.The Big OM

omMeet the daring locals who are turning Santa Cruz on to the controversial practice of Orgasmic Meditation       

It’s just a typical Tuesday night in Santa Cruz: All is quiet downtown, the streetlamps are casting their soft light on the mild autumn drizzle … and in an office building at the top of the Front Street Galleria, 22 adventuresome souls are listening intently as a woman expresses her desire “to have a man stick a finger up my ass.”

This confession hasn’t come out of nowhere, of course: As part of the “communication games” offered at TurnON Santa Cruz’s weekly events, one of the group’s leaders has asked everyone present to fill in the blank in the sentence, “A desire that is edgy for me is ____.” This meeting has been advertised as a forum for participants to “say those things we don’t normally say out loud,” and damned if it hasn’t delivered. Folks don’t pull any punches here: If a guy is getting an erection, the group might hear about it, and if a lady thinks it would be exciting to be penetrated by a man in the group, she’s likely to tell him so.

Mind you, tonight’s festivities won’t culminate in a free-for-all group grope—TurnON events consist strictly of PG-13-rated talk. That said, these Tuesday night meetings are an introduction to the distinctly un-PG-13 practice of Orgasmic Meditation (OM). OM is the keystone of OneTaste, a San Francisco-based, female orgasm-oriented organization founded in 2001 by Nicole Daedone, author of “Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm.” Along with Santa Cruz and San Francisco, OneTaste communities can be found in New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, London and various cities in Texas and Colorado.

To sum up the OM practice briefly: One partner strokes the upper left quadrant of the other partner’s clitoris for a precisely timed 15-minute period. Stroker and strokee both strive to remain as mindful as possible throughout the OM session. As with Tantric sex, climax is not the goal. In fact, OneTaste members will tell you that OM is a goalless activity, though there is an intent to extend the female orgasm (as distinct from climax; according to a blog at onetaste.us, OneTaste defines orgasm as “a feeling in your body that rises and falls whenever you feel absorbed in connection with another person”).

The connection between OM and TurnON Santa Cruz’s Tuesday night gatherings can be seen most plainly in the latter’s “hot seat” exercise, in which one member of the group answers questions posed by other participants. In effect, the other attendees treat that person as they would a clitoris, figuratively “stroking” her/him with varying levels of pressure via their inquiries. Though not all of the questions are sexually oriented, they are often of an even more intimate nature: “Can you love that part of yourself?” “Why do you hide how powerful you are?”

Local massage therapist/art model/caregiver Bella Melo, who was introduced to the OneTaste community by way of an OM-themed camp at Burning Man, says TurnON’s communication games have helped her remove some of her erotic blockages. “For example, I didn’t realize that I was downsizing my desires because I had guilt wrapped around them,” she notes. Since becoming aware of this guilt during a OneTaste event, she has been “more in touch with just allowing that feeling, that passion to run through my body, just wanting it, without any guilt surrounding it.”

Another participant—a children’s teacher who wishes to remain anonymous—explains that she appreciates TurnON as a space where she can be her full sexual self without fear of becoming prey. “I can be sexually powerful and not feel like I’m going to be objectified,” she notes, adding that after attending her first TurnON event, she looked past her initial skepticism and signed up for an all-day OM class in San Francisco. “I had never before had that kind of focused attention on my clit—this loving, channeled, direct, penetrating focus,” she recalls. “It almost made me cry: ‘I’m almost 50, and I’ve never experienced that before!’”

Get The TurnON
Local TurnON facilitator Bez Maxwell, the editor of OneTaste’s online publication orgasmdaily.us, took up the practice of OM about a year ago on a friend’s suggestion at a time when she needed some healing around her sexuality. She says she cried during about 80 percent of her first 50 OM experiences. “There’s something about just lying there and having such direct attention on my sexuality and on my femininity—it just shattered me,” she offers. “Being able to ask a man to touch me exactly how I wanted to be touched, and to have him listen and actually care and want to learn how to stroke me—not for me, but because he wanted to be more connected to humans, to be able to navigate women and be able to show up in the world—was unfathomable to me. It really blew me away.”

Maxwell works closely with TurnON facilitator Mireille Gale, who is currently training to become a certified OM coach. As a birth doula and student midwife, Gale hopes to bring OM to her clientele and to research the practice’s effects on birth outcomes, on the prenatal experience and on couple and family bonding before, during and after childbirth.

Gale says she attended her first OM class last December on a recommendation from Maxwell. A few months into her practice, she found herself in an OM session that yielded a profound release of trauma stemming from childhood sexual abuse. As emotions associated with past events arose during the OM, she pushed them out of her body as if giving birth. “I was making primordial, guttural sounds. It was very moving,” she recalls, adding that she felt the release of a huge chunk of trauma that had been stored in her cells. “In that moment, I knew that OM has the capacity to really connect people with very deep healing.” She is careful to note, however, that this practice is not a cure-all, nor is there any guarantee that everyone will benefit from it in the way that she did.

