Minutes after I met Joanna Van Vleck, she was telling me about an instructional video she had made to demonstrate a new approach to the blow job. "There's a clitoris in your throat," she said. "Once you reach it, you can suck a cock for an hour."
This wasn't just a male fantasy out of Deep Throat, she insisted. It was a completely new approach that focused on the pleasure of women. I was struck by how insistent and cheerful she was about it. She came across as a missionary for the life-transforming potential of progressive oral sex.
She also starred in the video, she added. "So soon you'll see me sucking cock."
Send me that video the instant it's available for review, I told her.
I knew that Joanna was president of a group called One Taste, which was in my vague impression some kind of San Francisco sex cult that practiced group masturbation. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in my universe. From the playroom of Sandstone to the orgies of Rajneesh to the "complex marriages" practiced by the Perfectionist communities at Oneida and Wallingford in the 19th century, the dream of sexual utopia has always fascinated me. It might be crazy, but it's also a formalized and systemic approach to the journey we all go through in the march toward freedom and self-acceptance. And spending an hour or two talking to an attractive woman about sex isn't exactly painful—especially when you say you might want to check out this orgasmic meditation thing and a big smile breaks out on her face. "I'll teach you!"
A few weeks later, Joanna sent me a link to the video, which was called Oral Sex For Her Pleasure. The blurbs were certainly promising:
Sucking cock for my own pleasure changed the way I related with men. Before I did it out of obligation or to make him feel good. Now the primary reason is because I have a hungry desire and lust for cock.—Yia V.
The first time I sucked a cock for my own pleasure, I took him all the way into my mouth, and I could feel the pulsing of his cock in my pussy. I had no idea it could be that intensely pleasurable.—Lianna
I watched the video with my wife. Joanna began with a perky monologue about shifting the blow-job paradigm from a porny, servicing-the-man approach to a more empowered female approach that is sensual and non-goal-oriented. "When I do it for me," the message is, "he gets more of what he wants." The instructional blow job that followed was shot in a white room with a naturalistic Zen style and lasted about 15 minutes. It didn't feel like porn because it seemed so healthy and female-focused, alternating a meditative peaks-and-valley sensual style with periods of animalistic deep throating that didn't seem to be striving for effect, which was pretty striking in itself. It reminded me of how the porn star and writer Ashley Blue shoves her hand in her mouth as a way of turning herself on. It's hot because she's doing it for herself. But my wife said she thought this whole "clitoris-like structure in the throat" sounded questionable—if it was a real scientific thing, she would have heard of it.
I talked to Joanna a few days later, and she told me the video is the first in a series—the next is about making out—dedicated to the slow sex concept. "The whole idea is when you practice Orgasmic Mediation your sex becomes different."
So what is Orgasmic Meditation? It's a sexual practice—bear with me, it sounds ridiculous—where a woman spreads her legs and the person sitting next to her gently caresses the upper-left quadrant of her clitoris for exactly 15 minutes. You can hear the founder's pitch in this Ted talk or get a vivid participation-journalism take on it in this article from Gawker, but it might be enough to know that the classes are expensive and involve confessions and confrontations of the encounter-group-therapy type—not, to my mind, promising signs. It's also a little weird that when One Tasters say "orgasm" they don't actually mean "orgasm" but a kind of generalized arousal or hyper-sensuality, which is the approach they're trying to promote with this new instructional video sideline.
On the other hand, Joanna is so nice and attractive, and her blow-job skills are certainly intriguing testimony to whatever she learned from One Taste. The instructional materials that accompany the video give a good impression of the high points:
In the back of your throat is a sensitized, soft spot which when touched produces pleasurable convulsions throughout your body. Take your time to find it. Slowly tap his cock on the back of your throat. Use his cock to stroke this sensitive spot yourself and take your full pleasure. Allow the saliva and snot and tears to flow. Allow every part of you to drip onto him. When we release into the involuntary, things get wet. Enjoy the slickness, the full release.
And how does one achieve these admirable skills? It's all about "goallessness," Joanna tells me. Most women think of blow jobs as something they do for the guy, so it becomes all about getting him off and they forget to focus on their own pleasure. It's difficult to break this dynamic because as soon as you focus on yourself, you worry that you're neglecting your partner or being selfish. Joanna calls this "one of the larger sexual misconceptions," and men are certainly subject to it as well—they worry about getting their partners off, distracting them from the moment, or watch their marriages go stale when they learn how to push the little triggers that get the fastest results. It's difficult to accept that doing whatever feels good to you is going to be good for your partner, too.
