigates, step by step.
> My Life With the Thrill-Clit Cult
> “You can't see Hendrix anymore because he's
> dead, so you gotta go see Nicole stroke pussy!”
> It was a summer evening inside San Francisco’s
> Regency Center and Eli Block, tall and toned, was
> trying to round up spectators for what was being
> billed as the largest live demonstration, ever, of
> “a woman in orgasm.” Block used to be an Apple
> Genius Bar troubleshooter.
> Now he works for OneTaste, a company devoted to a
> practice called "orgasmic meditation," or OM, as
> an orgasm coach. He wore a navy-blue t-shirt that
> read "Powered by Orgasm."
> OneTaste has been operating at the distinctively
> West Coastal junction of the carnal, the
> spiritual, and the theoretical for nine years now,
> expanding from a San Francisco commune to a
> multi-city business. Its work has been validated
> by South by Southwest—the annual marketer’s
> paradise in Austin, Texas, that helped popularize
> Twitter and Foursquare—and TEDx SF, one of the
> idea conference's independently organized confabs.
> It also appeared in the Tim Ferriss bestseller The
> 4-Hour Body. “The 15-minute orgasm”? That’s
> This was the first night of OMXperience, a
> three-day August conference meant to "kick off the
> industry of orgasm," with speakers including Naomi
> Wolf, New York Times bestselling author Dr. Sara
> Gottfried, and Robbie Richman, the former "culture
> strategist" at Zappos. Roughly 1,400 people had
> paid between $200 and $400 to attend.
> The conference-goers had just wrapped up an "Art
> of Intimacy" workshop, and Block was herding them
> downstairs to the gilded Beaux Arts ballroom.
> Nearly half a century ago, and however many social
> revolutions ago, this was the Avalon Ballroom,
> home of two live Grateful Dead albums—and,
> legend had it, a jam session where Hendrix himself
> had joined the Dead.
> Now, onstage was Bryn Freedman, the producer
> behind A&E's "Intervention" and the evening's
> M.C., picking up the Hendrix theme. There must
> have been a memo to give the analogy a hard sell.
> Freedman promised the crowd they were about to
> encounter "truly truly one of the gifted people
> who is changing the planet—plus she is also the
> Jimi Hendrix of stroking, so hang on for that!"
> In strode a coquettish and tan Nicole Daedone, the
> 46-year-old self-styled guru behind OneTaste.
> Straight honey-blonde hair fell in a sleek frame
> around her face; a smartly tailored gray dress
> hugged her silhouette, making her look like a
> lankier Ellen Barkin. “BDSM-y,” I pecked out
> on my iPhone, trying to describe the thick,
> metallic straps of her high heels.
> In the June, 2011 speech for TEDx SF that has
> since been viewed more than half a million times,
> Daedone lamented what she calls the Western
> woman’s mantra:
> “I work too hard, I eat too much, I diet too
> much, I drink too much, I shop too much, I give
> too much. And still there's this sense of hunger I
> can't touch.” In that old YouTube video, Daedone
> wore an ill-fitting black blazer and frumpy purple
> blouse, her hair in brown waves. Now she stood
> transformed, slender, triumphant. Her cheeks were
> supple and glowing. Her lipstick was chocolate-box
> The cure for that untouched female hunger, Daedone
> teaches, is a brief ritual, performed with a
> partner. The woman removes the clothing from her
> lower half, and only from that half. The
> partner—the stroker, typically a man—remains
> fully dressed. The lights stay on. Over the course
> of 15 minutes, timed, the partner rubs the upper
> left quadrant of the woman's clitoris, and she
> surrenders to involuntary sensation.
> The desired outcome is therapeutic, rather than
> sexual—not a spikey, sneeze-like commonplace
> climax, but something more sensuous, purportedly
> activating the limbic depths of the brain and
> releasing a flood of oxytocin, stimulating bonding
> between participants.
> OneTaste originally presented it as a spiritual
> practice like yoga or meditation, but lately, as
> Daedone's fame has grown, it's taught as a
> technological innovation—a body-hack to
> happiness. At the end of The 4 Hour Body’s
> orgasm chapter, the efficiency impresario Ferriss
> declares: "This should be required education for
> every man on the planet.”
> To Daedone, the applications go even further.
> OneTaste's orgasm-industry vision extends to
> certifying businesses as OM-based: a Bikram yoga
> studio, even a coffee shop, sure, but also banks
> and legal offices. “And potentially OM on the
> airplane!” The audience, in its blissful
> optimism, rushed the stage afterward to sign up.
> Everyone is interested in doing fun things with
> their bodies. But the impulse to systematize,
> replicate, package, sell, and build an ideology
> around it is uniquely Silicon Valley. Part of what
> drives app makers and investors is the urge to
> bend the world to their desires—turn a thing on
> its side to see if it works better that way. In
> the personal realm, that translates to a libertine
> sense of entitlement and the pursuit of total
> optimization. OM seems ideally designed to meet
> those goals.
> Many of OneTaste’s employees and devotees work
> in the startup sector. Reese Jones, Daedone’s
> sometime boyfriend, is also a venture capitalist
> and serial inventor credited with the first
> sound-recording software. During a presentation at
> the conference, Jones would compare the "OM
> container"—which refers both to the
> pillow-and-blanket covered "nest" one is supposed
> to construct and to the time limits and emotional
> boundaries of the practice—to the Internet
> communications protocol TCP/IP.
> This past April, during the interactive portion of
> South by Southwest, Daedone delivered a talk
> titled "Female Orgasm: The Regenerative Human
> Technology" to a packed room. She relayed an
> endorsement from foundational futurist Ray
> Kurzweil, whose Singularity University counts
> Reese Jones as a board member.
