Sunday, March 15, 2009

Free To Choose

The NY Times knows that you need to come to San Francisco, if you want to find a kooky sex cult in time for the Sunday Paper: In San Francisco, a Coed Retreat Dedicated to Female Sexuality:
The founder of the One Taste Urban Retreat Center, Nicole Daedone, sees herself as leading “the slow-sex movement,” one that places a near-exclusive emphasis on women’s pleasure — in which love, romance and even flirtation are not required.
A core of 38 men and women — their average age the late 20s — live full time in the retreat centera shabby-chic loft building in the South of Market district. They prepare meals together, practice yoga and mindfulness meditation and lead workshops in communication for outside groups as large as 60.
At 7 a.m. each day, as the rest of America is eating Cheerios or trying to face gridlock without hyperventilating, about a dozen women, naked from the waist down, lie with eyes closed in a velvet-curtained room, while clothed men huddle over them, stroking them in a ritual known as orgasmic meditation — “OMing,” for short. The couples, who may or may not be romantically involved, call one another “research partners.”
Actually, I think it's unfair to call this a "kooky sex cult." Reading between the lines of the article, it is clear that the women involved have some real issues relating to sexuality, a common phenomenon in the Bay Area, where many women either lose their innocence too early, or find their relationships stunted and unsatisfying. This seems to be a typical complaint:
Most residents are young questers, seeking to fill an inner void and become empowered through Ms. Daedone’s blend of female-centric spirituality and sexuality. One, Beth Crittenden, 33, grew up in conservative Virginia tobacco country, a place, she said, where the fundamentals of the female anatomy were never discussed and masturbation was unmentionable. “I’d never done anything even in the dead of night,” she said.
I know a thing or two about "conservative Virginia tobacco country." There's plenty of sex going on there, but clearly very little of it was taking place in the proximity of Ms. Crittendon. But, we all want to be loved, and that can take some practice. Still, the specific manner in which the center conducts its practice is a little creepy.

In the One Taste world, a weirdly clinical pact is made between the women and men. There is no eye contact during orgasmic meditation. The idea, similar to Buddhist Tantric sex, is to extend the sensory peak — and publicly share it — before “going over,” as residents, who tend toward group-speak, call climaxing.

Although men are not touched by the women and do not climax, they say they experience a sense of energy and satiation. Both the strokers and strokees insist that all this OMing is really about the “hydration” of the self, the human connection, not sex.

A lot of this seems geared towards helping women overcome the fear of male sexual power by neutering the man's role in the sex act. While the woman learns to focus on herself, she does so without acknowledging that a man is responsible for whatever pleasure she is having. Maybe this is a necessary step towards self-actualization, or whatever. But a lot of these women seem frightened of sex, or perhaps, frightened of the fact that they must rely on men to have fulfilling sex lives. While the One Taste center offers some comfort to damaged souls, it also looks like a sort of mass neurotic avoidance maneuver.

I do, however, agree with this:
Said Ms. Daedone, 41, who can quote the poet Mary Oliver and speak wryly on the intricacies of women’s anatomy with equal aplomb. “I don’t think women will really experience freedom until they own their sexuality.”
American society, for all its supposed Puritanical tendencies, is actually quite comfortable with young women learning the mechanics of sex, even as it tells them to "wait." Very little attention is paid to teaching women about the emotional bond that sex can create. As a result, many girls and young women find themselves enslaved by their sex drives, becoming sexually and emotionally bonded to men who don't particularly care for them outside of the bedroom. Let that happen enough times and even the boldest brassiest "post-feminist" might find it easier to look to a psychological construct like "orgasmic meditation," rather than head back to The Marina* on Friday night. 

A woman who understands herself and her sexuality will also understand that she has the freedom to pick and choose wisely among her potential partners (and the average woman in her twenties has plenty of offers, believe me) in order to construct a fulfilling life for herself. That is true "choice" in action. A women driven solely by her sexual desires will find herself a plaything, not just of the men in her life, but also of her sex drive itself, with often calamitous results for her emotionally, psychologically, and financially. For women, freedom lies not in license, but in the wisdom of their choices. 

* an SF neighborhood known for its singles scene

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