Whether or not it leads to trauma release, OM offers some fairly obvious benefits for women. But what about the other half of the species? While OneTaste does offer various courses for men, Orgasmic Meditation is, as lead OM instructor Ken Blackman once wrote, “unabashedly, unapologetically asymmetrical”: Its emphasis is unequivocally on the female’s pleasure.

Asked about this disparity, Maxwell offers, “I would say that much as men enjoy getting their genitals stroked, it’s not particularly challenging in the same way that it is for women. So part of the practice is putting people in a position that isn’t typical for them. There is also a desire within the foundation of the practice to upend the traditional subservient woman dynamic: please men, give to men, stay hungry.”

That’s not to say that the pleasure is all hers where OM is concerned. According to San Francisco’s Henry Debusmann, a certified OM coach who helped found the Santa Cruz OneTaste community, the sensation that a truly mindful stroker experiences through the finger can be as powerful as what the woman experiences through her clitoris. “I’ve had OMs that blow out of the water the amount of sensation that I feel in my body in sex acts, because you’re just that much more intentional, focused and attentive to what you’re experiencing,” he states.

While sensation is well and good—sometimes very good—there’s a conspicuous absence of romance, foreplay and flirtation in the practice of OM, which often takes place between total strangers. To the outsider, the notion of one partner sexually stimulating another for exactly 15 minutes while wearing gloves, only to depart when the timer goes off, might seem more than a little impersonal. Yet according to Debusmann, it’s just the opposite.

“The person’s finger is on the woman’s clitoris—it’s nothing but intimate,” he offers. “It’s pure intimacy as opposed to lack of intimacy, because you’re just feeling that person in that moment, and then it’s clean: You’re walking away from that connection without expectations, and it doesn’t come with the obligations, the commerce, the trades, the barters. If those two people want to come back together and do other things, awesome.”

“It’s liberating,” Maxwell interjects. “You get to have this very deep, profound and, yes, sexual experience, and you don’t have to do all the other things that our society puts on sex or the sexual experience. It’s not attached to sex; it’s not attached to romance. It’s a meditation practice, just like any other kind of practice that you do in your day-to-day life.”

If you’re having a hard time with the notion of clit rubbing as a meditative endeavor, you’re not alone: In a 2009 story on OneTaste, EnlightenNext’s Maura R. O’Connor described her futile efforts “to make the connection between an austere Zen monastery filled with silent monks meditating on emptiness and what I had just seen.” In explanation of the spiritual aspects of OM, Maxwell references a friend of hers who does traditional sitting meditation: “When I talk to her about OM, it feels like we arrive at very similar places [through our practices]: goalless-ness, observation without judgment, being with what is. Through OM, you learn how to actually feel what’s here: Is it hot? Is it sweet? Is it juicy? Is it slow? Is it fast? It can be equally as profound and spiritual to just get pounded as to get cuddled, depending on what wants to happen—what is present between the two people. What I’ve found is that by actually being with what’s here and not being with a façade or being with what I wish were, I have the most deeply spiritual experiences that I’ve had.”

Nevertheless, if there’s such thing as a “typical” community that combines sexuality with spiritual practice, OneTaste is a far cry from it. You won’t hear much Tantra-style talk of yonis and lingams among OM enthusiasts, who prefer more “charged” words like pussy and cock. And don’t let the organization’s emphasis on female pleasure lead you astray: This organization has no interest in teaching men to be subservient to women.

“In the OM practice, you realize—and a bazillion massage therapists will tell you the same thing—if you’re straining to relax your client’s muscle, your client is going to feel that rigidity, and they’re going to tense up,” Debusmann notes. “But if you’re relaxed, they’re going to feel your relaxation, and they’re going to relax.” The same, he says, is true of OM: Too much effort to please the woman will yield disappointing effects, but touching for one’s own pleasure will result in a transference of that pleasure. “And that’s what gets lost: The ‘nice guy’ tries to manufacture something for her—out of fear, out of desire, out of not being enough, or for whatever reason. The truth is that if they own who they are, and if they own their desire, then they create a container that somebody else can bounce up against, and then both people get to see who they are and experience that connection.” He cites studies that have shown that the vigilance center of the brain has to go dormant for a person to go into a state of orgasm. “If you don’t have a strong container, then it’s hard for your vigilance to shut down, and therefore it’s hard for you to relax and surrender.”

Maxwell offers a female perspective on this phenomenon: “To me, the reason that women date assholes, historically, is because we want to feel. They need a man who can hold them strong enough to take them there.” OneTaste aims to help create more of these kinds of men in our community. “Santa Cruz is full of a lot of nice guys, which is awesome, because they are sensitive, and they want to be respectful, but so much of the time, that backfires and turns into inactivity and not being able to penetrate women and not being able to take women into the involuntary, which is really what women are looking for.”

