OneTaste is rewriting our terms of engagement with female pleasure, one stroke at a time.
By Ava Kofman
April 25, 2013
On a crisp December afternoon on the Lower East Side of New York, Nicole Daedone is giving a lesson on “how to play a pussy like an instrument”—in this case, Rachel Cherwitz’s. The class crowds around the demonstration table where Rachel Cherwitz lies on her back, naked from the waist down, her legs spread open, knees supported by two plush pillows. Daedone puts on an apron before she wets the tip of her left index finger in the puddle of homemade lubricant she’s pooled onto her right forearm. Underneath her black apron, she is wearing a black long sleeve shirt, black leggings, and black boots with sharp pressurized heels.
Though Daedone has been called the “Jimi Hendrix of pussy stroking,” what is taking place is not a performance, but a practice—in both senses of the word. Daedone, 45, is the founder of OneTaste, a business dedicated to liberating female sexuality. The supine Cherwitz, 38, is Daedone’s employee and the director of OneTaste’s branch in New York. We, the people, are gathered here today to learn about Orgasmic Mediation—or OM—the central practice of OneTaste.
OM, like yoga, is a structured exercise with its own set of rituals focused on grounding the body in sensation at every moment. But unlike yoga and other spiritual programs that aim for transcendence through enlightenment, OM aims to cultivate the woman’s ability to receive and respond to pleasure. Its focus is not an etherealized corporeality but rather, a single stroke applied to the upper left quadrant of the clitoris for fifteen minutes. OneTaste claims that OM-ing frees the woman’s “orgasm” in order to allow her to access its energy, known as her “turn-on,” at all times.
I use scare quotes because it’s likely that what OneTaste means by “orgasm” is not what you think. To start, here’s a provisional, mixed-metaphorical definition (assembled from One Taste’s various promotional materials): Orgasm is the sensation of being plugged into an electrical socket at all hours, accessing a source of renewable energy and power hitherto unknown. In other words, OneTaste does not define orgasm as climax but as the body’s slow accumulation, recuperation, and release of sensation. Though “orgasm” is more simply done than said, better shown than told, I must now pause this demonstrative scene.
This self-consciously verbal coitus interruptus, so to speak, is well suited to start a story about delay. This overtly constructed cliffhanger is, in fact, especially fitting for a story that is also about manipulation, digression, and an indiscreet dose of indecision. As you might then guess, this is not one of those stories that aim to culminate in a perfect pyrotechnical climax, metaphorical or literal. It’s messier. Yet even with climax disavowed, the experience of “orgasm” still requires feeling the fire of flesh and yet here speak only words.
It would be a gross understatement to say that I don’t usually wake up early on the weekends to watch a woman undergo a rather loose definition of orgasm in a room full of strangers. Up until that weekend, the mere prospect of discussing female sexuality—let alone writing about it publicly—made me profoundly uncomfortable. Usually I cringe just typing the word “sex.” (Sometimes I still cringe, writing this now.)
Cringing, always cringing, we begin in July 2011 at the OneTaste outpost in San Francisco. More precisely, it begins with the Orgasm Pop-Up Shop, which I realize sounds like a conceit in a zany avant-pop smut novel, but was, in reality, an actual place, located directly across the street from the office where I worked. And while it lasted, the Orgasm Pop-Up Shop was extremely hard to miss.
The bright pink corner store stood out like, well, a big screaming orgasm in the largely lackluster corporate and financial district of what is otherwise the capital city of casual. Where there was once a Loehmann’s store selling shoes for men, there was now—with the addition of white-on-pink “wo” letters taped onto the front of the old store’s signage—a woman’s store.
OneTaste’s mission to promote the word Orgasm’s diverse and at times divergent polysemy was reflected in the set-up of the store. A large poster in the southern display window explained: “Orgasm is ________…. a pop up store, a living art gallery, a book store (buy Slow Sex), a place where women can come and define their own orgasm (men welcome too).” Hundreds of smaller horizontal pink posters printed with “Orgasm is ______” covered the rest of the outer display windows. Visitors to the store were encouraged to fill in these blanks with chalk, and their answers ranged from the scripture of fervent apostles to the apothegms of agnostics:
“Orgasm is simple, not easy.”
“Orgasm is SATURATION.”
“Orgasm is desire.” (In cursive).
“Orgasm is my BFF.”
“Orgasm is OK. Can be great.”
