Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
If you’ve spent any time in crunchy circles — or just spent time on the Internet — lately, you might be familiar with OneTaste. After living in San Francisco — the “orgasmic meditation” or “OM” business’ home base — for nearly nine years, I got accustomed to hearing whispered, glassy-eyed praise from seeking, lost-soul types. But concrete details were scarce, which made the 13-year-old organization seem both more alluring and more creepy.
In case you’re in the dark, OneTaste is a thriving business devoted entirely to spreading the gospel of female pleasure. Curious sorts can go to a live event (the company now has branches in 10 cities), fork over a few bucks, and learn OneTaste’s unique 15-minute meditation practice in which women shed their pants, lie down in “nests” of pillows, and get their genitals stroked in incredibly specific ways (i.e., “the upper left quadrant”) by (usually male) “research partners” wearing latex gloves. Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about that “forking-over-bucks” thing — OneTaste offers a range of services and events that vary wildly in price — you can train to become a certified coach for $15,000, complete the Mastery Program for $7,500, attend the OMXperience conference ($195-$395), or check out a TurnOn event for $10.
So, is OneTaste another expensive, armchair-spiritual pastime for damaged hippie types? An easy way for pervy men to get in the pants of enlightened, half-naked women, all under the dubious guise of “meditation”? Or just another everyday San Francisco sex cult?
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Maybe a little of all of the above. As Joanna Van Vleck, OneTaste’s Los Angeles-based president, tells me via phone, the company’s sole aim is to help people connect. But, instead of doing that through, say, community service, or dance parties, or weekly Bingo rounds, OMers do it through a shared focus on being “powered by orgasm,” per the company slogan. “It’s amazing how many people are willing to go through life without their sexuality being touched,” Van Vleck says. “Orgasm is a nutrient we need to be vital as humans.”
But, the goal of all that uber-precise clitoral stroking isn’t the kind of orgasm you’re probably envisioning (“climax” is the company’s preferred term for what we usually think of as orgasm). As OneTaste’s founder/guru Nicole Daedone writes in her book Slow Sex, OM’s intention is to give women "permission to enjoy the journey, rather than pushing them ever sooner to the finale." Think of OMing as public fondling for the greater good — groping as a “gateway to more vitality, connection and turn on.” (No, we’re not entirely sure what “turn on” means in this context, either, but OneTasters seem to love it.)
Joanna Van Vleck also claims that OMing can help people with much more than just getting off (er, “connecting”). She should know; Van Vleck is a convert of the highest order. Though she swears that OMing, which she now practices daily, has changed nearly every facet of her life — from her “love/hate relationship with carbs” to transforming her sex life by “180 degrees” — she wasn’t always into kooky stuff like public clitoral stroking. Before trying OM, which Van Vleck didn’t get around to doing until she’d been working for OneTaste for six months, the Texas-raised businesswoman had never tried so much as a meditation or yoga class. She remembers being “terrified” of OM. “We’re [doing this] in the daytime, and you're not going to take me to dinner afterward?” she laughs.
But, sticking with the practice, Van Vleck believes, can help both women and men with, well, almost everything. “I’m an overall nicer person — I was kind of itchy before,” she says. “I’ve seen women who were told they were anorgasmic have intense, great orgasms. In couples I’ve seen [OM] open communication, dialogue, and intimacy.”
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Van Vleck says OM helped her get to know herself — and her sexuality — infinitely better. “I used to watch every porn [movie] possible to try to learn what to do in bed ... I only knew sex in relationship to porn. Now [sex] is much more quiet, with less movement, but I can feel every ounce of it. The feeling of a hand touching my leg is vastly pleasurable. Foreplay could go on for hours. Every part of my body is way more sensitized.”
But, what leads regular people who aren’t on the OneTaste payroll into OMing? What makes them passionate enough to want to stroke and be stroked hundreds — even thousands — of times, dropping hundreds (even thousands) of dollars in the process? Audrey Steele, a 31-year-old former OMer who has since “abandoned the lifestyle,” says that, for her, OneTaste started off as a way to meet interesting people while she, “lost and confused,” tried to muddle through an especially awful breakup. “I’ve always been a person who craved really authentic experiences — people being real. I found that there,” she explains.
