“My pure gut feeling is that it’s going to be like the path of yoga, where there will be a steady progression, with haters along the way, but overall, moving forward. It’s becoming more and more accessible to people in different places, from New York to Nebraska, that they’ll know about it, that it’s a possibility.” —Maya Gilbert, OM coach and practitioner
At 26, Maya radiates enthusiasm from every joyous cell in her body. She has presence, especially in the heels she favors, and her beautiful body is curvaceous—none of your underfed post-adolescent model going on here. A buoyant crop of curls (sometimes blonde, currently brunette) frames her enormous light eyes and peachy cheeks. Her rosy lips curve upward in a perpetual smile. She wears minimal makeup; a face like hers needs no artificial enhancement. A born and raised New Yorker now based in L.A., she has a lightness of spirit that makes the urban black outfits she inhabits as cheerful as a pink polka-dotted tutu. I’ve known Maya, the daughter of a close friend, her entire life. She was an ebullient, physical kid, if a bit accident-prone, what with all her bouncing up and down on sofas and climbing on jungle gyms. It’s because of my love for this extraordinarily genuine woman that I’ve decided to explore what has become her livelihood, teaching people how to OM. Believe me, I had my doubts.
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OM, the Buddhist-inspired acronym for Orgasmic Meditation, is a 15-minute mindfulness practice developed by Nicole Daedone, the focus of her company, One Taste. Daedone, who defines OM as a “wellness practice” similar to yoga, is the ideal face of OM: an unabashedly sexy, forty-something beachy-blonde Californian with a whitened smile, who speaks with breathy, often non-linear urgency, infusing advice with tidbits from her personal life. She is everywhere promoting the need for orgasm, defined not as the fleeting moment of sexual climax, but as a more all-encompassing release to desire and pleasure. According to Daedone, it is our collective hunger for orgasm, particularly in women, that causes conflict in our relationships and frustrates efforts to find personal fulfillment. Without the fuel of “turn-on,” Daedone says, we lose out on real connection and passion, withering, like petrified grapes on a sun-bleached vine. We need juice to live.
Despite growing numbers of OMers—a mention in Ted Ferris’s The Four-Hour Body has helped to popularize the practice in the high-tech community, while Ms. Daedone’s non-stop speaking engagements and the contagious energy of teachers like Maya have gathered attention in major cities like New York, L.A., San Francisco, Austin, London—there are still plenty of haters. Many of the articles I read as research range in tone from alarmist (sex cult!) to snarky (I know what orgasm is and this weirdness isn’t a real orgasm) to the squeamish discomfort of a tittering group of tweens (Ewww, gross!). And yes, when I first heard about Maya’s involvement with One Taste a few years ago, the headlines of news cycles past came to mind: Waco, Texas-style sex cults … or Kool-Aid drinking gurus and their brain-washed followers … or hippie communes trapped in a time warp. But the lovely Maya I knew was too level-headed for that. If she cared enough to devote her life and career to OM, I knew there had to be depth to it.
How do people OM? Practiced in pairs, OM is “unapologetically asymmetrical,” as Eli Block, Maya’s 31-year-old fiancé (they will marry this month) and business partner in the Los Angeles One Taste center has emphatically pointed out. As with many other practices, there is taxonomy and insider language that is used to describe this experience, italicized here. One person asks another person, “Would you like an OM?” The asked one can always decline without explanation. Once a pair has agreed to practice together, the stroker—usually, but not always a man (there are indeed lesbians who prefer to practice with a female partner, but as this is a clit-centered practice, men are not recipients)—lightly strokes a woman’s clitoris for a timed 15 minutes, while she, undressed from the waist down and comfortably positioned on a nest of pillows, receives the touch and offers direction according to her comfort (harder, softer, move a centimeter here or there). The verbal communication between stroker and recipient is intentionally respectful, non-judgmental, and—surprising, given that the mother of all sexual pleasure organs is involved—non-sexual. The goal of an OM is to create a safe container where a woman can let down her center of vigilance and experience absolute acceptance and trust, relaxing into her involuntary without feeling any obligation to reciprocate or service. There is no sexual quid pro quo, as would be the expected norm in an encounter between lovers.