“Orgasm is hard to do with two little KIDS.”
“Orgasm is my Italian food.” (Also cursive, italics theirs.)
“Orgasm is over rated.”
“Orgasm is The Bee’s knees.”
“Orgasm is vulnerable.”
“Orgasm is LO MEJOR!!”
The ambitious, and somewhat outré, range of these definitions is no accident. Any literate passerby, just from seeing the scattering of signs on the store’s south side, could immediately learn that this was a space that gave orgasm’s various interpretations and multilingual meanings equal consideration. It was inevitable, then, that even the most prudish of passerby, passing this publicity stunt of a store three, sometimes four, times a day—on the way to work, on a break from lunch, and when the day was over—would, one July day, walk through its doors. As a pilgrim disembarks from the Mayflower onto strange new shores, I stumble into the store, wide-eyed, one afternoon.
As the walls inside are plastered with the same “Orgasm Is…” posters as outside, the interior already has a familiar feel. OneTaste employees mull about, smiling and answering questions. A calendar of events offers “live sculpture,” “erotic open mic,” and hatha yoga—none of which, to my great relief, are currently taking place. In the back-left corner, a large pink photo-booth has been turned into a makeshift confession box, where you can put on a disguise to reveal your deepest desire. Eugh, no thank you!
Free artisanal chocolate samples are strategically placed next to copies of Nicole Daedone’s then-new book, Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm. Someone with a big smile asks if she can help me with anything. “I’m just looking,” I say, and pretend to busy myself with the book’s dust-jacket summary. “The truth is: most women do not have satisfying sex lives,” Daedone writes. My cheeks turn red. I regret this decision immediately but do not—cannot—stop reading. “…This life altering guide teaches men and women how to use the practice of Orgasmic Meditation…The promise: in just fifteen minutes every woman can become orgasmic. And, with the right partner and the right technique, that orgasm could last and last!”
The first time I see Daedone in person is on a windy July evening during the pop-up store’s weekly “Hour with Nicole Daedone.” The female-to-male ratio is, to my surprise, fairly equal. But I guess I find the whole situation surprising. If there is a target audience for this sort of talk, I don’t exactly fit the bill. I do not, as many of OneTaste’s clients report, feel hopeless about relationships, nor have I had a lifelong lack of sexual satisfaction—being eighteen. Then again, if an unwashed mass of graying New Age-y tantric devotees still riding the Sixties’ wave of sexual liberation was the “San Francisco Sex Event” stereotype, this crowd did not fit the bill, either. The thirty or so men and women range from their late 20s to early 40s but look younger than their years. These are people who have their hair done and shower regularly. They are relaxed and clean, without being clean-cut.
Justine Dawson, a radiant blonde with a vaguely Canadian vibe, introduces Daedone. Dawson’s job is to help convey the image of OneTaste as a “clean, well-lighted place for sexuality,” and her cheerful demeanor certainly helps.
Then, Daedone enters with a smile and sits down on a tall stool. The camera has been placed so as to capture her sitting in front of three poster boards that, with the concision of Reagan’s message of the day, display the words: “Attention,” “Simplicity,” and “Desire.” She’s dressed business-casual chic: nice slacks, dark blue blazer, and white blouse, whose top buttons open to show the top of her breasts. Her long brown hair curls past her shoulders and waves a little when she talks.
Tonight, she tells us, will be a “State of the Union of orgasm.” Though the proposed topic for the night was “Man–Woman Dynamics Made Simple,” Daedone says she will speak off the cuff instead. She begins with an anecdote, paying no mind to the microphone falling off the cusp of her blouse, which Dawson scurries back to readjust. The story is a cappio benevolante—a concerted rhetorical effort to break the ice—and it works. Earlier today, she tells us, she was interviewed by a reporter from the Guardian. At first, the reporter’s demeanor was formal and somewhat stiff. Yet during the course of the interview, the reporter “dropped the script.” In telling us this didactic tale, Daedone is trying to reinforce the idea that “talking off the cuff” is better than reading off a script and to encourage us to join her in these efforts. But her confidence is disarming and beguiling to this similarly stiff reporter.
Without ever breaking her train of thought, Daedone makes extensive use of eye contact. People say that when you talk to Bill Clinton you feel as though you are the only person in the room. Daedone’s undeniable charisma is akin to the Clinton effect, if not more intense: her words seem meant for you and only you. Each sentence feels like the unveiling of a secret you didn’t even know you were keeping. She kind of scares me, I scribble in my notebook.