Steele moved into OneTaste’s San Francisco residence (members of OneTaste’s various branches can come together to form OM Communities, some of which include OM residences dubbed OM Houses, but neither the Communities nor the Houses are presently affiliated with OneTaste the company), living there for two years and even completing a year of training to become a certified OM coach. But, her experiences weren’t all rainbows and glitter. “It’s a cutting-edge, fringe thing,” Steele says about what first drew her in. “I went through the vacillation of both hating it and loving it, from the beginning right on through this day.” She’s first to admit that OneTaste can be “a totally crazy situation; you're living with 60 other people and they’re doing this crazy sexual practice.” Still, she found the community inspiring.
“Gen,” 50, also speaks highly of the people at OneTaste. Like Steele, she got involved with the group during a particularly difficult time in her life — a time when she felt “not taken care of, and scared, and damaged” — but she found comfort in OMing. “Getting dressed up and going into this community felt very life-affirming for me,” Gen, who’s now only minimally involved with OneTaste, recalls. “It was a healing experience — opening my legs, lying on my back, having a man be in a very private place. And, over time, realizing I was safe, having it be a place of pleasure and not shame.”
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Despite finding the practice of orgasmic meditation intensely helpful, Gen stepped back from OneTaste after growing disenchanted with some of its marketing and sales tactics (remember those $15,000 courses?). “It’s important to separate the practice of OM from the company of OneTaste,” she notes. “The practice itself is an awesome tool when it’s done respectfully. But, OneTaste the company I have a problem with.”
Specifically, she says, “I’ve been told they model their sales approach on strip clubs, so when you first walk in, there are all these pretty girls flirting with you.” (Joanna Van Vleck denies this, saying, “I don't know how sales are even done at strip clubs.”)
Despite never having the chance to engage face-to-face with OneTaste founder Nicole Daedone, Gen has primarily positive words for the charismatic guru. “I sent her a Facebook message once, asking for advice about something, and she wrote me back almost immediately,” Gen remembers. “She felt accessible. She seems like a pretty cool person, but she also seems like a fanatical, eccentric person, and it’s not surprising that she has such a following.”
And, what a following it is. Daedone, now in her late forties, launched the fledgling OneTaste in 2001, but she wasn’t always a master of sex. She was on a doctoral track with a focus on semantics at San Francisco State University when her father, who had been convicted of molesting two young girls, died in prison, throwing her life off kilter. Daedone began studying Buddhism, then reportedly went on to study with Ray Vetterlein, who, according to the New York Times, “achieved fame of sorts in sex circles by claiming to lengthen the average female orgasm to 20 minutes.”
Vetterlein was himself inspired by Lafayette Morehouse, a controversial sex commune (some say cult), founded by “responsible hedonist” Victor Baranco in 1968 in suburban Lafayette, California (outside San Francisco). Members of Lafayette Morehouse, also known as “the purple people,” engaged in broad research about sex and relationships — in 1976, they presented what was believed to be the first public demonstration of a woman “in a state of orgasm” for three hours (!). The connection to Daedone’s later work with OneTaste is pretty obvious.
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
But the question of whether OneTaste borrowed anything else from the cult-y likes of Lafayette Morehouse might be a matter of opinion. Sure, scores of Internet message-board lurkers seem to enjoy railing against OT’s zealous ways, especially Daedone’s. The typical accusation? That OneTaste is a “‘for-profit’ cult-like system masquerading as new-age spirituality,” as one Yelp reviewer put it. Another Yelper offered, “Just your basic sex cult with a clever urban twist. You'll leave broke and possibly psychotic.”
But not everyone sees OneTaste or its leader as anything overtly creepy. “I don’t think it’s a cult because I’ve seen people leave,” Gen says. “I’ve never been pressured into buying anything; I never felt I couldn’t say no.”
Audrey Steele, the former OneTaste resident, is a bit more circumspect, saying, "[It] could be seen as a cult if that’s the lens you're looking through. It’s really intense and it does have that stigma. I’ve had that question [about it] myself. Maybe [it has] some [cult-like] qualities, but not all of them.”
Not surprisingly, president Joanna Van Vleck is unequivocal in defending OneTaste against such whispers. “I work for the company and I can say: it’s not a cult.” She continues: “Some of the world’s greatest things have been called a cult because people love [them] so much — Apple, Crossfit ... The reason OM has raving fans is because it has changed so many people’s lives. I would not be who I am today without OM.”
Despite all the swirling rumors about OneTaste and its offbeat approach to female orgasm, the company doesn’t seem to fit the traditional definition of a cult — at least not from where I stand. And, aside from its potentially aggressive sales tactics, no one I spoke with for this story reported any major qualms or super-negative OM experiences.
Curious to try OM for yourself? Check out this list of locations, then bottoms up — or bottoms off, rather.