> “The next thing we knew we were invited into all
> of these tech circles and, whoa, man, the testing
> there was rigorous and crazy," she said. "But
> finally we got the blessing of Ray Kurzweil that
> we are officially a technology, and they said it's
> based on scientific knowledge about physiology and
> psychology and it goes far beyond insight or a
> piece of advice.”
> “In fact," she said, "I would go even further to
> say orgasm can do for physical connection what the
> internet has done for us in terms of virtual
> About that connection: In the realm of OM,
> "partner" does not connote a prior relationship.
> It's not unusual, at OneTaste events, to get
> stroked by someone you've only just met. Over the
> course of the conference, nearly every guy who
> asked me to OM—the collegiate startup cofounder,
> the burly acupuncturist, the weaselly 20-something
> from Austin, the dashing cognitive scientist, the
> white-haired yogi—would suggest it within 60
> seconds of our first meeting.
> A couple of times, the request arrived before they
> even gave me their names.
> In this regard, the Jimi Hendrix reference was
> only the opening act. Whatever virtuosity Daedone
> was preparing to demonstrate on stage, the
> weekend’s main attraction was going to be the
> regularly scheduled Group OM sessions, with 350
> "nests" set up in the Regency's basement. If she
> was Hendrix, half the people in the room wanted to
> be guitarists themselves. The other half of us
> were there to be guitars.
> I first heard about OneTaste in March, at a
> breakfast meeting with a venture capitalist who
> had newly moved to New York from San Francisco.
> She hadn't felt compelled to try it herself, but
> she had a friend who worked at OneTaste, who would
> OM if she was nervous before a big meeting. They
> had lingo for the men who'd perfected the craft:
> "Master stroker—that's what it's called!"
> Genital stimulation in a professional context
> seemed transgressive, even for hippie-hedonist San
> Francisco. Her friend, Joanna Van Vleck—who is
> now OneTaste's president—met me in June when she
> was in New York. "We don't OM, like, right in the
> office," Van Vleck explained. But she said, "If we
> have employee problems, we're like, let's OM
> together. Yeah, if two people have a discrepancy,
> we say: OM together!"
> OneTaste’s headquarters is located in an airy,
> two-story building at 47 Moss Street with polished
> concrete floors and rays of sunlight refracted
> through a garage-door like facade. This is where
> the company hosts therapy sessions and OMing
> classes. But its spiritual center is a nearby
> clay-colored, three-story residence at 1080 Folsom
> Street, down the street from Sightglass Coffee,
> the epitome of retro-futurist craftsmanship and a
> mandatory scene for magazine profiles of Twitter
> cofounder Jack Dorsey, whose mobile payments
> company, Square, is headquartered nearby.
> Not all of the 55 people who live at 1080 work for
> OneTaste. Some would-be residents sign up for the
> waiting list in search of a plum location and
> affordable rent. But at 7:30 every weekday, the
> building hosts a group session, closed to the
> general public. Many employees maintain multiple
> "research partners" simultaneously.
> "You come in with certain boundaries," OneTaste's
> business development manager, Marcus Ratnathicam,
> told me during the conference. Ratnathicam, a
> half-Swedish, half-Sri Lankan former
> software-company business development manager, has
> been a resident of 1080 for three and a half
> years. "And because it gets so multi-dimensional,
> it starts to crack open," he said. "Friends are
> lovers are friends."
> In 2012, OneTaste opened centers in London, Los
> Angeles, Austin, Las Vegas, San Diego, Boulder,
> and Philadelphia, and re-established its New York
> City presence with a residence in Harlem. The
> company’s goal is to open in 20 cities by the
> end of 2014.
> Daedone, meanwhile, has been accruing the
> trappings of a daytime personality, building a
> lifestyle brand along the way. Her 2011 book, Slow
> Sex, was put out by the Hachette imprint that
> publishes Gwyneth Paltrow and Gordon Ramsay.
> OneTaste offers sessions ranging from Coaching
> certification ($15,000) to six-month Mastery
> Programs ($7,500) to a one-day Play Class ($195)
> and evening TurnOn events ($10), as well as
> t-shirts, organic lube, and OM warmers for your
> legs in the winter. After the conference, a
> newsletter went out welcoming acolytes to a
> private social network called the OM Hub, a
> formalized version of their once-secret Facebook
> group, accessible with an OM badge ($49/year.)
> Van Vleck, who launched a menswear e-commerce
> company that was acquired by the cofounder of
> Bonobos, told me that she had been working as head
> of marketing for OneTaste for months before she
> agreed to try OM. "I was like, uhh, this is so
> gross," she said. "We can sell this online, but
> ugh... I was ultimately scared. It's vulnerable.
> Sometimes I still lay down to OM and I'm like,
> 'What the fuck is this?' If there weren't such
> incredible benefits, I would not lay down and have
> a man stroke my genitals or stroke my clitoris. I
> just wouldn't."
> Her smile was infectious and her complexion dewy.
> Every time she talked about stroking, she would
> stick out the index finger of her left hand,
> straight as a ruler. She curled the tip of her
> other index finger and rubbed it back and forth,
> along a centimeter's worth of the ruler, like a DJ
> scratching the world's tiniest record.
> OMing, she said, was fuel. "We call it 'tired and
> wired,'" she said. "Most women are 'tired and
> wired,' and OM is the exact opposite of that. It's
> like eating breakfast. That's what we eventually
> hope: Instead of a latte, women will have an OM.
> Because that's what regulates your body. An orgasm
> for breakfast, you know?"
> I was on my second iced coffee and third interview
> of the day, eyeing my iPhone in the middle of the
> table in fear of whatever news I might be missing
> online. I felt like she was talking about me.