What Daedone promises to teach us is how to get from thought, an altered state of being, back to orgasm, an original state of feeling. Her goal is not to magnify the same old “1-10 sliding scale” but to show us a whole “different plane” of existence, another universe. By now, the warmed-up crowd has sounded many “ah’s” and “mm’s.” I am barely lukewarm; I don’t really know what she’s talking about.
She tells us the biggest misunderstanding people have when they come to learn about Orgasmic Meditation is the difference between orgasm and climax: climax is a subset, not a necessary ingredient, of orgasm.
Most guys would love to practice OM, she contends, but women, myself included, have been conditioned to imagine that this would never be the case. Partners are not supposed to be boyfriends. In fact, OM partners can be of either gender, and sexual orientation does not need to factor into how partners are chosen. They only need to be acquaintances that the OM-er knows, likes and trusts. She finds it “ridiculous” that women often complain about finding a partner: “Go around and ask any guy, ‘Would you be willing to spend years learning to stroke my pussy?’” In conventional society, she explains, women are trained to sacrifice: to take less, to talk less, to ask for little. “Taking your pleasure,” she’s now looking directly into my eyes, “is sexy.” I return her gaze—unsteadily.
When she finishes the talk, she opens the floor for questions, offering to translate what you say into what she hears. She tells us she had been training, prior to the practice of OM, to receive a Ph.D. in semantics. The asker must stand at the mike and speak their question directly to Daedone. Daedone will take some time to think, occasionally closing her eyes and avoiding eye contact in order to give “the truthful answer” rather than the answer they expect to hear. Then, after a long, drawn-out pause, Daedone, the High Priestess, will disentangle the latent content from the wisdom seeker’s manifest words.
A short squat woman, who has loudly “mm”-ed and “ahh”-ed throughout the talk in jubilant affirmation of Daedone’s every word, has prepared her question by writing it down on a notepad. My prediction—that her question is actually just a personal statement—comes true. The woman tells us about her failed marriage and her fear of attachment. “Orgasm,” she concludes, “is my drug.”
Another woman with curly hair says she wishes her boyfriend were more intelligent about her needs. “So he’s dumb?” Daedone asks her sharply, her s’s near-sibilant. She doesn’t respond, so Daedone presses her again: “You have an emotionally stupid boyfriend?”
“Well…” the woman with curly hair starts to fidget on stage. I feel nervous on her behalf, but she doesn’t really seem offended by Daedone’s blunt delivery.
“Have you ever just tried calling him a sniveling dumb idiot?” Daedone asks her. The woman with curly hair says no. Daedone prescribes her a “three-day diet of radical honesty.” She adds, “It’s a way to take some of the power out of the belief that your thoughts matter.” This is great stuff, I scribble. Even though the theatrics that accompany these acts of semantic interpretation are distracting, Daedone isn’t doling out bullshit. Her pose is oracular, but her answers are astute. I admire, and fear, her straightforward directness. I’ve never seen anything like it.
As the hour nears its end, the orgasm-is-my-drug woman wonders aloud whether Slow Sex will be released as an audiobook. She explains her reasoning, though we certainly haven’t asked: “I don’t have time in my sex life to read.”
Perhaps I have the opposite problem: I find myself with plenty of time to read Slow Sex and to research OneTaste. What, then, was the Orgasm, this new turn-on? And who was Daedone, this woman who hoped to change the world one stroke at a time?
I begin to look more deeply into OneTaste’s history. I learn that the organization started as a sexual commune in a brick building at 1080 Folsom Street in San Francisco. In OneTaste’s earlier incarnations, those who lived at the commune researched and practiced, through trial and error, the art of OM together for eight years behind closed doors. In Daedone’s earlier career incarnations, she had tried many paths from being an Orthodox rabbi to a Zen nun to an aspiring professor.
In her last decade at OneTaste, Daedone has acquired over 10,000 hours of practice from OM-ing up to five times a day every day. It wasn’t until 2008, when Daedone saw the beginnings of a sensory consensus emerge from 1080 Folsom (as OneTaste was then colloquially called), did she begin to work to distill and refine this research into the most marketable formula possible.
