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Nicole Daedone pulls her long dirty-blond locks into a bun, rolls up the sleeves of her crisp white dress shirt and readies her lube. On the table in front of her there is a woman, naked only from the waist down, with her knees spread wide. The 40-something founder of OneTaste, a center dedicated to “mindful sexuality,” is about to give a live and impromptu demonstration of orgasmic meditation (“OMing” for short) in a conference room at the sophisticated Le Meridien hotel in San Francisco. She takes a long look between the volunteer’s legs and enthuses to the audience of roughly 40 women: “Oh my god, it’s beautiful. It’s an electric rose color. The swelling is already beginning.”
Before long, Daedone is hunched over and vigorously stroking the woman’s most sensitive “spot” — the “upper left quadrant” of the clitoris — with just her forefinger. The recipient moans wildly as though she is being taken over by a spirit and Daedone urges her on: “Good girl. Good, good. Reach, reach, reach, reach.” As the woman’s groans peak, Daedone lets out a throaty exhalation that sounds like it belongs in a Lamaze class. Two audience members overcome by the intensity of the performance are silently crying. The demonstration, which is part of a weekend-long women’s retreat, continues for 15 minutes.
It is both arousing and deeply bizarre.
It isn’t every weekend that I find myself watching a woman being repeatedly brought to orgasm in front of a live audience — but I hardly expected normality when I asked to sit in on the workshop. Instead, I was hoping to get a candid view at Daedone ahead of the release of her book, “Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm,” which attempts to market her meditative practice to a broader audience. That is a challenging task when your practice involves a bunch of clothed men (and sometimes women) gathering in a room and manually stimulating half-naked female “research partners” for exactly 15 minutes. Two years ago, a New York Times feature detailed the eyebrow-raising practices at OneTaste’s “urban retreat center” in the wacky woo Bay Area and described Daedone as “a polarizing personality, whom admirers venerate as a sex diva, although some former members say she has cultlike powers over her followers.” Since that high-profile coverage, OneTaste has become a bit more circumspect, but clearly not so much as to bar spontaneous OMing demonstrations — and at an event initially advertised as including no “sexual activity.” (But, you see, Daedone has a tendency to go off script — that or appearing so is part of her script, it’s hard to say.)
Dig beneath the freaky OMing exterior and the core of her message is very marketable to the mainstream. Consider the demand for “female Viagra,” a product estimated to have a $2 billion market. Study after study tells us that women desperately want more sexual desire and more orgasms (or orgasms, period). Female desire and pleasure are what Daedone is all about — to the point that many criticize her for being too women-centric. (After explaining the OneTaste mission to a male friend, he exclaimed incredulously: “The man never gets a turn? That’s messed up!”) Just as with the slow food movement, the idea behind “slow sex” is to slow down enough to know when you’re hungry or satiated, to identify your cravings, to savor every sensation and to be present in this very moment. As she writes in the book, the aim is to give women the “permission to enjoy the journey, rather than pushing them ever sooner to the finale.” With that comes a recasting of what orgasm means: “We have been defining the term ‘orgasm’ as the traditional definition of male orgasm: climax,” she writes. “Climax is often a part of orgasm, but it is not the sum total. Make this distinction, and you change the whole game.” (I met a woman at the workshop who says she had OMed 300 or so times and only climaxed once.)
These basic ideas are not especially controversial; they are pretty intuitive as well as having roots in the practice of Tantric sex. More generally, her emphasis on mindfulness — a sexual take on “be here now” — borrows heavily from Eastern philosophies. Daedone’s background in gender studies also shows: She speaks passionately about negative cultural conditioning around sex and all the ways that women are taught to replace their own desires with men’s. Balancing the academic side of OneTaste is the fashionable, cosmopolitan vibe of Daedone and her inner circle, a crew of supremely attractive, sensual and pristinely dressed women in their 30s and 40s. Think “Sex and the City’s” Samantha at a Buddhist retreat. Daedone can just as readily sound like a New Age sex guru as she can an everywoman ranting to her girlfriends about frustrations in the bedroom. There is an Oprah-esque strain of feminism here too: In her manifesto, she reveres the sort of woman whose epitaph would read, “She scaled mountains, in hiking boots and in heels.” Where there’s an Oprah comparison, there is good old-fashioned capitalism: There are products for sale on the group’s website, including OneTaste-branded lube, special OMing pillows and an instructional DVD on the practice. There’s also a “Slow Sex” coaching program that costs anywhere from $4,000 to $11,000. The weekend retreat I attended was $495.
In between Daedone’s workshop lectures, the motley group of women, ranging in age from their early 20s to their 60s, engaged in a series of intimacy exercises. We were encouraged to enter a makeshift photo booth to have our personal “pussy portrait” taken, and then printouts of the – shots were displayed for all to see. At one point we were instructed to gather in the center of the room, standing close enough to one another that we could “feel each other’s body heat,” and whisper to one another previously unspoken desires; some of these secrets were written on Post-its (the messages ranged from “rape fantasy” to “soft kisses”) and pasted on the walls of the conference room.
It’s easy to see why some call her a cult leader: When she shines her light on you, you feel special and seen. Before the OMing demonstration, she told the room: “There’s all these questions as OneTaste gets bigger about fucking appropriateness … and there’s a reporter in the room,” she said gesturing toward me. Daedone narrowed her eyes and continued: “But, quite frankly, as a human being I think you’re one of us witchy women” — then she winked at me, and my insides melted. That’s the thing about Daedone: She can disarm you with the bat of her lashes — or a flick of her index finger. She’s an extremely compelling and charismatic character, and all the more so because there is actual substance and intellect behind the sexpert shtick.
Ultimately, she elevates the female orgasm to a level of religious and spiritual practice. “Slow Sex” is at first relatable and approachable but quickly turns woo woo and New Age. Daedone’s philosophy is a refreshing counterpoint to the porny mainstream, but it’s certainly hard to picture Middle America embracing orgasmic meditation; not even most coast-dwelling liberals are ready to be intimately stroked in a roomful of strangers.