> The notion of a therapeutic female orgasm has its
> roots in the pelvic massage, a cure for hysteria
> recommended by Hippocrates and a catalyst for
> empowerment prescribed by Austrian psychoanalyst
> Wilhelm Reich. But its current iteration
> originated in the '60s at Lafayette Morehouse, a
> self-described "intentional community" in San
> Francisco's East Bay suburbs espousing a
> philosophy of "responsible hedonism." There Victor
> Baranco, a Svengali-like former appliance salesman
> whom Rolling Stone once called "the Colonel
> Sanders of the commune scene," upgraded the
> practice for the Sexual Revolution. Residents
> called it a “deliberate orgasm” or
> Baranco, who died in 2002, was featured alongside
> Charles Manson in Mindfuckers, a book published by
> Rolling Stone's Straight Arrow imprint in 1972
> about the rise of acid fascism and the darkness
> that “lurks beyond the Aquarian Age.” He was
> infamous for pioneering three-hour public
> demonstrations of his disciples in orgasm, where
> “students sometimes passed out, fell out of
> chairs, and pictures fell off walls.”
> The Rick A. Ross Institute, an online forum about
> cult education, has devoted pages of commentary
> connecting Daedone's work to Baranco's. Similar
> accusations arose in Yelp forums after the New
> York Times profiled Daedone in 2009 and even in
> the YouTube comments on Daedone’s TEDx talk.
> Both OneTaste and Lafayette Morehouse told me that
> Daedone only took three classes with Baranco,
> clarifying that she actually worked more closely
> with Ray Vetterlein, one of Baranco’s
> disciples—“who had studied some with Vic but
> had gone on to develop his own variation and
> approach,” as a OneTaste spokesperson put it. A
> post by OneTaste's cofounder Robert Kandell from
> 2006 tells a different story, saying Daedone had
> "spent the last seven years devoting her energy to
> the work of Dr. Victor Baranco."
> The crowds that show up for OneTaste’s
> introductory “TurnOn” events or How To
> seminars are not briefed on the free-love origins
> of OM. On stage at TEDxSF, South by Southwest, and
> even at OMXperience, Daedone prefers to tell a
> more cocktail-friendly anecdote about how she, a
> former Buddhist nun-in-training, once met a guy at
> a Buddhism party who introduced her to the
> Mechanically, it works like so: The stroker
> prepares for the session by massaging the
> subject's legs with "grounding pressure," while
> the stroker's gaze is focused on her clitoris, or
> at least the general area. After that is the
> "noticing" phase, in which the stroker is supposed
> to narrate what's being seen, using "non-value"
> terms, as though a woman can listen to her vagina
> being described aloud without feeling judged. Then
> the stroker gets into position, placing his right
> thumb at the edge of her introitus (the opening of
> her vagina) and the tip of his left index finger
> on her clit at the 8 o’clock spot. The subject
> is encouraged to give "adjustments," detailing if
> she wants the stroker to move a little to the left
> or to apply less pressure. Don't apologize, just
> ask, after which the stroker is supposed to say
> "Thank you." At minute 13, start winding down, so
> as not to be left loopy for the rest of the day.
> (You can watch a session, filmed for Deepak
> Chopra's YouTube channel, below.)
> Why do men sign up for an exercise that tells them
> to keep it in their pants? After some confusion
> about the upside, OneTaste addressed the question
> directly last year. “What’s In It for the
> Men?” a 13-minute free video produced by the
> company, features five guys praising the
> “revolutionary” benefits of OMing: increased
> confidence and intimacy in the bedroom, better
> communication with their (now more turned-on)
> girlfriends, and less pressure to perform. Left
> unsaid is that immersion in the OneTaste community
> also offers proximity to lots of sexually
> liberated women.
> The regimented process and talk of brain chemicals
> don't quite change the fact that OneTaste’s
> “killer feature” is clitoral stimulation.
> People look at you differently when you tell them
> you’re going to an orgasmic meditation
> conference. It’s rarely a pleasant look. The
> side-eye narrows further at the phrase “master
> stroker”: Are you going to do it? You’re gonna
> have to do it.
> I thought I might be able to get away with
> watching from the sidelines. Once I got to the
> conference, though, it was clear that the only way
> to witness the Group OM was to participate. That
> meant sitting through a training session to get a
> bracelet—one of those colored ones they give out
> at concerts with a sticky white tab at the end.
> Green indicated the person had been OMing before
> the conference. Red meant you were a noob.
> If you can, go with green. Trust.
> My Life With the Thrill-Clit Cult
> I still hadn't known what to expect when I walked
> into the Regency on Friday afternoon. A tweaky,
> happy energy bounced around the walls, the kind of
> anticipation that goes with knowing that half the
> people in the room are liable to take their pants
> off. All around me, people stopped to engage in
> close, meaningful embraces. I tightened the straps
> of my backpack, which I'd brought foolishly
> thinking I’d have a chance to crack open my
> laptop, and gave the hugging masses a wide berth.
> The day before the trip, a colleague offered a
> warning prediction over Gchat: “its going to be
> all old people. sorry. i can just tell.” As we
> scarfed down lunch from the food trucks
> outside—$12, payable by Square—a soft-spoken
> blonde from Berkeley who is majoring in
> “consciousness and transformation” told me the
> first question her friend asked was whether the
> people there were attractive.
> And sure, there was the Steve Wozniak
> doppelgänger in a knitted Pokemon hat, and a
> 70-year-old nurse with a walker. Good-looking
> people abounded, however. Well-dressed people,
> even. There was a stylish young couple, carting a
> newborn in a baby carrier, who showed up each day
> looking runway-ready (say Heatherette for her,
> Burberry for him). Fresh-faced One Taste
> employees, wearing soft t-shirts that said
> “Powered by Orgasm” or “Penetrate,” helped
> tip the pulchritudinous balance.
