An experience with orgasmic meditation begins the opening of not only the author’s libido, but her entire being
In February 2010, freshly separated from my now ex-husband, I was sitting across the table from my dear friend Kelly at our favorite restaurant in Boulder, The Kitchen, when she said two words that I had no idea were about to change my life: Orgasmic Meditation. Yep, you read that right. Orgasmic Meditation. She was telling me about the book project she was working on. She was helping a woman named Nicole Daedone write her new book, Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm. When I asked Kelly what “slow sex” meant, she told me the book was about a practice called OM or Orgasmic Meditation. OM—pronounced “om”—was apparently a practice where a woman (ahem) takes off her pants, lies down, and a fully clothed man strokes her genitals in a very particular way for fifteen minutes. Both participants keep their attention on the sensation they feel at the point of contact between them. After the fifteen minutes, each shares a moment of sensation they remember feeling during the OM, and then they get up and go about their days.
Seriously? But it got even more outrageous, because Kelly—my closest friend, a totally normal person as far as I was concerned—was telling me that after working on the book and hearing about the practice for months, she herself wanted to try OMing.
As you might imagine, my eyes were as wide as saucers. I could barely wrap my brain around the practice, much less the fact that Kelly wanted to try it. She was not in a relationship, so she’d be OMing with a friend rather than a partner. I was surprised, quizzical, and intrigued. I have to admit that I wanted to know what this OM thing was all about. I knew the organization that taught OM, OneTaste, was based in San Francisco. It just so happened that I was producing a conference there a couple of weeks later that I thought Kelly might want to attend. I invited her to come to the conference and use it as an excuse to try OM while she was in San Francisco. “Oh my God, this is insane! I can’t believe it,” I said to her the day of the conference, as she left the venue for her lunch break—a.k.a. her first OM. “I want to hear everything!”
When she walked back into the conference just over an hour later, I could see that she was changed. Her cheeks were flushed; she was glowing.
She said it had been simultaneously the weirdest and most embodying experience she had ever had. And she was going back the next day. I spent the entire weekend living vicariously through her juicy exploration.
A month later, Kelly had moved to San Francisco to finish the book project and live in the OneTaste community, and I was inexplicably drawn to try the practice of OM myself. I was back in San Francisco, staying at my sister’s house. I told my sister I was heading out to see a potential new author—I mean, how does one talk about this kind of thing? “Oh, I’m going across town to take off my pants, lie down, and get stroked. See you at 5:00!” I wasn’t even entirely sure I knew what I was signing up for. But I trusted Kelly, and I could see how much of an impact it was having on her life.
I met her at the apartment where she was staying, and we walked over to OneTaste together. I sat in a tiny room with two OM coaches, trying to relax and breathe normally. They asked me about my current and historic relationship to sex, desire, and pleasure. I explained that I was just a few months separated from my ex-husband and that I believed I had been born without a libido. Sex had always been just one more item on my endless “to do” list—something to do just for him. Suddenly, though, as part of my own self-inquiry and part of my decision whether or not to leave my marriage, I was ready to investigate that aspect of my life: My own orgasm—a part of myself that had been, as of yet, dormant and unlived. I wanted to feel sensation, I told them. For so long, I’d turned off my feelings because the bad ones had been so painful. But that caused me to go numb so that I couldn’t experience orgasm or other good feelings. I wanted to be turned on, and I thought OM might help. I had no idea.
Up until this point, my life had been more discipline than celebration.
I had been into self-inflicted restraint since I was young. I’d been bulimic in my late teens and early twenties; I’d loved the feeling of strategically regulating every morsel I ate, and then the relief I felt upon elimination.
Looking back, I see it was my fear of chaos that had me attempting to control anything I believed I could control, most significantly, my own body. I became very skilled at compartmentalizing my feelings and cutting myself off from my emotions. I’d grown up believing I was too heavy, and bulimia provided a way to manage my anxiety around that. This was right at the height of the exercise craze of the 80s. I remember practically wearing out my Jane Fonda record (yes, record!), as I diligently scissor-kicked my way through her workout several times a day.
Finally, a roommate of mine called my parents to let them know the secret I’d been keeping. They found a therapist for me, and I learned to look for the underlying cause behind the outward manifestation of my eating disorder. It wasn’t until I was twenty-five that I first experienced loving and accepting my body. And it happened in a pretty unconventional way.
It was my twenty-fifth birthday, and I was lying on a nude beach in Greece. I had a fleeting thought—“I wonder if there’s a way to make money doing this?” When I got back to New York City, I joked about it to a friend who told me that the School of Visual Arts was always looking for nude models. Wow. Modeling? Nude modeling? For artists? “Sign me up!” I thought. I went on to model full time for two years, and continued off and on for several years after that.
Being studied, drawn, painted, photographed, and sculpted somehow got me into right relationship with my body. I saw myself over and over again, from the perspective of others. I saw myself sometimes admired, sometimes distorted, but always revered.