According to Po-Hong Yu, One Taste NYC’s high-energy, newly minted Director of Sales, it’s key that an OM isn’t about “getting a woman off,” though a woman might reach climax during a session. In fact, an OM isn’t meant to be sexual per se, though it’s hard to imagine that OM-ing doesn’t lead at least sometimes to something sexual, given that we are complicated humans. Rather, Po says, the finger/clit contact is meant to be a focal point of mindful connection between the two participants, offering as much gratification for the stroker as for the woman being stroked. “How we do OM is how we do everything,” she says. “It’s about being fully present,” the challenging directive I’ve heard in every yoga or meditation class I’ve taken. Po, 39, a trained acupuncturist who tried many alternative modalities, credits her OM practice with helping her both recover from the trauma of rape in her adolescence and embrace her bisexual orientation.
One Taste does advocate and offer classes in more “connected” sex. Porn and sex toys like vibrators are especially frowned upon. Eli Block calls them the “junk food” of sex, as they are about getting speedily to the brief explosion of climax. Climax is the goal of most mainstream books and articles about sexuality. We can feel diminished and even inadequate when we can’t achieve climax. But what if we’ve missed the point, cheating ourselves out of the full experience of a pleasure journey in our obsession with getting ASAP to the destination, like vacation road trippers who never veer off the interstate in their haste to get to the fancy resort hotel?
After meeting some of Maya’s fellow OM-ers at her birthday party, I was intrigued enough to sign up for a full-day “How to OM” class, taught by Eli and Maya at New York City’s One Taste center.
OM sounded cool in theory, but as I sit in a room (too early for me on a Saturday morning) with 30 strangers, it’s feeling pretty freakin’ weird in what passes for the real world. After an intro supported by heavy musical backbeat, clearly intended to engage the curious but wary audience, Eli pulls on a pair of surgical gloves, preparing to stroke the clitoris of Aubrey Agrawal, Co-Owner of One Taste NYC, as Maya observes from offside, offering lively commentary.
(“Really?” I asked Maya earlier, “you’ve let a man you aren’t intimate with stroke your clit?” “Yep.” Maya, Po, and Joanna Van Vleck, president of One Taste, all recounted particularly mind-opening experiences with male strokers they would have absolutely rejected as sexual partners, as in, men they found “physically repellent.”)
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Nothing, not even the video I watched of this very demonstration, has prepared me for seeing the event in living color. I am here solo, squished between two pale-skinned guys who look like they spend significant time indoors, playing video games or maybe watching non-OM-approved porn. Dude on my right looks like he lives on plasma screen light waves, the one on my left has a beer paunch. But as I look around the room I see all sorts of other men and women, of different ages and backgrounds, some with friends, some on their own like me, as well as a nervous-looking couple up from South Carolina, fiercely kneading each other’s palms.
Alas, my own boyfriend is not here with me today. “This is just kinda weird, don’cha think?” he remarked with his trademark Midwestern frankness. It was hard to disagree with that. From the day Joanna registered me for this class, I received a flurry of upbeat emails (as well as a lengthy release form) that seemed designed to keep me from bolting at the last minute. Which I admit, I considered more than once, even as I made my way up Broadway from the subway to the class. But I love Maya, so here I am.
Gloves on, left pointer finger generously lubed, and in position with one leg draped over Aubrey’s torso, Eli tells us that he will lightly stroke the upper left quadrant of Aubrey’s clit, home to a bazillion nerve endings.
“Like you’re touching your closed eyelid,” Maya says, “that lightly.”
Aubrey, lying still on her nest, begins moaning softly and then not so softly, reaching her ecstasy as if there were no one else in the room. My left-ear tinnitus, a reliable barometer of my freak-out level, is ringing like the high string on a violin. My heart is racing. My cheeks are flushed. My skin is tingling. It’s a state I recognize as arousal, one I assume is shared by many of the people in this room, including the two guys sandwiching me (no way would I ever let either of them anywhere near my clit!). The silence in the audience is a vibrant thing—not a cough or a sneeze. Am I the only one who’s having trouble breathing? How I wish my boyfriend were here. I could have squeezed his hand for reassurance during this … performance?
And then, exactly 15 minutes later, it’s over. Aubrey sits up, ravishingly flushed, and rearranges her hair and clothing. It’s the opposite of Meg Ryan’s theatrically faked orgasm in When Harry Met Sally—we have just watched the real deal. Personally, I would love to have what Aubrey just had, but definitely not in a room filled with strangers. As Aubrey describes how OM changed her from an introvert who hid behind her dark hair into this woman who is able to relax into her involuntary in a public sphere, I am not just a little bit in awe.
After a Q&A session, where we are first asked to offer a frame of our impressions of the demonstration, we are then invited to the lab, where we can try OM ourselves.