> There was more racial and ethnic diversity than
> your typical tech conference, and a wider income
> range. Gender-wise, it seemed split down the
> middle, avoiding any prospective imbalance between
> undersexed woman and willing male fingers.
> Coffee—the one freebie guaranteed at every
> conference—was nowhere to be found. The small
> beverage stations were tea only. Yet everyone
> seemed energized. Between panels, OneTaste
> staffers blasted Top 40 tunes—Flo Rida’s
> “Good Feeling” was on heavy rotation—and
> encouraged the crowd to dance, and they got up and
> danced, like really threw themselves into it.
> At the training session, Saturday morning, I sat
> in the front row to make sure I didn’t miss
> anything. Seated next to me was a cognitive
> scientist who does research for a major retailer,
> dressed in all-white like a cricket player on his
> day off. The retail scientist, who also leads a
> biohacking meetup in the Bay Area, told me that he
> learned about OneTaste after he heard a talk by
> Dr. Sara Gottfried, another oxytocin enthusiast
> who was also speaking at the conference. He said
> the practice sounded like the “ultimate hormone
> I expected a PowerPoint of the female anatomy with
> a laser pointer beamed at the clit, or at least
> one of those weirdo . But the session offered
> little anatomical specificity. The hosts were
> fully clothed: Justine Dawson, a petite blonde
> Canadian who used to be a social worker, and Ken
> Blackman, a former software engineer for Apple,
> with the air of a competent accountant. The
> presentation focused on the steps in the process,
> and on the etiquette. Among us students was Naomi
> Wolf—author of Vagina: A New Biography, due out
> in paperback this holiday season—in the same
> tight blue dress she would wear during her evening
> presentation. I tried to suppress a laugh as Wolf
> scooted up to the side of the stage and squatted
> down to take pictures. Maybe she too was hoping
> for some cheat sheet.
> My Life With the Thrill-Clit Cult
> Laid bare at the training, OM started to sound
> retrograde, quaint even. I saw a few lesbian
> couples, and a number of women mentioned their
> “crush” on Daedone. But here was a
> heteronormative practice that didn’t mention
> pornography, fetishes, interior fantasy life, or
> any kind of kink—besides the no-pants group
> hangout. The most far-out aspect was the
> unapologetic emphasis on female pleasure.
> The day before, we'd begun with the intimacy
> workshop. Audience members were instructed to find
> a partner and ask each other a series of
> questions: Who are you? Tell me a secret. What do
> you want? The queries get repeated, relentlessly,
> in a way that strips off whatever varnish of
> professionalism or privacy you were trying to
> maintain. After every response, the asker simply
> says “Thank you," then resumes the onslaught.
> For each set of questions, you were paired up with
> a stranger nearby.
> For one exercise, I partnered with a computer
> security manager at a Fortune 500 company who said
> he liked to watch his wife get fucked and uses
> ropes. I did not doubt him. My next sharing buddy
> was a sweet, soft-spoken engineer from Alameda,
> who looked like an Amish Paul Bunyan. He made
> soulful eye contact as we asked each other Who ARE
> you? Who are YOU? over and over until we were
> close to tears. In short bursts, we shared how
> other people perceived us versus how we wanted to
> be seen. Those long, meaningful hugs started to
> seem less dopey.
> “How many of you were truthful?” Block asked.
> I raised my hand, but, truthfully, I'd held back.
> As disarming as the workshop had been, I was here
> to report, not because I believed.
> My Life With the Thrill-Clit Cult
> Now here was Justine Dawson, my orientation host,
> in a slinky periwinkle dress, slipping out of her
> underwear and climbing atop a massage table in the
> ballroom. She spread her legs about four-fifths as
> wide as they might go on one of those
> abductor/adductor machines at the gym. Daedone
> came back out wearing a black apron over her own
> gray dress, creating a Dr. Frankenstein vibe.
> I had been given a seat in the second row, next to
> a certified hypnotherapist named Clyde, who runs
> an academy in Los Angeles for ex-offenders. The
> only other reporters were from Playboy and
> Haaretz; OM has apparently gotten some traction
> with Orthodox Jews both in New York and Israel.
> "Sex is like drugs," Clyde volunteered, while we
> waited. "It sells itself. Now, what makes your
> drugs better than the other drug?"
> Clyde's biceps were immense. He said he had been
> through the Landmark Forum—another "personal
> development" company, with its own cultish
> undertones—and said Landmark and OneTaste were
> similar in "finding language that releases the
> inhibitions you have." I rifled through my
> backpack, found a Klonopin, and swallowed it to
> keep myself from bolting out of the room.
> But the organizers were canny and tried to ease
> the alienness. The female speakers were all in
> cocktail attire. ("My style guide is smart, savvy,
> and sexy. I didn't want anyone wearing any spirit
> garb," Daedone said backstage after OMX had
> finished—the only time I was permitted to
> interview her.)
> Bristol Baughan, a filmmaker and TED fellow, did a
> skit about how she'd freaked out when hired to
> film a short video about OM for Time: "She starts
> opening her pale (pause) white (pause) legs, like,
> THE WIDEST they can go...And the lights, they're
> on. Mercilessly on. And he is DESCRIBING IT. Her
> parts. Out loud." Laughter and cheers from the
> crowd. "'Pink brownish oval'....Now he's putting
> his finger in something. Oh, it's lube. Oh, it's
> ORGANIC lube. Of course. Fucking San Francisco."
> Cheers, applause.
> The narration moved to Baughan's own experience of
> getting stroked. Her voice dropped to a whisper:
> “Have I lost my fucking mind? If I do this, will
> I end up a sex addict and homeless on the street?