Come to the Dark Side …
The zeal with which event facilitators pitch OneTaste classes and seminars to individual newcomers at the end of TurnON meetings—not to mention the confrontational aspects of the communication games, which frequently bring participants to tears—might set off alarm bells for those on the lookout for signs of cultism. According to several former OneTaste members, such suspicions are not without cause. Among these claimants are Elana Auerbach and Bill Press, who told the New York Times in 2009 that they view their experience with the organization as a cautionary tale. “You stop trusting yourself and start trusting Nicole [Daedone],” Auerbach was quoted as saying.

More cult allegations abound on Yelp.com: “Straight up Waco shit going on in there, just with more group sex and yoga … I never thought I would ever have a story to whip out at parties about how I got temporarily trapped in a cult, referred to as ‘an outsider’ and had to physically make an escape”; “One time, while waiting around for someone who lives there, my wife and I were kicked out of the front office/waiting room by an older OneTaste cult member because we were, quote, ‘OUTSIDERS’”; “Just your basic sex cult with a clever urban twist. You’ll leave broke and possibly psychotic”; “Little more than a cult that uses sex as a lure. They charge $2,000 A WEEK to be resident there … oh, unless you’re a girl who can provide other ‘services.’”

Gale, who claims she hasn’t seen any signs of mind control or coercion during the approximate year she’s been with OneTaste, says the organization “would be more cult-y if people were just off in the backcountry practicing together, but instead, OneTaste has actually made it into a business and put itself out to the general populace, which, to me, makes it not a cult at all.”

If Nicole Daedone is indeed a cult leader, she is a well-trained one: According to an article that appeared in the San Francisco chronicle in 2011, she was once a student of Victor Baranco, founder of an alleged sex cult known as Lafayette Morehouse. Baranco, who has been accused by several former Lafayette Morehouse residents of using mind control techniques on community members, was one of three reputed cult leaders profiled in David Felton’s 1972 book “Mindfuckers” (the other two being Charles Manson and Mel Lyman, founder of the Boston community The Lyman Family). Baranco was the inventor of Deliberate Orgasm, which Daedone has renamed Orgasmic Meditation for marketing purposes. Daedone has named Baranco disciple Ray Vetterlein as her primary mentor in this practice.

While Daedone declined to be interviewed for this article, and OneTaste president Joanna Van Vleck did not respond to any of several phone messages, onetaste.us’ homepage does offer a statement that may serve as a response to the cult allegations of former OneTaste members. OM, it says, is intended for “emotional, spiritual, psychological, physical adults. This is one of the reasons that we do not ‘present’ as a spiritual institution, as many spiritual institutions are obliged to exist as a refuge from the world—a safe haven that will protect you. We are not that. We trust you can handle your emotions, your experiences, the world … and, unless you enter with a baseline of personal responsibility, it may not always feel safe.”

Gale echoes these sentiments: “This organization doesn’t coddle people. It’s for people who want to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for their own experience. It’s a practice for adults who come in consciously choosing to step out of their comfort zone and try something different. It’s not for everyone, but for people who are willing to take the leap, it has tremendous benefits.”

OneTaste Pleases All?
Regardless of whether OneTasters are cult victims or just sexual adventurers finding here-and-now-ness through physical bliss, they certainly can’t be accused of being faint of heart. It’s a hardy soul who can place oneself in the hands of strangers, surrender one’s vigilance and bare one’s private truths—let alone private parts—for all to see. This is no venture for the meek, nor is the OneTaste journey any kind of nonstop pleasure cruise.

According to Bez Maxwell, the beginning of an OM practice is especially tumultuous. “It brings up all the edges. It’s not all pleasant,” she notes, adding that this practice is by no means the gateway to wild group sex that many people might expect. In fact, she stopped having sex altogether during her first several months of OMing. “Every time I’ve been touched, it’s been way too hard,” she says. “Men have had no idea how to touch me; I had no idea how to ask for what I want. So it’s taken some rewiring to get to a place where I can actually have sex and enjoy it and feel truly touched.”

Nevertheless, Maxwell believes that the rewards of OMing make the hardships worthwhile. “I’ve gotten to the point where I let myself have things that I would never have imagined I could have before: the type of connection, the type of relationships, the kind of sex, my job. Just letting life be that good and letting ourselves be full is actually a big challenge that I want to support all women in experiencing.”

Gale claims that the practice of OM has given her increased confidence in herself, her body and her sexuality, while Debusmann says his experience with OneTaste has made him a more positive and empathetic person. “When you live in connection with other people where you do the hard work that it takes to stay connected, your spiky edges around your personality kind of get polished,” he notes. “You grow from that, and you learn how to relate with a greater diversity of people. You learn how to be who you are and also accept who they are.”

TurnOn Santa Cruz meetings take place every Tuesday night at 740 Front Street #315, Santa Cruz. The group will hold a panel discussion called Orgasmic Meditation Is… from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, November 17 and a day-long How to OM class on Saturday, November 23. For more information, go to turnonsc.us or onetaste.us/santa-cruz.  


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