“Don’t worry,” one of the friendly team leaders calls out from the back of the room, “we’ll help you find a partner!” People begin looking around, sizing each other up as OM partners, and it’s feeling high-school-dance awkward. Given how much I hated high-school dances and my relationship status, I prepare to leave. I’ve learned plenty today—new skills I can’t wait to enjoy at home.
But I’m not the target—paying—audience.
I once worried that Maya wouldn’t be able to make a living working with One Taste. Today has proved me so wrong. The fee for today’s class today was $195. We are invited to sign up for a $200 monthly membership at the New York City OM Center, where we can practice and master OM and find other like-minded partners. For people like Maya who see One Taste as a career path, a $13,000 Coaching Program trains practitioners to lead workshops or work with private clients (Maya has worked privately with a Mormon couple who do not share their OM practice with their church community). As in the world of Big Yoga, there is money to be made helping people find their orgasm.
One Taste presents itself as a company that exists to build connections—the intimate one between finger and clit and the broader bonds of human community. Just like your yoga studio or gym, or, if you are fortunate, your job. Van Vleck, who was drawn to One Taste as a career opportunity before she even began practicing OM, emphasizes the simple growth model: “One Taste is a business based on desire and turn-on. Come to a class, do it, adopt it as a practice.” Her own life reflects a turnaround she never expected. A sunny blond who thought she had a good sex life and was engaged to marry a man “who looked perfect on paper,” she stepped away from a conventional path and like Maya, has made One Taste her life’s work. Recently she was the on-camera star of one of One Taste “how-to” videos—subject: how women can enjoy oral sex with male partners, or as Joanna bluntly puts it, “sucking cock.” It’s hard to imagine another company president who would so willingly expose herself—literally.
I find myself wondering what her mom thinks, but once again, I am in awe.
Despite the skeptics and haters, Maya remains undeterred. She looks to the history of yoga in the United States as inspiration for Orgasmic Meditation as a mainstream practice. Once described in 1920s tabloid headlines as a “Super-Love Cult,” yoga of every practice is now so ubiquitous that my own small town upstate can support three studios.
“I really believe we will come to a point in six years or so from now where having a practice of orgasm will be normal,” Maya says. “It will just be, hey, we should probably OM before our morning office meeting because it will make sure that we’re all connected and energized.”
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I laugh at the mental image of men and women in office attire, setting up “nests” in a conference room, women taking off their power skirts and trousers.
“It seems out of the scope of now,” Maya continues, expertly deflecting my chuckles, “but I really do believe that’s the direction we’re going, to that level of education and connectivity. Sexuality will become part of people that’s just as valued as and as deeply nourished as our food, our health and our exercise, and intellectual pursuits.”
As with quality food, OM is mostly open to those who can pay for instruction. Though the One Taste website does offer a number of free instructional videos like the one I watched before class, the goal is to bring people into a center. And as in the business models of Big Yoga and women’s empowerment programs like Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, One Taste has eagerly monetized OM practice, with classes at Beginner and Mastery level, coaching programs, plus the nest gear required for home and community practice and, of course, cool T-shirts printed with the bold guaranteed-to-get-a-double-take tagline “POWERED BY ORGASM.”
My takeaway from the “How to OM Class” and my conversations with Maya and her colleagues is that these enthusiastic practicing preachers of orgasm are definitely on to something sex positive in spite of the hard sell that irritates this admittedly cynical New Yorker. Perhaps I’m not quite ready for the community of OM, but hey, people can change and grow, even an only modestly unconventional woman like me, old enough to have a kid in college. I dearly want my own open-hearted, currently lavender-haired daughter (who adored Maya as a toddler) to live in a more connected world. A big YES to that idea.
At a moment when same-sex marriage has become legal in the U.S., a former Olympic gold medal decathlete comes out as a transgender woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, and kids at my daughter’s former grade school and high school transition with a refreshing level of school and family support, there is still something prudish about American culture when it comes to open discussion around sexuality. We’re born into bodies with the capacity to experience intense pleasure but too many of our world cultures, including ours with its Sex Sells marketing strategy, have done everything to stamp out natural desire, especially for women. In a culture still paralyzed by shame around sex, could OM become as mainstream-branded and ubiquitous as Hot Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba? Perhaps a One Taste center will be coming soon to your (formerly) staid hometown. Don’t tell your mom, yet. But also: Don’t be surprised if she signs right up.