> And if I do this, I'm pretty sure it doesn't
> exist, but I'm gonna go to hell.” For any
> skeptics in the audience, there were their own
> prudish fears, coming out of Baughan's mouth,
> right onstage. Listen to how Victorian you sound.
> Everything happening is perfectly OK. This is
> And now that another presenter had briefed us,
> like a vadge sommelier, on the "reverent, light
> sensation" from the clitoral ridge, versus the
> "rich, deep earthy sensation" down at the
> base—-it was showtime. Daedone told us about her
> vision of an "OM-based world," whose denizens
> would be "there to welcome those whose minds had
> been hijacked by the idea that appropriateness is
> somehow better than honest or the fallacy that
> it's ever better to pretend to be something than
> to actually be who you are."
> Off with the underwear, on with the apron. “This
> is solely a celebration,” Daedone cautioned us.
> “In the beginning, you learn scales. I did
> scales for years, Ken did scales for years. This
> is the equivalent to a symphony, so you're not
> allowed to compare yourself, just enjoy. Good?”
> Good or not, she placed a dollop of lube and her
> hand and began.
> God only knows what view the folks in the balcony
> had. “Hoah hoa hah oh oh uhuhu.”
> “UHHHHH. Ohhohohohoh.” From my seat in the
> second row all I could see were Dawson’s
> trembling feet, but she was mic’d and her moans
> reverberated through the ballroom. God only knows
> what view the folks in the balcony had. “Hoah
> hoa hah oh oh uhuhu.”
> “She's in,” said Daedone. The audience
> exhaled. “Right now she's in the optimum space.
> I can stroke firm or deep, she'll go with me."
> “Uhuha ohohooooohohooooooaoaa,” Dawson
> Hendrix was really bending it now. Daedone's face
> contorted like a Kabuki mask and her hips bucked
> against the massage table as she strummed Dawson.
> At times, Daedone lowered her head toward her
> crotch, as if hearing some mystical hum. “It
> just sends electricity up your whole body,”
> Daedone said. It was hard to tell if she was
> getting off on the audience watching her perform,
> or whether the whole thing had looped all the way
> back around to a complete lack of
> Soon, the 15 minutes were up. “I'm gonna give
> her some introital strokes so she can sleep. It
> just pushes all the blood back, makes her body a
> comfortable place to be,” Daedone said, as
> calmly as if she were Ina Garten and Dawson a ball
> of dough. “Haaaaaaaaaa,” said Dawson.
> “I think you can all feel it out there that she
> just landed. It's my favorite part, where I can
> feel the heartbeat in my thumb.” The audience
> burst into applause.
> Then it was time for "sharing frames," where
> onlookers describe a sensation they felt during a
> particular moment in the OM. Men and women lined
> up at the microphone, letting out their inner New
> Age poets as Daedone murmured approval:
> "I think halfway through, I'm not sure, it felt
> like the front half of my body was being sunburnt.
> And there was a little soft arrow that stopped my
> "There was a moment I felt my body was a shell, it
> was hollow, and I felt this white substance
> filling up from my pussy, inflating up my chest
> like a Michelin . . . guy."
> "There was a moment when it felt like my whole
> entire body was at a low, deep, expansive
> vibrating hum that just kept moving out."
> Had they really felt any of those things? The most
> I felt was relief it was over. As I waited in line
> afterward to introduce myself to Daedone, I caught
> a glimpse of Dawson, so blissed out and
> languid-eyed, she looked ready to melt right off
> her chair.
> The average time between first hearing about OM
> and actually trying it, Daedone would tell me
> later, is two years. For me, it was six months.
> The next day, I'd be taking my red wristband into
> the basement of the Regency, and it would be
> happening to me. Then it would happen three more
> Orgasms are good for you. No one's arguing against
> that. The message of OMX, though, went
> considerably beyond it.
> On Saturday, we heard from Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a
> Stanford-trained psychiatrist who does orgasm
> research at the Rutgers neuroscience lab, and who
> is OneTaste's director of science and research.
> She took the stage in a form-fitting black dress,
> her nails done in hot pink—a James Bond casting
> director's vision of a neuroscientist—while
> Jeremiah crooned "Put it down on me, put it down
> me" over the speakers.
> Partner-induced clitoral stimulation, Lakshmin
> said, has a rare ability to stimulate the limbic
> system—that level between the neocortex and the
> reptilian brain, which she said goes ignored by
> psychiatrists. The only things that can match it,
> for release of oxytocin, are childbirth or
> breastfeeding. She displayed her own MRI, made
> while she was being stroked by Ken Blackman. It
> showed areas of the brain firing in bright traffic
> light reds and yellows. “Even though we were in
> this totally sterile environment, we felt so
> connected,” she enthused about their unexpected
> intimacy at the lab.
> Lakshmin didn’t come outright and say that
> Blackman was experiencing the same oxytocin
> overload, but OneTaste often implies that for
> strokers who stick with the practice, it feels
> just as intense, glossing over whether that means
> an erection, a climax, or just some psychedelic
> The notable thing about the lab is that it's run
> by Dr. Barry Komisaruk, who dismissed OM as "New
> Age-y" and unscientific in a 2007 SF Weekly
> article about OneTaste.
