by Natasha L. Mikles
While perusing the blogs recently, I came across an article describing one woman’s visit to the San Francisco OMXperience—a three-day, $795-a-head event in August 2013 designed to “kick off the industry of the orgasm”—an industry of which until now, I had been woefully unaware. This event, which claimed to be powered by the “human technology of Orgasmic Meditation,” featured a variety of speakers discussing how orgasms could transform your life, your relationship, and your community. They touted “Orgasm as a Lifestyle,” “Orgasm as a Community,” and even “Orgasm as Power Source.” Enticed by the hypnotic animation and sensationalist title, I clicked through to the longer article to read Nitasha Tiku’s account of the OMXperience; suddenly, I found myself exploring a world both infinitely strange, and strangely familiar—one in which the primary contemplative activity for both men and women focuses on a ritualized production of female orgasms.
The OMXperience was sponsored by OneTaste, a company founded in 2001 to promote the practice of Orgasmic Meditation through offering workshops and classes, ranging anywhere from $150 for a three-hour evening class to $1,295 for an exclusive four-day New Year’s retreat, as well as certification programs which can cost as much as $15,000. Beyond these, the company has dabbled in creating small Orgasmic communities in major cities and is currently developing these communities into retreat centers for clients. Indeed, OneTaste touts the health benefits of Orgasmic Meditation for stressed professionals, promising increased vitality and focus through being “lit up from the inside out.”
When scrolling through their website, however, it is apparent that CEO and founder Nicole Daedone seeks not simply to educate, but to create a movement. Numerous OneTaste publications promote a community of TurnedON people—a term coined by Daedone for those who participate in regular Orgasmic Meditation—who are fundamentally different in their lifestyle than presumably non-TurnedON people; one workshop even promises to advise men on the complexities of meeting, wooing, and dating a TurnedON woman.
The company’s premise initially caused my hackles to raise, and I prepared to dismiss them as nothing more than a gross 21st-century, misunderstanding and pseudo-imperialist appropriation of Buddhist contemplative traditions wrapped around Americans’ seemingly omnipresent obsession with sex. While not explicitly identifying her movement with any religious tradition, Daedone presents Orgasmic Meditation’s roots as lying in Asian philosophy—specifically tantric practices and a more generalized focus on “mindfulness.” When describing her first experience with Orgasmic Meditation for audiences, Daedone often claims she was a Buddhist nun-in-training who walked into a party where she met a tall, dark, handsome stranger who demonstrated the practice of Orgasmic Meditation to her, leaving her with a life transformed.
The name of her company, OneTaste, comes directly from Buddhist thought: it references both a quote in the Udāna—“Just as the ocean has only one taste, the taste of salt, so the Buddhist doctrine and discipline have only one taste, the taste of liberation”—while is also a translation of a Tibetan term ro snyoms (samarasa in Sanskrit), which represents general nondiscrimination of phenomenon and a realization of the fundamental nature of all things as emptiness. In a recent TEDxSF talk, Nicole Daedone even slyly references a Buddhist inspiration for her practice, explaining that Orgasmic Meditation is not a practice “where you have to call your genitals weird names and use spiritual names and such.” As is often the case when Americans speak of “tantra,” this conspicuous grounding in a narrative of Buddhist origins seemed to me at first a ham-handed attempt to use Buddhist contemplation and practice to justify a lifestyle based on the celebration of sexuality uninhibited by traditional Judeo-Christian morality.
And yet, as I read Nitasha Tiku’s first-hand account of participating in this practice, I reconsidered my initial response. Yes, Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and Eastern philosophy more generally, are reduced to a singular focus on “mindfulness.” Yes, the entirety of tantric Buddhist thought is re-formulated as ritualized sexual practice with a consort—a technique only ever performed by a minority of tantric practitioners and which served as a source of recurrent institutional blame and reformation throughout Tibetan history. But, despite inheriting the West’s historical oversimplification of Buddhism, the meditative practice promoted by OneTaste builds on this precarious foundation to create something that could be classified in the domain of “contemplative experience,” while also touching upon normative ideas of what it means to be tantric or Buddhist.
As Nicole Daedone self-consciously maintains that her practice has Buddhist and tantric roots, it is worthwhile to compare Orgasmic Meditation to the Tibetan traditions it claims to imitate in order to understand her re-imagination of the tradition. Like many of the sexual yogic practices utilized in tantric Buddhism—either as those actually embodied or those visualized—Orgasmic Meditation is situated firmly within a ritualized framework of rules, scripts, and performances which not only controls the experience, but serves to advance it beyond mere sexual gratification. In total, the proscribed length of Orgasmic Meditation is only fifteen minutes; once finding a partner—seldom someone with whom the individual has had a prior relationship, romantic or otherwise—the woman removes her pants and the man stays fully clothed. At first, the man closely inspects his partner’s vulva and non-judgmentally describes what he sees. He then places his right thumb at the edge of her introitus—the entrance to the vaginal canal—and his left finger on the upper left-hand quadrant of her clitoris. He proceeds to stroke the clitoris until it is minute thirteen, and while the female partner can provide verbal adjustments, there is no communication beyond “thank you.” Rather, the two participants focus their attention solely on the sensations and feelings of the experience—while many women orgasm, the activity is ideally directionless and without the proscribed goal of “orgasm.” The final two minutes serve as a “cool-down” period to rehabilitate individuals to their everyday lives.
Ritual, regardless of its origins, has consequences for the participant. In comparing Orgasmic Meditation with traditional tantric techniques, it is the highly ritualized nature of this practice which elevates it from the narrative stream of everyday sexuality and explicitly transforms it into something potentially contemplative. Catherine Bell considers this theme, noting that “ritualization is fundamentally a way of doing things to trigger the perception that these practices are distinct and the associations that they engender are special.” (Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice 1992, 220) Therefore, even if the resemblance to tantric ritual is only cosmetic, this ritualizing process should give us pause before dismissing Orgasmic Meditation as simply salacious appropriation. Nicole Daedone’s narrative of her first experience with Orgasmic Meditation supports Bell’s thesis, demonstrating that despite participating in what is at its foundation a basic sexual act, the ritual context of the event transforms it into something which transcends the mundane:
[At the beginning of the experience] I was thinking about whether or not I looked good, I was thinking about whether I was doing this right…I was thinking about whether or not my stomach looked a little poochy. All of a sudden, the traffic jam that was my mind broke open and it was like I was on the open road and there was not a thought in sight—there was only pure feeling.
In his recent work Yoga Body, Mark Singleton demonstrates that modern postural yoga is actually a “homonym” and not a “synonym” for the yoga of pre-colonial Hindu culture. Instead of revealing postural yoga as a fraud, Singleton presents it as a practice with its own rich history, emerging from a dialogue between East and West. Orgasmic Meditation may be a similar construction, that is deeply meaningful to its practitioners despites its faux-Asian pedigree. As evidenced in Nicole Daedone’s own description, Orgasmic Meditation appears to produce meaningful experiences for practitioners. Through explicit ritual technologies which both formalize and formularize participants’ actions, Orgasmic Meditation attempts to create a form of contemplative practice in relation to traditional (Buddhist) beliefs and practices, making it more than the “wild sex cult” of America’s lascivious nightmares and a significant phenomenon for the study of religion.
Natasha L. Mikles is a doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Her research centers on Tibetan literature and bibliography, as well as the narrative traditions surrounding the Gesar epic.