Like many a charismatic leader before her, Daedone was interested in finding the right ordinary language to convey extraordinary—arguably extrasensory—experience. The OM-er is encouraged to use “frames”—fly-over snapshots that use simple sensory vocabulary to describe experience. (Some examples of “frames” Daedone has given in the past include, “I felt this cold vibrating shiver that moved down my toe and felt my leg expand,” and, “There was a moment when electricity shot into my pussy and made it feel like a ripe fruit.”) The struggle, she said, was in distilling “profound deep experience” from “these crazy high-level abstractions…into everyday language.” Her method of speaking both to “someone who has no idea what a meditative state is” and to someone in those states who “could know what I was talking about as well and still gain something new” is analogous to the way jokes in cartoons like Looney Toons speak simultaneously to children and adults.
I am drawn to these attempts to describe the indescribable, because isn’t that what language is always doing through imperfect mediation? And weren’t we always failing at taking in feeling and experience, and distilling and reducing it through an imperfect series of correspondences, of abstractions? And wasn’t Daedone, through her deluge of metaphor, ingeniously revealing the artificial process of metaphor formation that underlies all attempts at articulation? And couldn’t there be another way, even if only for a short time every day, where we just tried to feel, instead of trying to explain (and therefore diminish) feeling?
Maybe I’m overthinking it again.
“…Hello,” I say, when Daedone picks up the phone for our interview. “I’m—um—the—um—reporter from the—”
She cuts in: “I know.”
“Great, well, um—”
Two weeks after first visiting the store in July 2011, Daedone answers my (mostly abstract, anxiously delivered, constantly apologetic) questions. She explains to me, patiently, that her vision of a world where OM is the norm is not supposed to be utopic but “very simple.” This pan-OM world “would be very subtle,” she continued, “and it would have to do with people’s willingness to actually connect with the human being that is in front of them.”
When I ask her whether OM devalues intelligence by favoring the human body over the brain, she tells me I still don’t get it. While it’s true that Daedone’s theories are woven together from previous philosophical interrogations of the psyche (from tantric Buddhism to Lacanian psychoanalysis), to trace the genealogical intersection between these threads of thought would be to miss the point. She says that the philosophy she uses to communicate her ideas is, like her sexuality, always evolving. The story of orgasm requires constant fine-tuning, adventure, and experiential revision.
Yet she cautions me that OM is not storytelling or language. For those who work at OneTaste, OM is not just another way of being; rather, it is that which fundamentally constitutes what being is. She tells me OM prefers affect to meaning, body to brain, the sensible to the rational, the flow of energy to the clench.
And yet, OM-ers or not, as we all live in a social speech community, Daedone acknowledges that stories and words and books are the best tools available to ease people into the ineffable OM experience. She says she will have succeeded when OM becomes an accepted phrase in everyday conversation, “when you hear yoga, mediation, and orgasm in the same sentence—without whispering orgasm.” Yet as of now, the OneTaste orgasm is still “misunderstood,” still on the edges of culture, the margins of comprehension.
“Rather than just get angry, it’s my responsibility to keep doing this translation and keep doing this translation until I see the light under the door,” Daedone tells me, an hour into our talk. “There is a often a point in interviews where all of a sudden I’ll see a light go on and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, this is what you’re talking about!’ and I’ll be like ‘Yeah that’s it, or at least, that’s the beginning of it.’ And then we have a platform for the conversation to build.”
My frame: “…”
During the winter of 2011 I spend some time transcribing said interview but stop writing this story because I don’t know what I want to say or how to say it or what I want. I add “writing the story” to the bottom of an endless list of tasks I keep meaning to finish. Another school year ends. I grow older, sort of.
But privately, I wonder whether there has ever been light under my version of the “door” Daedone speaks of. I doubt the room behind my door even has a light-switch, but I can’t say for certain as I’ve never been inside. The door is always locked.
In May 2012 I see Daedone speak again in person, this time in Los Angeles. She wears a black dress and black pumps. Since I’ve seen her last summer, she’s cut her hair shorter, dyed it beach-blonde, and reports having reached an entirely new place in her sexuality. Ever since she ended things with her fiancé in January, her sexuality has only gotten “bigger and bigger.” Now, she’s participating in a year of living non-monogamously. She does “a song and dance” that for the sake of brevity can be summarized by the refrain, “My pussy is a hunter—I like to hunt a lot of things,” and at one point quotes her favorite statistic: only 20% of women report feeling pleasure during sex, as opposed to 80% of men.