> I wrote Komisaruk, to ask if his opinion had
> changed. He emailed back: "I now better understand
> and appreciate several main claims of
> OneTaste....I think to the extent that OM can
> increase those participating individuals'
> awareness of their bodily sensations, it can be a
> physiologically healthful practice. However, I do
> not know whether the strictly prescribed, highly
> structured OM stimulation protocols are the
> optimal means of achieving any specific healthful
> objectives, as I am not aware of controlled
> studies comparing alternative relevant orgasm
> Lakshmin told us that before she joined OneTaste,
> when she worked as a psychiatrist, "I would just
> write lots of medications. I was kind of a drug
> dealer." Her practice was in Palo Alto, "so there
> were just tons of women who had everything. They
> were fancy, they had husbands, they were rich,
> they had fancy houses. They would come in and say,
> ‘Yeah, I'm really depressed,' or 'I'm really
> anxious,' you know, 'I'm not happy.' We would put
> them on medication and the medication would work
> for a little bit and they'd come back and be like,
> 'It's not really working.'"
> The OM experience is nothing if not attentive. In
> the initial orientation, Dawson and Blackman had
> explained the importance of "safeporting," where
> the stroker tells the woman exactly what he is
> about to do before he does it: I'm going to give
> you some grounding pressure now. Safeporting,
> Dawson said, accesses "what we call the vigilance
> center of the mind, which is quite a bit larger in
> a woman's mind than in a man's brain."
> The structure and restrictions, Daedone said in a
> Saturday Q&A, are part of what makes OM a formal
> practice. A finger instead of a tongue; the thumb
> placed on the outside, providing a "symbolic
> connection" to intercourse while making it
> difficult for the stroker to feel involuntary
> contractions, forcing him to pay attention. "The
> form itself is usually time-tested," Daedone said,
> "and it's time-tested to open unimaginable
> doorways that you wouldn't open were you not to
> follow the precision of the practice. Like, why in
> the hell do you walk into a zendo with your left
> foot? Who knows? It's just weird. But you know
> what? You do it and you discover, something new
> The Group OM sessions—there were eight of them
> on the schedule—were held in the venue's lower
> level, "perfect for corporate receptions,
> banquets, product launches, and tabletop trade
> shows," according to the Regency's website. Before
> each one, the rotunda was crowded with people
> looking for their intended partners, or trying to
> find one.
> Friday night, after the demo, Van Vleck had
> introduced me to a startup cofounder, preppy and
> chestnut-haired, who said he'd learned about
> OneTaste at a tech event. He looked like he'd
> stepped out of an admissions catalog. He asked if
> I wanted to OM, and I'd said yes. But he was
> almost too good-looking. This was too wackadoo; I
> wanted someone wackadoo to do it with. I was
> relieved when our schedules didn't match.
> If you’re loitering downstairs for the GroupOM
> and don’t have a partner come stroking time, you
> have the do the reverse walk of shame back
> upstairs. Once I watched a spiky-haired older
> woman haplessly pleading with a jittery-looking
> guy, who read as gay to me, to tell her whether he
> wanted to OM. “All I need is a yes or no,” she
> beseeched, half-slouching in front of him.
> “It’s not your responsibility to take care of
> her,” a One Taste employee in a t-shirt said,
> throwing up a hand to separate the two.
> Shortly before one of the Saturday sessions was
> about to start, I met Ryan the acupuncturist. He
> was tall and blonde, with hipsterish glasses, and
> built like a defensive tackle. He wore a green
> wristband. Short story shorter: I made like Molly
> “Ladies please find your nest. Gentleman walk up
> to the stage, please wash your hands and find your
> supplies,” a OneTaste employee informed the line
> snaking down from the rotunda.
> Ryan went to sanitize his hands and to pick up a
> pair of latex gloves and tasteful glass container
> of coconut lube ($14.95), free with conference
> ticket. I entered the doorway. There were hundreds
> of “nests,” made with the Signature OM Kit
> ($184.97)—blue yoga mats, covered with
> slate-gray blankets and scattered with plum
> pillows—side by side. Some OMers had chosen to
> personalize with a colorful scarf or blanket.
> The giant room was divided into two parts. I was
> assigned a spot in very last row of the smaller
> part, which, I hoped, would minimize the number of
> people who would see me doing this thing. Oh,
> Lord, I’m actually doing this thing. Holy
> fucking shit, I need to shut down all the Wifi in
> my hometown because I am about to do this
> unspeakable thing.
> Normally I don’t even change clothes in the
> Crunch locker room, but I figured the faster I
> took my pants off, the quicker I could stop making
> accidental eye contact with other people’s eyes
> and vaginas. All around me were number of
> unexpected couplings: a man who looked like Kevin
> Garnett with an older white woman with dimpled
> thighs; another older white woman and a fellow red
> bracelet she had to instruct, heavily, through the
> Maybe it was the fact that I was the squarest
> person in the basement or the fact that I’d been
> through hours (months?) of preamble for half a
> sitcom’s worth of potential weirdness, but lying
> down on the mat felt about as revealing as when
> you go to those cheapo massage places and get
> stuck only a flimsy curtain away from the next
> guy. The grounding pressure helped.
> Everyone was told to begin at the same time.
> OneTaste instructors walked around the nests
> offering adjustments like it was a yoga class. I
> tried to ignore the cacophony of
> women—caterwauling and moaning and generally
> making the kind of animal sounds that would never
> pass a porn producer’s edit—to focus on my own
> And? Was it a gateway to the OM-based lifestyle?
> In the right hands, it’s a helluva good time.
> “Some people are stiff as a board,” Ryan said.
> “Your orgasm really opened up.” I thought
> about telling him that I hadn't really climaxed,
> but I realized that was besides the point: the
> oxytocin had kicked in. When it came time to offer
> “frames,” suddenly there I was, whispering to
> Ryan, sounding just as shroom-y as every other
> motherfucker on the mic.
> Afterward, I wandered around the Regency from
> panel to panel, delightfully faded, with an
> occasional tingling sensation in the back of my
> legs. Is this what Trudy and Sting feel like all
> the time? I still wasn’t sure if OMing was
> something I could actually get into. I just knew I
> wanted to try it again.
