In Defense of Orgasms.
This past Monday night, I attended the launch party of The Best Sex Writing 2012, published by Cleis Press and edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, in San Francisco. Many of the most prolific and controversial American sex writers attended and read from their essays, which are featured in the anthology. The pieces ran the gamut, from atheistic sex to the difference between sex trafficking and sex workers to political ‘sexting’ and polyamory.
However, the moment Tracy Clark-Flory took to the mic to read her article, The Worship of Female Pleasure (which was posted on Salon.com), I knew I had to brace myself. I remember the piece well, in which she speaks about her experience at viewing an impromptu demonstration of Orgasmic Meditation (also known as OM) at a women’s weekend retreat she recently attended.
Full disclosure: I teach the practice of Orgasmic Meditation and learned it through the “Slow Sex” coaching program Ms. Clark-Flory derides, mainly because of the cost and the “good old-fashioned capitalism” displayed in offering such a program (side note: most yoga teacher and life coach training programs cost anywhere from $3000-$20,000, so the price for the Slow Sex Coaching Program is well within the limits of financial reason). Though I am finished with my training and now have my own private practice and business, I am deeply grateful for the coaching program and for what Orgasmic Meditation has taught me.
So imagine my chagrin Monday night as people are snickering and rolling their eyes when she describes the reverie that the stroker of the OM demonstration was feeling, saying that her “throaty exhalation…sounds as if it belongs in a Lamaze class.” She notes that two members of the retreat are “overcome by the intensity of the performance and are silently crying” (insert more snide laughs here) and says that one has to dig beneath the “freaky OMing exterior” to find some semblance of a relatable message. Even the slightly snarky title, The Worship of Female Pleasure, suggests that to foster a deep relationship with our genitals (an area continuously shrouded in shame and secrecy, especially for women) is borderline religious, woo-woo weirdness.
Now, let me say that I genuinely respect Ms. Clark-Flory’s experience and her process. Her opinion is entirely hers and her perspective 100% valid. She doesn’t paint a completely negative picture of OM. She says that it’s a “refreshing counterpoint to the porny mainstream” and she touches upon the aspects of OM that are based in intuitiveness, mindfulness and countering our negative conditioning around sex. And I can also understand how she was caught off guard, since the women’s weekend advertised that there would be “no sexual activity.”
But to write off Orgasmic Meditation (or laugh it off, in the case of Monday night’s audience) without even having tried the practice seems completely closed-minded. I mean, there I am, frozen with shock in the middle of Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco (the Mecca of sexual adventure), at a freaking sex book party, for Chrissakes, and I am the black sheep of the sexual family. Rape fantasies, transgender prostitutes, penis gagging—all of that is welcome—even celebrated (as it should be!). But putting clean attention on a woman’s pussy for 15 minutes (while the other partner is clothed, no less!)—well that’s just too freaky.
Granted, a part of me can see why “not even most coast-dwelling liberals are ready to be intimately stroked in a roomful of strangers,” as Ms. Clark-Flory concludes. Shining a light on a woman’s orgasm and stripping it down to its barest essence (with no fancy toys or ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ to cover it up) can be extremely confronting. I can also understand that directly addressing the nature of female desire is still highly taboo in our culture. Hugo Schwyzer touches upon this in this essay, “I Want You to Want Me” (also featured in The Best Sex Writing 2012). He notes that while men are hungry to be physically looked upon and admired, the cultural gaze continues to stay fixated on women:
Teaching women that their bodies have great power over men creates a huge problem for women. By putting the focus on managing male desire, women are taught to ignore or suppress their own desires. It’s a loss for women and it’s a loss for men.
Finally, there’s my own personal orgasmic path, which hasn’t been all succulent delights and shrieks of ecstasy. Oh, make no mistake—I have had my share of sexual escapades. Tied up in rope for hours, gagged, spanked, flogged in public, anally penetrated, anally penetrated others, public sex, play parties, threesomes, foursomes, fivesomes—and of course, the good, old-fashioned American jackhammer fuck. I always considered myself a ‘good lay’ and achieving climax was never a problem. Perhaps you could call this my “Girls Gone Wild” phase after my divorce (my marriage being a time when I was so terrified of sex, I would just lay on my back while he ‘got it over with’). I thought it was my sexual duty as a self-proclaimed free woman to say ‘yes’ to any offer that came along and I even had a game going where I wanted to sleep with one man for each sign on the Zodiac (yes, I won).
Mind you, don’t get the idea that I am writing off these experiences as shallow and lacking in value. Many of them cracked me open in ways in which I am deeply grateful. And I don’t want to give the impression that the only meaningful sex comes from hours of eye-gazing and ‘tantric’ breathing. The distinction for me comes not in what I was exploring, but how I was exploring. At times I felt like I was playing sexual ‘Truth or Dare,’ rather than asking for what I really wanted in the moment (oftentimes because I couldn’t even identify exactly what it was that I wanted).
Through the “Girls Gone Wild” phase, I was OMing—and tapping into massive amounts of sexual energy. Sometimes it looked like stretches of thick, hot pleasure, but oftentimes it was intense bouts of crying as layers of shame and fear melted off my clit. But through it all, I held onto the ‘knowledge’ that I was a good fuck and that my sex was being liberated. My adventurous escapades were the evidence I needed to prove that I was, once-and-for-all, a woman open in her sexuality.
However, in the past few months, there has been a sharp and noticeable shift in my orgasm, and therefore, my sexual identity has come under the microscope.