My notes on OneTaste are wry and detached. That summer, I keep telling my editor that the story is “interesting” and that I am “interested” until I rub all the sensuous meaning out of that word and it become the worn-out image on the back of an old coin. “Interested” is my cover. “Interested” is a facile, hollow, and dishonest way of describing the way I truly feel: enchanted, repulsed, and slightly uncomfortable.
In retrospect, this entire reportorial guise strikes me as highly ironic. I was asking analytical questions and then failing to listen to the feeling in their answers. Through my desire to define myself exclusively as “a reporter” I had failed to notice the most essential reason for this story’s existence: my own experiences as a woman.
A third city is the charm to break this spell. On the last Friday night of November 2012, I go to hear Daedone speak at a yoga center in the East Village. The long, wide room is filled with a hundred folding chairs that face a kind of altarpiece: two festive door panels placed behind a high, cushioned leather chair. The High Priestess, it seems, will return to a clean, well-lit throne.
I take a seat next to two girls my own age, Ana Lieberman and her partner Lindsay, both dressed in a motley of mismatched silk patterns. No, I tell them, I have not OM-ed before. “You should totally do it,” Ana says encouragingly. So flippant is their unassuming delivery, so undogmatic is her authority as my peer, that her words are the most convincing endorsement I’ve heard: “There’s no reason for anyone in the world who has a clitoris not to.”
Tonight, Daedone appears more confident and, though it doesn’t seem possible, somehow even more sexualized than when I’d last seen her in May. Before I begin to guess why, she tells us: she has reached yet another level in her sexuality. Her accumulation of now countless experiences of “unconditional sex” in her year of “living non-monogamously”—which ends this January and will form the contents of her second book—has made her a “free woman.” Where in May she described “all the lights turning on” in her body, this November her body now feels like “sound barrier breaking open.”
She promises us, a crowd of about 150 people, a “freeform, interactive lecture.” By now I’ve come to realize that this seemingly spontaneous choice to “go off script” is rather a rehearsed tendency. Knowing this time that Daedone deliberately seeks to provoke and unsettle—she more or less admits this during every appearance she makes—I find the contents of tonight’s talk more amusing than shocking.
She opens the night with a version of the “My pussy is a hunter” speech that I heard in Los Angeles. She’s added a little bit of dance this time around, framing her crotch with her two hands in a demonstration of how she “aims” her sexual power. “I’m on the edge of my pussy’s leash,” she tells us. “My pussy says, ‘Let’s go to Trader Joe’s.’” She then mimes walking a small dog for a few seconds before delivering the punch line: “I don’t even shop at Trader Joe’s!”
Again, she clarifies for us OneTaste’s age-old distinction: climax is a signifier, a temporary symbol, of orgasm, which is endless and inexhaustible. (Given her background in semiotics, I wonder if this could be a reference to the way Paul De Man frames the relationship between symbolism and allegory. Just as quickly, I disregard this connection as a stretch, wondering if abstraction is literally the only lens through which I’m able to “read” her non-textual world.)
When I tune back in, she is gesturing with her hands, as she is wont to do, to help demonstrate how orgasmic mediation dissolves all difference between stroker and strokee. She makes a straight line with her hand as she calls orgasm a “direct path” to others and a “profound portal” to the body. Two women seated in the left section of the audience begin to cry. “What DSL did for the internet,” Daedone continues, “orgasm does for human connection.” Lindsay’s face is struck with happiness and her arms rise up involuntarily, as though greeted by Daedone’s libidinal spirit. “Oh my God,” Lindsay whispers, “oh my God.” Though still unstruck by a holy ghost, I’m becoming more inclined to believe what Daedone says. I’m getting used to her calculatedly shocking rhetoric.
After Daedone finishes speaking, Rachel Cherwitz, OneTaste coach and director of OneTaste New York, takes the stage to encourage us to sign up for the OneTaste OM class tomorrow. The class will begin, she says, with a talk and quasi-group counseling session with Daedone, after which we will break for lunch; after lunch, Daedone will give a “live demonstration” of OM, an experience Cherwitz likens to a “concert with a virtuoso”; then, Cherwitz herself will give an in depth “how-to” of OM; at the end of the day, for those who want hands-on practice, there will be an “OM lab.”
As the crowd disperses, milling around the yoga studio’s candle-scented lobby, I double-check with Cherwitz to make sure I heard her correctly. I am assured once, and then twice, that all participants will have their clothes on throughout the entire day until the hands-on lab component of the class, which, yes, as she said, will be entirely optional. Only those who wish to OM will return after the brief fifteen-minute break. I do not have to make this decision until the end of tomorrow’s class.
