Episode 23: Permission
“Most of our lives as women in the early years are spent having some relationship to our future with children -- whether we’re going to have them, or not going to have them, and how we’re going to have them and with whom. Then you have the children and all of a sudden, something shifts within you. There is this incredible yearning to express a freedom that you now feel.” --Monica, OneTaste Resident
For most people, sexuality is entangled in shame and guilt, for how much we want and the ways that we want it. What happens when we give ourselves permission? What happens when we give a voice to our desire? Hear the story of a woman who, after her children were born, found a freedom in sex that she had never known before. Also, a live performance of an improvisational poem about the sadness behind suppressed desire.
J: In junior high school, I remember trying to hide my discomfort whenever the term "orgasm" came up, because I didn't quite know what it meant. I didn't find out until age 22 when, by accident, I discovered that a certain movement, while having sex on top, could get me off. Even then, I didn't really realize what I had finally experienced until later, when it became clear that this rush of heat and energy through my body was, in fact, orgasm.
J: From One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco, we bring you "A Taste of Sex: Reality Audio", a podcast with the personal revelations, stories and perspectives of people engaged in a conscious exploration of connection, sensuality and relationship. This week, the first half of "Learning to Feel Through Orgasm".
Part 1: "Defining Orgasm"; Part 2: "Orgasm As A Practice"; and Part 3: We'll hear the story of a woman who couldn't feel her body, and what happened when she started a practice known as "Orgasmic Meditation".
I'm J. Join us and turn on.
J: Most of us know orgasm as a messy, although pleasurable, release of pent-up energy that, more often than not, fades into sleep. But, if you stop and think about it, the concept of orgasm is pretty profound. If not for orgasm, we would not have been born. From orgasm comes life. Still, we have yet to isolate orgasm, study it, and know it for what it is. At the same time, you could say that we need orgasm in today's culture, perhaps more than ever before.
We have come to rely so much on our minds that we no longer know how to access the information contained in our bodies. We have literally become talking heads. With orgasm, we can learn to know our bodies, because in orgasm we are out of control. In orgasm, we return to a primal state, where we know the force and power of life, where we feel the energy that always pulses through us, and where we are, even if just for a few seconds, no longer prisoners of our minds.
Part 1: Defining Orgasm - We'll start with the standard definition.
Male Speaker 1: Orgasm, a definition from Wikipedia. An orgasm, or sexual climax, is the conclusion of the plateau phase of the sexual response cycle. It may be experienced by both males and females. Orgasm is characterized by intense physical pleasure controlled by the involuntary, or autonomic, nervous system. It is accompanied by quick cycles of muscle contraction in the lower pelvic muscles, which surround the primary sexual organs and the anus. Orgasms are often associated with other involuntary actions, including muscular spasms in other areas of the body, a general euphoric sensation, and, frequently, vocalizations.
J: Here are a few more ways to think about orgasm, brought to you by a few people who were hanging out at One Taste one day last week, some of whom are part of our residential immersion program. Before you listen, start thinking about orgasm not as the climax but as a vital energy that exists in your body.
Shane: When I was 16, I read this book by Mantak Chia that's called "Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy". A lot of the book is a philosophical positioning about orgasm being a fundamental energy from which we come from, and so looking at the truth that we came from our parent's orgasm. Maybe just from our dad's orgasm, but we certainly did come from an orgasm. I really had a visceral realization of the truth of that at this party. I've really got that, "Wow, we've all come from orgasm". I'm going around and I'm telling all these drunk people, "Do you realize you came from one orgasm?", and they're like, "Huh? I don't want to talk about that". So, I think that it's a source. It's part of who we are. It's fundamental to our evolution as a species.
Amy: Orgasm is that feeling in my body, that's this vibration starting at the pelvic floor moving up my torso. When I shut my eyes and I feel into it, it's just this thrumming force in my body.
J: What is orgasm for you?
Megan: For me, orgasm is that point of total out of control, where it doesn't matter what you think or what you do, or what the other person is going to think or what the other person is going to do. It is what it is, and it has no apologies.
Justine: For me, the orgasm is the place of being out of control. So, it's the place where the ego let's go, and the flow of life can just come through.
Leif: Orgasm, for me, is not necessarily the sex orgasm. It's more like the connection I have with people that sometimes happens mostly without words. I think what defines it for me is I don't feel like I need to have to be anyone special, and I get from them the same - like we're just okay with each other - that connection.
J: Thanks to Shane, Amy, Megan, Justine, and Leif for their insights. Okay, so maybe they brought up more questions than they answered. Still, we're moving on.
Part 2: "Orgasm As A Practice" - Orgasmic Meditation is a practice of feeling the orgasm that exists between two people. When I first heard of it, I thought the idea was definitely interesting, definitely intriguing, and definitely titillating; But, I never thought it would be something that I would take on. It seemed too weird. But, then I started dating someone who knew the practice. I remember telling my roommate, after the first time we did it, that I had felt this expansion in my stomach, kind of like that "swoosh" that you feel when a plane takes off from a runway. It was a feeling that I had never experienced before.
Orgasmic Meditation is truly a meditation, but unlike Zen or Vipassana Meditation, it has the added element of the physical body. In Vipassana, the focus is on the breath. In Orgasmic Meditation, the focus is the stroke. Specifically, the stroke on a woman's clitoris or a man's penis. The idea, for both people, is to bring awareness to whatever you feel. In the practice, the definition of orgasm becomes the turning on of the involuntary nervous system. The state of out of control. It is heat, electricity, flow. Anything that describes what is generated between people when they are in connection with one another.
The way the practice goes is this: there's a "stroker" and a "strokee". The strokee lies on their back, naked from the waist down. The stroker is fully dressed, sitting up, with one leg over the strokee's stomach, and the other leg tucked under the strokee's legs, which are butterflied open. A session lasts for 15 minutes. During that time, the only job of the strokee is to feel.
