TW: rape culture, sexual assault
It started off like any relaxing weekend afternoon. Where the day feels uncommonly long and open. As I sat in my apartment, casually flipping through my Netflix recommendations, I came across a rather interesting recommendation for a documentary titled, “Orgasm Inc.”
Naturally, I was intrigued and wanted to know more. Then it hit me. The woman that the interviewees were all discussing was a woman I had seen in what at the time, appeared to be an increasingly revolutionary, inspiring TedxSF talk about female pleasure and the transformational power of orgasm.
I clearly remember how moved I felt after watching her speak. She had a sort of graceful, easy-going, influential air about her. She was clearly intelligent, filled with the sort of spiritual-intimate-sexual knowledge many people crave and long for. Though I had never seen her talk in person, much more actually spoke with her, I could appreciate her presence and great ability to command a room. She seemed to be someone who when you connected with her, truly listened and empathized with your plight. Something about her communicated, “I hear you and I understand you.”
A champion of female pleasure, wellness, and sex positivity. A pioneer of sexual healing and connection.
I found her talk, “Orgasm the Cure for Hunger,” at a point when I really needed to hear those affirming words. I needed to believe that my pleasure was important. That I was worthy and capable of meaningful, intimate connection. I needed to know I wasn’t broken and that I wasn’t alone.
She spoke of a universal hunger for pleasure and meaningfulness that I resonated with wholeheartedly. Listening to her speak was like listening to someone who had inexplicably read into the deepest, most well-hidden, vulnerable parts of my being. After watching her speak, I came away with a profound sense of reassurance and gratitude. That somehow, I too would realize my dream and satisfy my need for intimacy.
Having described the uplifting, positive sensations and beliefs I formed after Nicole’s Ted talk, and how aspirational she seemed to me, one can imagine the extent of my shock, sadness, and disappointment to learn that perhaps she wasn’t really this inspiring figurehead, dedicated to helping people realize their intimacy potentials and capacity for pleasure. Maybe she wasn’t a safe person facilitating vulnerability and positive change. As the story unfolded through the eyes of Nicole’s former followers and employees, I realized that Ted talk was only a tiny part of it all. That there lay something beneath the surface.
In 2004, Nicole created a wellness group and business called OneTaste. The name is a clever nod to an ancient Buddhist scripture about truth. OneTaste was a promise. The promise of love, community, and connection. People began to flock from all over to take Nicole’s courses and learn more about a practice she called “orgasmic meditation,” or OM for short. Orgasmic meditation fashioned itself as a sort of spiritual, healing practice focused on female satisfaction. OM became a gateway to deeper self-knowledge.
What exactly took place during an OM? In her Ted talk, Nicole described a rather serendipitous encounter with a gentleman who invited her to experience orgasmic meditation for the first time (Schubach, 2011).
He explained that she would first remove all of her bottom clothes and lie down, revealing her vulva to him, while his role would be to spend the entirety of fifteen minutes focused on just her and her alone. So there Nicole was with her legs “butterflied open,” as the man proceeded to shine a light onto her vulva before mindfully describing what he saw. He shared his appreciation for her body, her being.
At the heart of that interaction Nicole shared, was an experience where another human being bore witness to her and demonstrated only the utmost understanding, for an area of the human body that is traditionally treated with scorn, disgust, and disapproval. OM appeared to be a practice of radical acceptance, for self and other.
When he had finished admiring her vulva, he lubricated his finger, and gently placed it at the opening of her vaginal canal before then moving the tip of his finger to the upper left portion of her clitoris, where he then began to softly stroke the clitoris back and forth (Schubach, 2011).
My reaction upon hearing this practice described in this way was of course to the brim with excitement at all the sensual, pleasurable possibilities such activity suggested. I would go as far as to say that this seemingly person-centered, authentic, engaged interaction came at a time when many people hungered for what OM offered. A chance to be truly witnessed at one’s most vulnerable and beautiful state. To experience someone giving back pleasure rather than being relegated to the role of the bottomless giver.
Men at OneTaste were taught how to stimulate a woman’s clitoris in such a way that she was able to achieve extended, heightened pleasure (Gibson & Klevin, 2022). But it wasn’t just about pleasure. It was about reclaiming female orgasms and using that as a road to increased self-acceptance. Embodied awareness. A chance to step outside the claustrophobia of one’s mind, and back into the body and all its visceral glory.
So where did this fairy tale utopia of sex positivity and pleasure go wrong?
The documentary, “Orgasm Inc.,” selected a handful of previous OneTaste participants (Gibson & Klevin, 2022). Individuals who had taken Nicole’s workshops lived at the OneTaste warehouse.
People who shifted their entire lives to champion Nicole’s cause. Their firm belief in her vision compelled them to leave behind the lives they knew, including their homes and jobs, in order to start fresh and embark on this grand journey. Trust, curiosity, exploration, and connection brought them to OneTaste. It was like the chance of a lifetime. To go out and try something new. An opportunity for the community and healing that arguably everyone desires.
However, the beauty of OneTaste soon began to crack. Interviewees described how the focus on authentic connection swiftly began to change, as OneTaste employees were expected to consistently perform as top salesmen and persuade newcomers to take up expensive workshops (Gibson & Klevin, 2011).