> And so I did, an hour later with the cognitive
> scientist. Then the next day with the yogi, whom
> I’d swiftly dismissed the first time he asked,
> then lastly with Ryan again. During one session, a
> woman wailed through the entire 15 minutes. Happy
> sobs, or cathartic ones, I think. At registration,
> everyone had been given a red card to hold up if
> they ever felt uncomfortable. I never saw anyone
> use it.
> After the 15 minutes were up, the cognitive
> scientist told me the group OM topped that time
> he'd asked a cabbie in Tahoe to drive him
> somewhere weird and ended up at the Bunny Ranch
> while Marilyn Manson was visiting. I just nodded.
> The yogi told me his “Indian spiritual name”
> and bemoaned the fact that the world has
> “separated the clean chakras from the dirty
> chakras.” I took a deep breath and nodded
> Speaker after speaker, through the weekend, traced
> a path from despair to enlightenment, guided by
> the power of orgasm. The energetic and
> self-assured Van Vleck talked about how she had
> formed an elaborate plan to commit suicide before
> discovering OneTaste. Dr. Lakshmin recounted a
> failed marriage to husband who'd looked like J.
> Crew male model, and her subsequent
> self-discovery. Her Meetup.com profile now lists
> her as a member of the Radical Feminist Activists
> group, as well as the New York/New Jersey
> Polyamory Meetup Group and the New York Pick Up
> Artists group.
> At one point on Saturday afternoon, though, the
> immersive optimistic mood took an unwelcome turn.
> The speaker was Robbie Richman, the former Zappos
> culture strategist. Tony Robbins is among his
> other clients, so I expected light-hearted
> platitudes. The organizers played "Blurred Lines"
> for his intro, and he sang along, rigidly rolling
> his head: "Maybe I'm out of my miiiiiiiind."
> He had discovered OneTaste, he said, at one of its
> TurnOn events, which mimic the emotional ups and
> downs of OM the way the introductory "Who ARE
> You?" drills had. "I've done so much personal
> development work," Richman said, "and rarely have
> I had that feeling of shaking and fear."
> He followed up by phoning one of the OneTaste
> coaches. "She came up with this one line that just
> zapped me," he said. "She said, 'I think you're a
> predator masking around as a New Age nice guy.'"
> The audience cheered, as if they had heard the
> phrase before.
> The coach told him, he said, "We gotta get your
> beast out. We gotta get the beast out, and in
> order to do that we gotta turn up the heat, we
> gotta heat up the system to get that beast
> out...There wasn't a hesitation, I didn't even
> know what they were gonna charge. I just said,
> whatever she's gonna say, I'm gonna say yes."
> He'd been in therapy for anxiety for years, he
> said. "Nobody ever said to me: Maybe you're Just.
> Turned. On." Applause.
> But then he recounted his OneTaste experience,
> which began with his arriving at 1080 Folsom and
> turning over his clothes, cell phone, and keys.
> "Of course this is all by permission, this isn't
> forced," he said. They sent him "to the edge" of
> his comfort zone, he said, sending him out to the
> Tenderloin to talk to homeless people. Then came
> the "beast exercise": "It wasn't sex. It wasn't
> sexual. It was, we went to a room, and I had this
> desire to just like rip her limbs off, and it was
> interesting because I felt it all, and she felt it
> all, just screaming. But the interesting thing
> was, I was barely touching her."
> The approval had drained out of the room. You
> could hear the folding chairs creak. Sadism, it
> appears, was too off-brand for OMers. After all
> his self-discovery, Richman's stiff smile still
> looked like a mask that was about the crack. At
> the end of the conference, the white-haired yogi
> would tell me that when he witnessed these
> transformation stories, he could see both people
> at once: the one the speaker wanted to become, and
> the one they were.
> Richman concluded with a grand pronouncement: "It
> was this feeling of religion... And as a person
> who studies culture like me, that's one of the
> highest echelons, because religion involves the
> full body, the full spirit experience...And it's
> got its articles of faith, the principles of OM,
> that blow my mind. Principles that apply to life,
> not just orgasmic meditation. And this lifestyle I
> was starting to see, it resembles a monastery...
> Except rather than deprivation, it's to
> acceptance. It's to desire. It's to pleasure. It's
> to freedom. It's to connection."
> It made me appreciate how charming and skillfull
> Daedone is. Because coming out of Richman’s
> mouth, it sounded insane.
> Daedone was unavailable for interviews till the
> very end of the conference, after they'd handed
> out glow bracelets and insisted that everyone
> "agree to come down pleasurably." I asked her how
> she felt about cult accusations that followed her
> She stammered a bit, then opted for frankness: "If
> I were a person out there, and I heard about a
> group of people who were living together and were
> doing this practice where they were stroking
> genitals, I would probably think the same thing.
> Because I wouldn't have any context to understand.
> Because there IS no context for connection in our
> culture. There's no context for any kind of female
> pleasure. There's no kind of context for sexuality
> within a rigorous practice.
> "These things, as far as I know, have never been
> explored skillfully. Any time it's been explored,
> it's been sort of on the fringe. And that's one of
> the reasons why I absolutely wanted to bring it
> into the mainstream...because that stuff hurts,
> it's terrible, really terrible, because it's the
> OPPOSITE of what I want to do...One of the reasons
> why I wanted to bring it into the mainstream was
> so that there were checks and balances. Really,
> the model is Wikipedia, where everyone gets access
> and everyone puts their part in."