Ironically, working as a nude model catalyzed my pursuit of a master’s degree — in Poetry. I was trying to decide between an MFA and an MBA. Spending so much time around art students who were pursuing their passions and not worrying about money, I was inspired to follow my heart, too. It led me all the way to Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. I thought I would get my master’s degree and then go back to New York City to teach, but life had other plans. After my two-year program was finished, I stayed.
Throughout my thirties and early forties I was once again obsessed with my body. No more bulimia, thank goodness, but for years I over-exercised and went through periods of extreme dietary restriction. I wouldn’t go near sugar, especially chocolate. I prided myself on the “success”—low body-fat, muscle definition, self control— that my deprivation awarded me. What I didn’t realize, until I came out from under its spell, was the toll this obsession had taken on me. My adrenals were shot. My sense of joy was depleted. My desire for pleasure was MIA. I can’t remember feeling much of anything except for the compulsive drive to work and maintain my body.
Toward the end of my session with the OM coaches, they invited a man and a woman into the room to demonstrate the OM practice for me. As you can imagine, I was slightly uncomfortable! I had never witnessed anything of the sort, especially not so up close and personal. But as I watched, I saw the woman come to life under his steady gaze. It was as if his unwavering attention wed her desire, and the two became one.
For me, it was also like that deli scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally when Meg Ryan demonstrates faking an orgasm. Another patron says, “I’ll have what she’s having!”
The coaches asked if I’d like to set up an OM for some time over the next couple of days. I told them I was ready right then and there. I didn’t want another minute to go by before that place in me could be unconcealed and accessed.
Enter the ‘Master Stroker’ – and my first OM.
My whole conception of who I was changed in that fifteen minutes. Having repressed my hunger for so long, I was shocked at the eruption that was unearthed within me.
It was beyond any chaos I could have imagined. Sensation infused me with a life force I had never known. Kelly was waiting for me outside. As we walked to a nearby restaurant for lunch, it was as if everything had changed. All of my senses were heightened. Walking down the street—the same one I’d walked down an hour earlier—I felt like Dorothy landing in a Technicolor Oz. We went to a tiny trattoria and sat out on the patio. All the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes mingled in the sunshine. A handsome young waiter brought our meals. I don’t really even know if he was that handsome, but I was firing on all cylinders, and he sure felt handsome to me! Or maybe it was just that he was delivering bowls of decadent homemade pasta to our table—pasta unlike anything I’d ever tasted. I asked myself when the last time was—if ever—that I had allowed myself to actually enjoy food (or anything) this much. It didn’t matter; as far as I was concerned, that lunch was the best lunch I had ever eaten. After a lifetime of restriction, I willingly surrendered and savored. Food had never been so inviting, delectable, or satisfying. I had been starving to death before OM awakened me to my own hunger and desire.
At the end of the meal, Kelly asked if I wanted to walk across the street to buy a piece of her favorite chocolate. “Sure,” I said, nonchalantly, as if I bought chocolate every day of the week.
In truth, it had been months since I’d had chocolate in my mouth, months since I felt the warm, oozy richness melt across my tongue. It isn’t that I didn’t love chocolate; it was that I, Nancy Levin, did not eat it. It was a point of pride. Others might be weak enough to indulge themselves, but that was a choice for them to make. Not me. I was a black belt at resisting temptation. Every time an indulgence was offered and I refused, I got a little gold star in my own internal rating system.
That day in San Francisco, I think I consciously intended to walk with Kelly and keep her company while she bought the chocolate. I’d already indulged so much! The OM, the pasta, even flirting with the waiter! But something else was emerging within me —something beyond my volition. An irrevocable internal shift had begun. As if watching myself from some point outside of my own being, I saw my hand reach out and pick up the same bar of chocolate Kelly was getting.
“I’m buying,” she said, taking it out of my hand and moving toward the cashier. I walked behind her, somewhat stunned at what was happening. I was vaguely aware she was still chatting with me about something or other, but I was barely listening.
Luckily, Kelly had to run off to a meeting as soon as we emerged from the store. Knowing she was saving her chocolate for later was a great relief to me because it meant I didn’t have to make the decision about eating it or not in that moment. Maybe just buying it was enough.
Maybe living the rest of my life without joy and pleasure was enough. Maybe living the rest of my life without rich, yummy, nurturing, crazy, wild, and free sex was enough. Maybe living the rest of my life clinging to my gold stars of deprivation was enough. Maybe living the rest of my life without living at all was enough. But of course, none of that was enough.
I returned to my sister’s house, and that evening, all alone, after much internal negotiation, I gave myself permission to take a bite. I said yes to just one. The chocolate snapped decadently against my teeth. Soon, its warmth was unpacking itself against the roof of my mouth, and as it softened and melted across my tongue—dark, rustic, buttery—I swear, deep down inside, I felt some barrier around my heart melt as well. The automatic “N” and “O” dissolved, and I swallowed the no without bitterness, instead saying, “Yes, yes, yes!”