This focus was not the only dramatic change. As time went on, the interviewees described how Nicole began to endorse increasingly problematic views regarding the nature of sexual assault and the veracity of survivors’ stories. Nicole began to teach the OneTaste community that sexual assault imposed one of two strict roles, that of the perpetrator and that of the victim. She discouraged members from essentially buying into the victim narrative, claiming that the only viable way to “deflect rape” was to “turn on 100%,” placing all responsibility of preventing assault on the victim and their capacity to somehow “turn on” in the face of an invasive attack. Nicole followed up with her statement saying that if an individual did in fact turn on 100%, there would be “Nothing to rape.”
What really sums up Nicole’s beliefs around sexual assault was her suggestion that the organization creates new teeshirts which said, “I got raped and all I got was a victim story,” and its compliment, “I raped someone and all I got was a perpetrator story” (Gibson & Klevin, 2011).
It was a complete and utter shock for me, having previously resonated so highly with Nicole’s message of female pleasure, authentic being, and intimacy. I was gutted. Even though I never joined OneTaste or took it upon myself to learn more about Nicole’s practice following the Ted Talk she gave, the talk was so impressionable and uplifting that I was proud to be aware of someone so encouraging and aspirational. She inspired me as a sexuality advocate and writer. I looked up to her.
As the documentary continued, the interviewees began to highlight how the culture at OneTaste evolved to become increasingly more dangerous. Professional and personal boundaries were put on the line. One individual detailed an incident where he and another employee at OneTaste were experiencing some disagreement and the management’s response to the situation was to direct the two to have sex and not return to work until they had done so (Gibson & Klevin, 2011).
Another ex-member shared how the often male-dominated courses essentially resulted in female OneTaste employees having to participate in the courses to make up for the lack of female participants. Naturally, given the fact that the men had paid for the workshops, meant that the female employees had very little say in whether or not they participated alongside the participants.
The dangerous practices and messaging all came to a head with the introduction of what Nicole referred to as “the beast” (Gibson & Klevin, 2011). Individuals were encouraged to accept their violent, predatory nature. Harmful behaviors towards others were reinforced with congratulatory praise. Then came the idea of “skillful violation,” where members were instructed basically to ignore when a person expresses a boundary, with the underlying assumption that even when a person says “No,” that is not what they truly meant, and in ignoring this, the individual is somehow facilitating deeper meaning and growth in the person being violated.
The apparent toxicity and violence at the organization reached an all time high. Towards the end of the documentary, a woman named Autymn Blanck appears on behalf of her sister, Ayries, to share her story (Gibson & Klevin, 2011). Autymn recalled how changed Ayries was when she came to visit her. She didn’t appear to be the same joyful person she knew her to be. As time went on, Autymn became aware of peculiar directives OneTaste communicated to Ayries. She was instructed to sleep with certain individuals and to OM multiple times a day in order to work through her childhood trauma. OneTaste exploited Ayries’ trust in disclosing her status as a survivor of abuse and used that to further expose her to harm.
Ayries came to the organization looking for healing, but she was repaid only with more pain from the community she came to know. Autymn also shared excerpts from her sister’s emails to her where Ayries would describe being physically abused by her boyfriend. The OneTaste community’s reaction to the abuse was to blame Ayries for forcing her boyfriend to become violent, citing that her boyfriend’s “beast” was only acting in accordance with what Ayries’ body had asked of him. They even had the audacity to suggest that her experiences with childhood abuse directly caused the incident and that it was unfair of her to “shame and blame” her boyfriend from following her cues.
How could any supposed wellness organization condone violence, for one, and not only turn a blind eye, but spin these ludicrous and equally dangerous victim-blaming narratives? How could anyone in good conscience, treat another person this way, a fellow community member, who has come to them for support?
OneTaste started off with the idea of being the forerunner championing female pleasure to all of a sudden emphatically defending and engendering rape culture.
People were hurt. Boundaries were stretched, ignored, and done away with
People who had come with hope, trust, and the willingness to explore new ways of being, had that trust betrayed. After sacrificing everything to be there, whether that was moving away from their homes, leaving behind their jobs, using their financial resources and personal skill sets, OneTaste transformed into something dark and far removed from the picturesque, utopian society it claimed to be.
As an outsider who is just now receiving this information, struggling to process it all and somehow come to terms with this very different reality of OneTaste, I can never imagine what it must have felt like to have been in the middle of it. To have had that trust betrayed. To have been so violated and disappointed by a community I felt I belonged to.
What must it have been like to have arrived at OneTaste filled with excitement and faith, overflowing with gratitude and joy at the very prospect of true connection, to believe in Nicole and her practice, only to find one’s self knee-deep in a toxic culture where violence is not only condoned but actively encouraged, where boundaries are basically non-existent, where one’s right to personal choice and autonomy are thrown away.
Nicole Daedone may not have been the sex-positive guru we believed her to be, but I know there are so many incredible, gifted, compassionate people out there who long for a world of acceptance, pleasure, and community. While Nicole may have artfully attuned herself to the world’s vulnerable desires and unsatisfied basic needs, the dialogue doesn’t end with her.
We can reclaim pleasure and healing. We can foster out of this world connections and relationships in whatever magnificent configuration we so choose. And we can do all these things without a so-called expert to determine the path. Everything we need for that journey has been inside us our entire lives. Maybe we are the ones we have longed for all along.
I wish nothing but peace and healing to those who were harmed by OneTaste and its shameful practices, as for all survivors of abuse in its various forms.
Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Gibson, S. & Klevin, S. (Director). (2022). Orgasm Inc: The Story of OneTaste. [Film]. Netflix.
Schubach, G. (2011). TEDxSF – Nicole Daedone – Orgasm The Cure for Hunger. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZjRH1FmxfM&t=560s