As a member of a gender that has been pilloried for about 50 years for being selfish in sex, I can think of a few immediate objections. But I also know that there's nothing more common than responding to sexual weirdness with "a few immediate objections." So let's just listen for now.
"One of the things Orgasmic Mediation gave me is permission for a lot of these rules to be in place," Joanna explains. "For example, in the video, that was an hour-long cock-suck, it was edited for length, and the only reason you're able to go for an hour is because it's goalless—you go up and you go down, and his cock gets limp and it gets hard. And that's what you learn in Orgasmic Meditation—I mean, it's nice to say, 'Yeah, let's be goalless in sex.' But then you get to the bed with somebody and you think, 'Are they going to think I'm a bad lover if they don't come?'"
So the pussy stroking is actually…?
"A container where you can practice all these different potentials in sex."
One potential she mentions is the opportunity to focus on one thing like a tennis player practicing her serve. But the real goal seems to be the social euphoria that comes from OMing with strangers—from learning, as Joanna puts it, "to share an intimate moment with someone and not be in love with them."
Which brings us to the crux of the matter, the thing that drives groups like One Taste to re-imagine the sexual-social contract. Can we share something intimate and not be in love? Or are intimacy and love aspects of the same thing?
"They're conflated," she concedes. "But one of the the things OM will show you is they're definitely not the same."
I come up with the oldest objection in the book: it doesn't sound very romantic.
"Romance takes time," Joanna says. "'Let's go to dinner, let's spend the night, let's talk for hours.' I don't have a lot of time for romance with a lot of people. But that doesn't mean we can't share an intimate moment."
I feel myself wanting to make the case for experiencing a few great loves instead of hundreds of fleeting connections, which is weird—I'm usually the lead pervert in any conversation about sex. It occurs to me that I am possibly coming to this from what my polyamorous friends call "the place of scarcity." After all, I'm older and married and a guy and she's younger and pretty and female, so our ratio of spark-to-fire is much different. Plus, she's in a sex cult where everybody wants to stroke her pussy.
"I don't think it's a sex cult," she says.
"I'm just teasing," I lie.
"But I love the point you bring up," she says. "We walk around as human beings starving for intimacy, and when you're starving, you want to gobble down it."
So if I went to a One Taste seminar and learned OM, I would experience this intimacy with a variety of different people?
Yes, she tells me. It would take a while, like going to a gym, but one day it would kick in.
"You'll be OMing with someone you didn't think you would, whether it's a young hot thing or an older woman, and you'll experience something you never experienced, some reaction between your body and hers, and then you look at this person and say I can't believe I had an intimate feeling with this person. Then you say 'Thank you' and you quietly thank yourself that you were able to have this intimate experience."
It really is starting to sound religious. But I can see how it might work, setting off Jungian echoes of the Bonobo-esque grooming rituals that must have once eased our social isolation and communicated goodwill in the primordial darkness. Swingers call it the joy of the pile, the giddy sense that all social rules and restrictions are on holiday. It's that oceanic promise that keeps drawing me to these sexual utopias in the first place. You could even say it's the promise at the heart of marriage, though marriage is so often the place the promise goes to die.
"Someday people will get the message," Joanna says. "We don't all have to be malnourished in terms of sex and intimacy, with our stomachs protruding out."
For the last couple of weeks, she and her team have been holding premieres around the country for Oral Sex for Her Pleasure and about 100 people have showed up at each. The video and the instructional e-book sells for $8 online, plus there's a 10-day challenge to any couple that might want to work on it together:
Day 3: Now you're ready to take the head of his cock into your mouth. Go slow enough to feel every millimeter, every nuance. Feel and explore the shape of his corona with your mouth. Feel as his cock slides slowly deeper in, filling your mouth.
Day 8: Today is climax day. Start sucking his cock with long, slow, deep strokes. Be careful not to stroke him with too much over-eagerness, otherwise you'll take him over a soft edge before reaching the hard edge. So find the speed and pressure that has ignition but be sure to hold back just slightly. Better to under-stroke just slightly than over-stroke.
"Definitely, it takes practice," she says. "You can't just say, 'Oh, let me throw a cock in the back of my throat.'"
So far the reactions have been mixed. Joanna remembers one lady at a screening saying, "I hope that my husband doesn't think I'm going to be doing this to him." But another woman went home and tried so hard, she ended up throwing up.
Joanna approved. "I said, 'Well, at least she went all out.'"