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The students had already taken off their clothes and slipped into robes when they lined up in two rows facing each other. They stood close in the softly lit room, with seven women on one side and seven men just across from them.
The men would soon practice stroking the women. But first, they had some warm-up exercises to do.
A sultry-voiced, earthy brunette named Shara Ogin introduced the group to the practice of "obnosing," or noticing the obvious, which involves looking at someone and listing off their physical characteristics. A steady hum filled the quiet, yogalike studio as each man gazed at the woman facing him and rattled off his observations. The freckles on a cheek. The shape of an eyebrow. The way a band of color stretched around a woman's pupils.
The exercise helped them practice for later, when the class would shift its focus to obnosing female genitalia.
Then, when it came time for the stroking exercise to begin, each woman stretched out an arm and the man across from her took it and cradled it gently in his own. The sleeves of their robes, whether silky or fuzzy, pink or baby blue, were pushed back to expose the soft bare skin on the inner side of the forearm. The stroke is a key aspect of the practice known as "orgasmic meditation" (or OM), which is designed to help people tap into sensual energy through stimulation of the clitoris. The practice is at the heart of One Taste Urban Retreat Center in SOMA, a shared-living community where the stroking class is being taught.
Orgasmic meditation is devoted to female orgasm after all, the women are typically the ones being stroked. But the idea is that the "strokers" (who are often men, but may be women, too) are also fulfilled through what community members call "pleasure by proxy," as well as by enjoying the sensations in their bodies as they stroke. There are courses in how to satisfy a woman with hands-on instruction designed to show what she wants, and how to give it to her. One class, for example, is titled "Ten Women Want You to Know: How to Handle a Woman's Pussy."
But for now, it was arms only.
"The men are going to stroke it as you would the clit during an OM," Ogin instructed.
"Like you would a cat!" added Nicole Daedone, who was leading the class.
With forefingers busy stroking, Ogin worked the room, inspecting everyone's technique although at One Taste they say sensuality is about 80 percent learning to navigate resistance and only 20 percent technique. She urged the men to shut their eyes and feel how much pleasure they could extract from the arm-stroking exercise. Did they want to change the speed? Change the pressure? How much sensation could they feel?
Next, the women were encouraged to share. One felt an opening in her throat. Another felt a quivering. "I feel a warmth in my pussy," yet another woman said.
They don't say "vagina" here. They prefer "pussy" and "cock" because, in the parlance of the people running the place, those words are more "chargey," or full of energy.
This little exercise was just a flavor of what was to come in the nearly 10-hour, $195 introductory workshop at One Taste. Over the next few hours, those attending would watch an orgasmic meditation demonstration and, if they wished, pair up for more hands-on exercises. During the lunch break, they could eat anything they wanted so long as it was fed to them by someone else. The day-long course would literally climax with multiple climaxes at least for the women.
And no, they weren't faking it.
At One Taste Urban Retreat Center, orgasm is life. One Taste is home to more than 50 "turned on" people who describe themselves as "messengers of orgasm." Community members cook, eat, do yoga, and sleep together. They live together in several buildings in the same neighborhood, with as many as 24 people staying in one of the large bedrooms.
Most pair up as "research partners" to explore sensuality with one another. That can mean simply sharing a bed, making out, having intercourse, or some level of intimacy in between. Research partnerships can last for as short as a week or for more than a year. While some at One Taste are monogamous, many are not. And just because a pair of residents may have broken up as research partners doesn't preclude them from occasionally snuggling and making out on one of the center's comfy vintage couches.
They call this a research community rather than a commune, although communal living is part of the deal. It's not the first sensuality-focused community, but there are a couple of things that set One Taste apart.
For one thing, while it clearly has a pleasure principle, One Taste also emphasizes discipline one reason that its denizens created what they call an "urban monk" sensual immersion program. The community typically comes together to practice orgasmic meditation three times each weekday, at 7 a.m. (that's the big one where just about everybody goes), 2 p.m., and about 6:45 p.m. The afternoon and evening OMs tend to be a bit smaller, due to work and other obligations. The schedule differs slightly on weekends, with a 7:45 a.m. OM session to allow community members to sleep in.