Ninety-seven dollars later, I am told to arrive at the 6th Street Community Center on the Lower East Side tomorrow by 9:30 a.m. Doors will close at 10 a.m. sharp.
Saturday at 9: 44 a.m., when I am less than a half-block away, I get a text from “James at OneTaste,” reminding me, again, to be on time to the OM Class. For an organization that’s supposed to teach relaxation, they run a tight ship. At the registration table, I sign a waiver stating that I understand that the material “may be controversial” and that OM is in no way meant to replace therapy. I am then led into a room of 30 strangers, always an intense and unnerving experience, chatting over coffee. Two rows of chairs have been placed in a semicircle around a central demonstration area.
I take a seat in the back row, trying not to make eye contact with anybody, which most likely means I have made strange and flighty eye contact with nearly everybody, including the guy sitting across the room from me in his mid-twenties who now walks towards where I am sitting to ask, I presume, if the seat next to mine is taken. I’ve rightly guessed the nature of his question but not his tone or attitude. To my great surprise, he has the same soft-spoken manner as Elijah Wood. And to my great relief, he turns out to be one of the most earnest human beings I’ve ever met. His name is Andrew* and he works as a life coach for youth and teens.
He asks me if my interest here is purely for journalistic or is also personal. I begin to build yet another coy fortress around my discomfort, but it now feels disrespectful, not only to myself, but also to OneTaste’s radically honest ethos. Dissolving my smug boundaries, I tell him the truth: it’s both.
Just then, Daedone walks in. In a slight departure from her usual step-by-step physical breakdown of orgasm, she lays out orgasm’s mental roadmap. “Ambivalence” and “friction,” she says, are key reactants in orgasm’s psychic formulation. What she calls “mindfucking”—the feeling of constant oscillation between desire and repulsion—is the potential energy of orgasm itself. In a voice of mock panic, she imitates mindfuck’s central question: “Do I want to do it? Do I not want to do it?”
For me the panic is all too real. While writing this piece, I’ve felt this question—Yes or No? (e.g. to OM or not to OM?)—swell with expectant energy. As a student, I am unsure, have always been unsure, if I actually want to learn how to live at all times in the sentient spiritual part of my body, as opposed to in my head.
Daedone, as if she’s read my mind, then proceeds to ask everyone in the room to go around the circle and explain what they “want” to learn and what brings them here. Each new voice shakes the room with the urgency and familiar return of something crashing down from the sky…
They were here because they were lonely; because they never got any time alone; because they had no girlfriend; because they had a boyfriend and also some girlfriends on the side; because they were old now, nearing sixty, and still wanted to pick up younger chicks; because they had a “big wet crush” on Nicole; because they wanted very badly to sleep with and inside Nicole; because their sex was too large and they were scared to unleash its feminine power; because it was not; because they were here to fully express themselves without “a cork bubbled in”; because they struggled to show up sexually; because they were no longer able to distinguish anyone from anything; because most days they didn’t feel alive; because they wanted to be vulnerable; because their fear of abandonment was a black hole and it wasn’t serving them anymore; because they were scared of disappointment; because they had disappointed others; because they needed to learn to receive instead of to give, or they were Mr. Nice Guy, or they were too cute for their own good, or they smiled too often; because they’d internalized bondage; because they were a “predator who presented as prey”; because they were “terrified little rabbits” who wanted to fuck like big rabbits; or because of fear—Nicole said—because of fear.
I, too, was there, because I was scared. And I am scared to pause the tape of my skeptical, self-conscious censor.
But it was not solely my fear, not solely women’s fear, but the fear of us all. The fear of rejection, of trying something new, a moral fear, a familiar fear, the fear that eats the soul, the fear of unleashing America’s favorite pastime—sex—from, arguably, its favorite value judgment—shame. It was the fear—Nicole said—of “letting go to our true selves.”
“Part of the OM practice is owning these aspects of our being,” she said in response to our wants. “OM is an instruction manual for how to get yourself out of your own mind.” With orgasm, she says, we can achieve happiness, enjoyment, timelessness; we can be absorbed in consciousness without self-consciousness. She says, “Your judging mind is your torture, your suffering.” She’s right. I’ve noticed that this is a story about the body that has, paradoxically, been reported solely through the mind.