Whereas before I was ready to ride anything that came along, I find myself wanting to spend more time alone or with just one other partner. My orgasm on the physical level feels much lighter and softer. I notice that I feel more sensation when my lover lightly breaths on my nipples than when he is pounding my pussy. What once was loud and brash and fiery is now more like a cool whisper. And peeking out from behind these new sensations is an innocent, barely-ripe ingénue who simply loves for love’s sake and has no battle-weary sexual résumé to back up her scars of knowledge. In fact, she really knows very little at all.
While there is an excitement in exploring these new flavors, there is also a tremendous amount of terror that I have somehow lost my electricity. I am afraid I am ‘less of a woman’ (an experience I had during my years of anorexia when I wasn’t menstruating). Connecting physically to my partner is easy in the light caresses, but somehow that thread gets broken once we explore higher levels of energy. I have an intense fear that no one can feel me here or find me in this place.
My identity is breaking into pieces. Who am I now, if I am not an insanely erotic beast ready to burst at every man’s touch? Who am I if I have no clue how to satisfy my lover on all levels? Am I really the monogamous type (cuz my pride tells me there’s no fuckin’ wayI’m getting caught in the vanilla marriage trap again)? What right do I have to teach Orgasmic Meditation if I have no clue who my own erotic self is?
It’s as if I’m standing on this very tiny, unstable lilypad—and everywhere I turn, white smoke spans out beyond me as far as I can see. I don’t know which way is north. I don’t know if there is solid ground beyond where I am standing. I can’t seem to feel or hear anyone. Loneliness, blindness and grief sit smack in the middle of my sex. Indeed, I am crying as I write this and I wonder, “Will I ever have the kind of timeless connection with another human being for which I have been hungering for all my life?”
I’m not talking about schlocky, romance, happily-ever-after, til-death-do-us-part bullshit. I am talking about soul-to-soul, naked in all our beauty and madness and filled up with so much orgasm that we just burst into another realm of existence. I have had glimpses beyond the veil, but I have no clue what those glimpses mean or how to get back.
My faith began to waver. “Fuck you, Orgasmic Meditation,” I cried out, “and your fucking false advertising.”
And then, a few nights ago, I saw a women experience OM for the first time. Afterwards, she looked at her partner with such love, tears filling her eyes. “I want to cry,” she said. “No one has ever put that kind of attention on me.”
Her orgasm reached across the room and warmed my whole body. Tingles ran over the backs of my hands and along my neck. My heart swelled in gratitude. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “this is why I teach this practice.”
She was a reminder of all that OM has taught me and was a testament to the power of the practice. One of my dear friends (and fellow coaches) noted that perhaps this soft part of me that is emerging was being ‘held hostage’ by the fact that I was a ‘hot lay.’
And so, without further ado, here is my Top 20 Hard-Knock Life Lessons from Orgasmic Meditation:
1. Life is so much richer when you aren’t grasping for climax. This way you are open to feeling all the nuances of what is here now, as opposed to clamping down on how you think it should be.
2. Sometimes all you need is a good, clean downstroke to carry you to the bottom, help you peel off an old layer, and bounce back up again.
3. Know when you are full and express your gratitude. It will help you expand your capacity to receive.
4. Every experience begins with desire. It’s your choice whether or not you express it, but if you hold back, there will be static between you and the other person that will make intimacy that much more difficult.
5. Don’t overstroke. When the peak has ended, be courageous enough to change.
6. Before there’s ‘get off,’ you must first put simple attention on what is, approve of it and engage it 100%.
7. Stroke for your pleasure. The moment you start doing something to produce a result, you are setting yourself up for resentment.
8. You’ve already done it ‘right.‘ All you have to do is show up and get into position.
9. Focus on sensation. It’s the purest language between you and your partner. Let go of the story you have around who that person is and who you think you are.
10. Life, like an OM, is an experience unto itself, not collateral for a future transaction. You don’t owe anyone anything for participating.
11. Push out through your genitals. The world is hungry to feel your orgasm. It’s the fuel that drives you and the energy that magnetizes that which you desire into your life.
12. Sometime we go up, sometimes we go down. The practice is in riding the waves, rather than drowning in them.
13. Breathe and surrender. The rest will be taken care of.
14. Be willing to ask for the exact stroke you want. Set yourself up so that the people around you can win.
15. ‘No’ is not a rejection of you, but of the offer. Don’t take anything personally.
16. Sometimes you are the stroker and sometimes you are the strokee. Know your role in the moment and play it fully.
17. Oftentimes, it is the lightest stroke that draws out the deepest desire.
18. Slow down. Feel. Include. Expand.
19. Orgasm is big enough to include everything and volatile enough to burn away what is false.
20. The ride alone is the reward.
And so, Ms. Clark-Flory (and various other SF audience members), I can understand why you might snicker and scoff at the ‘bizarre’ and ‘freaky’ practice of Orgasmic Meditation. It does look weird. On the surface, it’s not as glamorous-looking (and therefore not as easy to sell) as other sexual exploits. And, no doubt, it knocks on the doors guarding your pride and intimacy, as it does mine.
But OM is my foundation. I know this not because I have practicing it for over two years, but because my desire keeps bringing me back here (oftentimes against my will). As much as I want to escape into the known world of externally-validated sexuality, my body feels hollow and hungry the moment I start to turn my back on my practice.
Granted, OM may not be the path for everyone. One’s sexuality is a very personal exploration, as varied as there are people in the world. But I would appreciate a little care, open-mindedness and inclusivity for what resonates with me, just as I extend the same egalitarian attitude towards what works for you.
Or not. Because even if the whole world writes me off as some wacky crackpot, I will continue to do the thing that is most authentic and nourishing to my erotic self. For in the end, she answers to no one but her own desire.
Editor Tanya L. Markul