> Like the speakers she brought to the stage,
> Daedone has her own twisted road to enlightenment
> to share. When she was in her mid-20s, her father,
> who had always been a distant figure in her life,
> went to prison for molesting two girls. She said
> he never behaved inappropriately to her; they had
> long been estranged. At 27, she learned that he
> was dying of cancer and only had hours to live.
> That trauma propelled her to study at what she
> called a “mystery school of theosophical
> studies,” then graduating to Buddhism and
> celibacy before finding orgasmic meditation.
> Her desire now is for OneTaste "to go into the
> belly of the beast and begin to heal this trauma
> about misused sexuality." I asked her if it tied
> back to her relationship with her father.
> "Mmmhmmm," she murmured and softly nodded her
> head. “Yeah, I think amends in the world.
> There's this beautiful idea in somebody white's
> book—the idea that your darkest spot is actually
> what becomes your purpose.”
> The mainstream seemed, to many of the people I met
> at OMX, a bit out of reach. They also had
> something in their past that they were trying to
> work through, or some unnameable need. Jeremy, a
> skinny twentysomething from Austin, told me during
> one dinner break that after his first OneTaste
> experience, "this complete reckless behavior
> kicked in all of a sudden." He moved into the
> OneTaste house in Austin, with only $140 to his
> name, and decided he wanted to become a
> professional boxer or start his own gym. He
> weighed maybe a buck twenty.
> Others mentioned attending Tony Robbins seminars
> or Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, which
> teaches women "the art of receiving pleasure."
> "I just love the attention, and I think it helps
> you get better" another twentysomething kid told
> me, bugeyed and fidgety, on the sidewalk before
> the alcohol-free Saturday dance social. Did it
> feel like the company was a front encouraging some
> kind of sexual deviance? "There's plenty of sex
> among members of the community." But, he said,
> "it's a big deal around here not to use OM as
> foreplay. The OM itself is kept intact...If it's
> shady, it's as little shady as you're gonna get."
> "Sometimes its amazing and sometimes it's brutal,"
> a comedian who lives at 1080 Folsom and performed
> at the dance told me. "It's not for teenagers, you
> know what I mean? Its only probably the right
> place to play if you're an adult.”
> The normalizing effect of being surrounded by
> these people in a hyper-sexualized environment had
> warped my boundaries. At night, I would take the
> Muni back to my Airbnb—located across the street
> from Twitter’s Mid-Market headquarters—and
> collapse almost immediately from mental
> exhaustion. Before I boarded the bus, I made sure
> to take off my lanyard, which featured the words
> “AGENT OF ORGASM” above a picture of my face.
> The final comedown, after I exited the Regency for
> the last time, was brutal. It felt like Suicide
> Tuesdays after a drug binge, and I hadn't had
> anything but that lone Klonopin all weekend. In my
> Airbnb, I turned off all the lights, huddled under
> a blanket, ordered chicken soup on Seamless, and
> trolled Netflix for a romcom. In OneTaste’s
> teachings, "cracked open" is a state to aspire to,
> but outside the auspices of the conference, I just
> wanted to put myself back together.
> I was torn between a heady sense of liberation and
> an unease about why their spiel had worked on
> me—for the weekend, at least. I had just
> finished The Love Letters of Nathaniel P. on the
> plane ride to San Francisco. The book chronicles
> aspiring writer Nathaniel P. as he reduces a
> series of smart and capable romantic interests to
> a quivering pile of need. There were moments at
> OMX where I thought those female characters could
> use some time in a nest. On the other hand, the
> thought of describing "the container" at some book
> party in Brooklyn made me jump up and yank the
> blinds closed to block out the last gasp of the
> afternoon sun.
> Next morning, I headed over to Folsom Street. All
> weekend, I’d been hearing about the happy,
> glowing women walking out of the building there.
> For some people, it’s what led them to OneTaste.
> But when I got there, there was a young woman
> crying outside, as her friend comforted her. One
> of the OMers I ran into as soon as I walked inside
> was on his way to Harbin, the nudist hot springs a
> couple hours north.
> The comedian had invited me to drop by 1080, but
> as soon as I arrived, I was micromanaged by
> OneTaste employees. Dawson and Ratnathicam flanked
> me on the couch. After a few minutes, Ryan, who
> had been volunteering at the conference, sat down
> at the far end. Awkward introductions were made
> before everyone figured that we had, ahem, met
> twice. I could barely look him in the eye. I
> talked to the coaches about the swirling anxieties
> as soon as I left the Regency. "That a big part of
> what we teach—how to come down well," Dawson
> said. "That's part of the reason we have a
> I asked if any of the tech workers in SOMA were
> One Taste clients. “There are a lot of people
> who learned to OM that are not necessarily public
> about it," she said. "It might surprise you."
> Dawson responded to my questions politely. But
> even her face, now blank and guarded, looked
> different from the melting woman I saw after the
> Still there was something comforting about being
> around people who had been through the same
> strange trip. Who else is gonna listen to you
> share frames?
> The day after I returned to New York from San
> Francisco, I drove upstate to a house in the
> Catskills that I had rented with some friends. The
> next evening at their urging, and after a couple
> cocktails, I did a demonstration of the OM
> position, using a fellow guest as a prop. The
> re-creation stopped at the grounding pressure
> In the country chic living room, with my prop’s
> legs still splayed open, I looked up at my friend
> and her boyfriend, both of whom live in San
> Francisco, snuggled together on the oversized
> couch and asked—fingers mentally crossed—if it
> seemed like something that maybe possibly might
> catch on?
> “No," she said, immediately. "Absolutely not. It
> is definitively fringe.”
> Ryan emailed me twice in the ensuing months to
> tell me he was visiting New York City and ask,
> very politely, if I wanted to OM. “Remember, Yes
> or No are both acceptable answers,” he wrote. I
> couldn't bring myself to email him back.