Daedone explicitly promises to do “everything humanly possible” to get us out of these heads, to move us from “objectively looking at reality to experiencing it.” Rather than reading from a French book (this is the analogy she uses) she will bring us to France. Her preference for immersion over theory is not simply pedagogical; it is necessary. At the end of the day, literally, people are here not only to listen, but also to learn. Daedone prescribes us all “time on the mat.” In the beginning, sure, there was the Word, but not long after, there was Word made flesh.
“For me,” she says, “everything comes down to OM-ing—a visceral experience that the rational cannot explain.”
But try and explain it I will. So let’s continue with our December afternoon demonstration where we left off: the class has just crowded around the table where Cherwitz lies naked on her back. Daedone has just put on her apron. (Too much of her clothing has been ruined from coming into contact with lube in the past.) The time has finally come for Daedone, the maestro, to conduct her symphony—which she describes as “more heavy metal than Satie.” She says she will narrate each of her steps so that we can better understand what we’re seeing. I am too entranced to appreciate how much easier this will make my incessant scribbling of notes.
She begins by placing one hand on Rachel’s thigh, linking her thumb to the base of the introitus—the area of penetration—and slightly raising Rachel’s clitoral hood, which has been rushing with blood. She tells us that “butterfly contractions” are already beginning to take place inside Rachel’s vagina. She likens the contractions to the eye’s fluttering vibrations during REM sleep. What on earth is she talking about? We lean in for a closer look—
With her lubricated right forefinger, she begins to lightly brush, with no more intensity than one would use to stroke an eyelid, the upper left quadrant of Rachel’s clitoris. Rachel immediately responds, moaning with pleasure.
What Daedone is trying to do with each upward and downward stroke is produce “a state of continuous orgasm.” She likens the process to increasing through friction the amount of static electricity on the surface of a balloon. (The more anatomical definition Daedone gives of orgasm might be useful here: “the capacity to immerse in involuntary musculature.”)
Eyes closed, mouth half open, Rachel is free of rational thought. She concentrates only on the sensation of each soft stroke as her labia swell and darken. Later that afternoon, Rachel will describe having felt an electrical, tingling sensation throughout her whole body, like a warm wave of liquid flowing over. But for now, she only incants in steady, staccato intervals, “Oh…oh….oh…”
For her part, Daedone is crouched over Rachel’s body like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Rocking forward and backward, she increases the intensity of her stroke, and Rachel’s moans modulate in pitch to the notes of a high contralto. “Oh…oh…oh…oh.” Daedone, later that afternoon, will describe the sensation in her pointer finger as electricity moving through the body getting “brighter and brighter and brighter.” Rocking back and forth, back and forth, the heels of her tall black boots begin to clack against each other. Clack clack clack clack. Rachel enters her third minute of continuous orgasm. “Oh…oh….oh…oh.” Clack clack clack. It makes for a strange little song.
As highly experienced OM partners, Daedone and Rachel bypass verbal communication. Instead, they connect directly through the limbic system, the neural network of the body that deals with instinct. When all goes well in OM, both stroker and strokee ostensibly experience the same unified orgasm. Daedone likens this feeling of one-ness to a saying of Carlos Santana’s: “You don’t know if you’re playing an instrument or if the instrument is playing you.”
Indeed, Daedone too is soon seized by sound: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...” As Daedone leans in even closer, one foot flies up into the air like a flamingo’s. The side of her head now touching Rachel’s thigh shakes like a mare’s. Animated by intense concentration, her face contorts and contracts like a pirate’s: one eye shut, the other squinting, her mouth clenched in a smile that is also a grimace. For some seconds now, it has seemed that she’s shredding a guitar at a heavy metal concert.
Whatever she has just done with her finger has now caused Rachel’s sounds to shift into the clipped vowel: “Ah ah ah ah ah…” The class stares with rapt attention and sighs with admiration. The eyes of a few women in the room are filled with tears of hot emotion. (Earlier that morning Daedone had warned us: “You’ll often see women crying. That’s orgasm coming out of their eyes.”)
Now Rachel has just entered yet another peak. Her big and little toes, like the tiny cogs of a watch, halt and dip and twirl independent of each other in clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Her index finger quivers. The rest of her supine body lies still. Hers is not a writhing paroxysm but a meditative ecstasy. For a moment, the room is suspended in total silence.
