Just when you thought professional cuddlers had roped in all the easy money just short of prostitution and strip clubs, along comes OneTaste.
OneTaste is controversial “business” that focuses on a practice that the company calls “orgasmic meditation” (OM). On its website, the company describes “orgasmic meditation” as “a unique wellness practice that combines mindfulness with the power of the deeply human, deeply felt experience of Orgasm” and which Bloomberg describes as “a trademarked procedure that typically involves a man using a gloved, lubricated fingertip to stroke a woman’s clitoris for 15 minutes”
Or in other words, and despite what it may claim otherwise, the company is selling sex.
Founded in San Francisco (of course), the company is trying to make a business out of selling better orgasms to potential
marks customers, focusing mostly on emotionally walled-off women, while allowing nerdy men to finger woman (in exchange for a price). And they’re not just selling videos or brochures – they’re selling interactive classes, where participants are encouraged to learn by doing.
But the company’s former members, including 16 of them profiled by Bloomberg, highlight the dark side of what some are calling a cult: expensive classes, preying on emotionally vulnerable people and being shunned by group members after leaving.
Former members spoke anonymously for fear of retribution from the company. Some called the company a “kind of prostitution ring” that would exploit trauma victims and others searching for healing. Some members believed that the company used flirtation and sex to lure in targets that were emotionally vulnerable. It is also accused of having employees be conditioned to work for free and “ordering staffers to have sex or OM with each other”, or customers.
The company’s classes can range from $199 for an introduction to $4,000 for a retreat, to $16,000 for an “intensive”. The company also started charging $60,000 for an annual membership in 2014. According to the company, about 1,400 people have taken its coaching program, 6,500 have come to an intro class, and more than 14,000 have signed up for online courses and its app.
Confused by what the company really does? Here is Bloomberg:
The company-hosted evening OM circles in Manhattan sometimes held 30 or more pairs of strokers and strokees in one room, the fully clothed men concentrating on their moving fingertips while the women, naked from the waist down, moaned, wailed, and sighed. Afterward, Michal and her co-workers would run that night’s OneTaste event, where they set up chairs, jogged the microphone over to attendees, and chatted up more sales leads. It was exhausting.
One former sales person said: “You fluff someone to get them energetically and emotionally hard. You were the dangled bait, like ‘You can have more of this if you buy this $10,000 course.’?”
But according to the report, the company gets around this by teaching its practitioners that “money is just an emotional obstacle”. Students also say they were encouraged to take out multiple credit cards to pay for classes.
“The first time I didn’t cover my credit card bill, it broke something in my mind,” says Ruwan Meepagala, who went to his first OneTaste event in 2012 at age 24, worked for the company for about two years, and left owing $30,000 on his credit cards. “I was no longer afraid of debt,” he says. “Once you break that barrier, $3,000 is the same as $30,000.” At one point, Meepagala complained that he and his co-workers hadn’t been paid in two months; he says he was publicly shamed for having a “scarcity mindset.”
The company denies this characterization, calling it “outrageous”. Chief Executive Officer Joanna Van Vleck said: “OneTaste is the Whole Foods of sexuality—the organic, good-for-you version. The overarching thing is, orgasm is part of wellness.”
They are also trying to lure businesses as clients, exploiting the #MeToo movement as a reason companies should consider their service.
“We’re having conversations with companies about #MeToo and how to teach connection as preventive health for companies rather than treating the disease of sexual harassment,” Van Vleck said.
But former members have left feeling worse than when they joined. One former member said, looking back on her time with the company: “I feel really disgusted that I put myself through that. I felt so much more confused about sex and the boundaries of my body, even though that’s what they say it helps you cultivate.”
Bloomberg also did a video report on its longform article, which you can view here: