I can count on my two hands the number of times I've had an orgasm during sex. I've tried all of the methods that empowered women are supposed to try. I bought my first vibrator when I was 17. I insisted on receiving oral. I experimented with arousal gels (they burned) and roleplaying (I laughed). After a decade of sex, I still don't have answers, which is how I found myself one gray Saturday morning with my legs spread for two complete strangers with very studious looks on their faces.
Like, say, the cronut or SoulCycle, orgasmic meditation has become a new New York fad. A practice with vague ties to Zen Buddhism, it seeks to elevate the lowly hand job to mystic heights. Nicole Daedone opened her first studio dedicated to orgasmic meditation, OneTaste, in 2001—and now she has locations in San Francisco, London, Los Angeles, Portland, and New York.
How did Daedone stumble across this technique? By getting off at a party, of course. A man she didn't know asked to introduce her to the practice and she agreed (she's very trusting, apparently). As she related in her 2011 TEDxSF Talk, "I was lying there, my legs were butterflied open, and he did what you would always expect in a sexual act. He took a light and he shone it down there and then he began to describe what he saw. He said, 'Your outer labia are coral, and I'm noticing your inner have this red tone to them and they're swelling as I look at them.' And I didn't hear anything else he said because the tears just started flooding."
Daedone was completely immersed in the novel sensations her body was feeling, and she wanted to shout about it from the rooftops. She developed a practice based on her experience, and though it sounded bizarre to most at first, a New York Times feature on OneTaste got more and more women seeking her counsel. "They were chanting the Western woman's mantra: I work too hard, I eat too much, I diet too much, I drink too much, I shop too much, I give too much, and still there's a sense of hunger that I can't touch," she says.
I decided to give it a whirl. The huge new space in New York features exposed brick and high ceilings, and sits above an unassuming shoe stores on Canal Street. I met Brooke and Ravi, my instructors. Brooke operated as a sort of coach, while Ravi was the stroker. "He's really good," Brooke assured me. This information did not help my nerves.
For all its alleged potential to have two people deeply connected in a moment, the process of orgasmic meditation (or OM) can be rather clinical. A woman lays down in a "nest" created with a yoga mat, blankets, and pillows. She strips from the waist down while her partner, usually a man, remains completely clothed. He provides grounding pressure—a firm push or two to her opened thighs, the way a yoga teacher would push you into a stretch—then slips on his latex gloves and describes what he sees. "Your labia majora are about 8 millimeters apart," Ravi said during this noticing phase. "They're pinkish brown and you can sort of see under the clitoral hood." It is key, OneTaste insists, to use neutral, non-value statements to describe the vagina at hand. So it can't just be "pretty" or "hot."
Then the neutral words go out the window. The stroker puts his index finger into a jar of organic OneTaste lube and says, "I'm going to touch your pussy now. Is that okay?" Once he has permission, he puts his right thumb at the introitus, the entrance to the vagina, and spreads the labia with the middle finger and thumb of the left hand. Then he strokes the clitoral hood around the 11:00 spot, ever so slightly to the right.
I lay back in the nest staring at the ceiling, waiting for magic to happen. I had no idea what to do with my hands (touching Ravi was discouraged) but I wanted to alleviate the tension in my shoulders. Sirens from the street reminded me how unsexy this actually was.
"Take a deep breath," Brooke instructed from her place at the side of the nest. She encouraged me to make a request of Ravi, something like faster, slower, more pressure, to the right, but I had no idea what to say. I asked for one adjustment that felt nice, but mostly, I waited. Ravi sighed deeply. Brooke muttered, "Yeah, that feels good." I let out a tiny, perfunctory moan.
At a certain point, it did indeed feel good. I was aroused, but wasn't exactly reaching enlightenment. Thirteen minutes into an orgasmic medication session, the stroker switches to a downward stroke so that the student can calm down. The whole thing was over before I knew it.
The three of us then conducted a post-game wrap-up. No matter what kind of intense feelings you might feel, you're meant to use the "value-neutral" language to describe what had just happened. Ravi reported feeling as though a warm liquid was moving through his body. Brooke, who didn't touch me at all, described a heaviness behind her eyelids. I felt around for an illustration that didn't sound insane, but all I could come up with was describing an energy that shot upward from the opening of my vagina to my belly button.
I felt around for my pants, but couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted more physical action. I was freakin' horny, with no payoff! "So now what?" I asked Brooke.
"Nothing," she said. "You use that feeling to carry you through your day."
What's Sanskrit for blue balls?
Orgasmic meditation obviously needed more than one try before I called it quits, so I gamely stuck with it (in the name of research, guys). I started attending OM circle, which "is like a yoga class," according to Brooke, where you find a partner, get into a nest, and can get advice from a roaming instructor.
I showed up to circle on Canal Street while on my period, not sure if I could, in fact, trust Brooke's reassurance that no one would care. I was the youngest person in the open, modern space; fruit-infused water was readily available, as OMing is thirsty work. I OMed twice during circle (turns out the period thing really didn't bother anyone) and got nothing. The lights were too bright for me to relax, and I spent most of my time listening jealously to the women around me moaning in an ecstatic chorus.
I wouldn't call myself converted, but I'm not as cynical as I was at the beginning. And actually, a few weeks after my classes, I had sex so intense I left scratches in my partner's back. A little residual nirvana? I'll take it. Namaste.