Then some new gear clicks into place and Rachel’s moans grow faster and higher. “Ah ah ah ah ah ah.” All the while the moans beep with the rapidity of a stimulated heart monitor and clack clack clack the boot heels dance.
After a minute, Daedone slows down and deepens the pressure in her finger. This is what is called the “sex stroke,” she says. Rachel lets out a low throaty moan. Smiling, Daedone explains that she is “grounding” Rachel. She is preparing her to “come down” through centering their energy. Though Rachel’s mouth is still wide open, it emits no sound. With the same precise control with which she began the OM ten minutes before, Daedone ends the demonstration.
The room buzzes with a sharp, heady excitement. Some women wipe away tears. Some exhale in awe and stress. Some sigh in empathy. My frame: ice, slightly thawing.
Rachel sits up. Her face glows.
The expected—and boring, so boring—ending for this story would be to say that in the heat of the room’s tumescent glow, everything finally clicked. That suddenly I too glowed, in touch with my innate orgasmic power, struck with divine unthinking insight. That something inside of me turned on like “a light-switch,” as Daedone once said of her own awakening in her 2011 TEDxSF talk. But I warned you at the start that this story would be less Book of Revelations, more Deuteronomy. No, I had no freakish instant of picnic lightning; I did, however, reach new sensible understanding through the gentle accumulation of knowledge.
It was one thing to watch Daedone in action, but it was totally another experience to listen to 40 voices articulate variations on the same themes: doubt, desire, feelings of raw achy longing, like something bursting in the chest. (Thus Jennifer, a small Indian woman who looked fifteen but was actually thirty-five: “I, like everyone here, am a little bit uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be uncomfortable anymore.”)
These people talking could have been my neighbor or my cousin’s neighbor. Voices I’d vaguely heard at some point in my life but to which I wasn’t able to attach a body, as if their words sounded from outer space. Voices that are echoes of fears located beyond the brain. In those familiar voices I could contemplate myself, at a remove, as if watching myself in a mirror.
We had come because, yes, we had listened to that fear. But we had stayed because we then met others who could relate. A woman with a weepy face, Eleanor, put it well when she said, “A lot of us have said each other’s truths.” Whereas the activation energy between word and action had previously loomed too large to overcome, I felt today, with mutual support, encouraged to lower its barrier, and my own.
“What I didn’t expect,” said the oldest man in the room, the one who was here because he still wanted to pick up younger women, “is that I’d meet a group with such a high consciousness and awareness.” Yes, I jot down, exactly. We listened to ourselves listen to each other. The same thought, though perhaps at different moments in the day, crossed the room: No, I’m not the only one. Daedone estimated, when we had spoken on the phone over a year ago, that she’s been asked by an infinite number of women, “What’s wrong with me?”
Before I leave at the end of the day, I go to say goodbye to Andrew. Where was I going before the OM lab started, he asks. Back to New Haven so soon? Then, he asks the Question. It’s the question I know he’s been planning to ask me all day long.
“Maybe…I don’t know,” I tell him, but it feels as though I haven’t yet spoken. My mouth moves to make out a more definite answer to his question, my lips reach to use some of Daedone’s words, and yet my thoughts travel under the speed at which the sound barrier shatters. My mind is somewhere else.
I remember that in Daedone’s opinion this mental tension is called “mindfuck.” And that this “mindfuck” is the essential precursor to an orgasm “waiting to happen.” If this is the case, I’m full of potential energy, practically unstable. All I need to do is say the word. But my head just keeps spinning.
“What about you?” I ask Andrew, now milking the mindfuck for all of its mileage. He says yes—of course—he says yes. He’s been describing his excitement for the lab in earnest all day. Filled with shyness, the ropes of my stomach begin to twist into thick knots.
And suddenly, the door to something, some room inside me somewhere—it really felt this vague—starts slightly to open. This is it, I think, this is my moment of epiphanic self-realization. And I don’t know what’s about to be illuminated, and I’m desperate for it to unlock or explode, but when the door opens…it opens outward—and I realize I’ve been inside the room this entire time: that my endless and impossible journey towards orgasm was, for now, my orgasm. Sensation still remains unspoken. But mind did stroke word. And yes I said yes I will Yes.
*At the request of OneTaste, names have been changed to respect the privacy of those enrolled in the OM class.
Ava Kofman is a junior in Yale College. She is a contributing writer for Broad Recognition.