After I broke up with the guy with whom I had first tried Orgasmic Meditation, I resisted the idea of doing it with someone other than a boyfriend. And, then I decided "what the hell". I would try an experiment, a week or Orgasmic Meditation, also known as "ohming", in which I would withhold all judgment. In that first session, I lay down not knowing what to expect. What followed was subtle, so subtle I could have missed it had I not been paying close attention. Just the tiniest "bzzz, bzzz" at the tip of my clit where he stroked. I was amazed. It was a completely new sensation. I felt pure electricity. A spark between his touch and my skin.
My best analogy is that it is like water flowing. Sometimes it is a rocky river. Other times a smooth, underground spring. It is never predictable and always beautiful, which brings us to Part Three. Beth Crittenden is very smart and very articulate. With her organization skills, willingness, and motivation, she is any boss's fantasy. She's also very pretty, which she can use quite effectively, along with her Southern ways, to charm almost anyone. So, you would think she had it all, right? Well no, because the one thing Beth lacked was an ability to feel. Two years ago she took up the practice of Orgasmic Meditation.
Beth Crittenden: It's hard to even say who I was when I first started having orgasm as a practice. There were so many different, disparate parts of me. There was the super-organized, professional woman, and there was the dancer, who was really free, and creative, and flowing, and then, there was the woman who could seem like she was really deeply in a relationship, but not ever fully be there, and then there was the woman who felt so guilty about not living up to the standards that she held for herself.
It felt like I was lots and lots and lots of different people at different times, and they very rarely overlapped. So, I actually thought that I was just going to take care of this little orgasm thing, or whatever, because I knew I was really shut down in sex, and I knew that my partners could kind of tell but they never knew what to do about it, and I didn't know what to do about it. So, I really just wanted to pick up the skill, so then I could do something that was really important.
J: Welcome back to "A Taste of Sex: Reality Audio". I'm J. So, how much did you feel in those first couple of Orgasmic Mediation sessions?
Beth Crittenden: I didn't feel anything. I could see that the person was looking at my genitals, and I could feel my back touching the ground when I was having a session. When people would ask, "Which way is the stroke going, up or down?" and "What sensations do you feel?", I got so angry with them, and I tried to hide it. I thought it was going to be like other things in life, where I could just learn to fake it from the outside really well.
I knew, when I heard other people giving frames, like describing a moment where they felt something, was like "They were making that up! How did they make it seem so real?" What I felt was similar to having an AM radio station between the channels, just like this "crrrrrrrrr", and it seemed like other women had so much variety, and they would get heat, and they would feel waves moving through them. They'd say, "I felt this huge wave moving over me", and I'm like "What are you talking about?!? Maybe someone just turned on the air conditioning, or something". You know, I always wanted to find the external explanation for why they were feeling that.
J: So, someone's finger was on your clitoris, stroking it up and down.
Beth Crittenden: It could have been anything. I didn't know where my clitoris was before it started. I didn't know for sure that I had one or not. Like just this total vagueness about my genitals. That genital area was so charged up for me. It was so like, "No, you don't go there, it's NeverNeverLand." I used to joke and call my genitals Australia, because it's like "That country way down below that I'm never going to visit. It'd be nice to go there, but no way". Just "No Man's Land", you know.
It always felt that my genitals were there more for other people than for me. This idea that I could actually just feel, and not give them anything back, other than start to feel sensation, that was so hard to believe.
J: What made you want to do a practice of feeling when you couldn't really feel? So, I imagine you had the first session. In your mind, you're probably thinking "Oh, I don't really get it", right?
Beth Crittenden: Oh yeah, for months.
J: So, then what inspired you to keep going?
Beth Crittenden: I don't want there to ever be a situation where other people can do something that I can't do. It's just sheer persistence and stubbornness. While I didn't believe, necessarily, that I'd be able to feel a lot, I believed that at least something would change about my sex life. It was so incredibly empty, and painful, and isolating, in a way, when I couldn't feel. I just think I was willing to keep going with something that seemed to work for other people, even if I didn't believe, at first, that it would work for me.
J: Describe the first couple of months of the practice.
Beth Crittenden: Basically, anything that you can think of for me to think about that did not include my body at that moment, I would think of it. I got really excited once I started getting involved with a business because I speak that language, you know. So, when my shame came up, around just having the "luxury" of lying back and having an ohm, it was very comforting for me to think about, "Okay, what business stuff did I work on?" and "What did I need to do?" I would go through just amazing "to do" lists in my mind. I would actually feel proud that I was getting work done in my mind during ohms. I felt like I was...
J: ...The best woman in the whole room.
Beth Crittenden: ...Oh totally. I was so dedicated. I was willing to completely block out the ohm so that I could help the business. Which, ironically, would be letting women know that they can have their pleasure, and that they don't have to mentally work during ohms. But, somehow I was different. Definitely, memories started to come up, of times when I wish I would have had more of a voice in sexual situations, and wondering if I was recreating that, and a lot of judgment for myself for: "Is this good for me? Is this actually good for me? Is this actually doing anything? What am I getting out of it?" All that stuff.
J: At what point did you realize, "Oh, I'm actually feeling something."
Beth Crittenden: It really started with one little thing at a time. Once I started saying out loud, "I'm feeling this little wrinkle in my belly on the left side", or "I'm feeling my toe tingle". It was so painstaking to piece those sensations together. And, that's when it really started, and I told myself it wasn't enough, but I just kept doing it, and it built up.
I remember this one night that I was having a hard time with a research partner, and just not opening up to him, and kind of pushing him out, and having a really hard time connecting with him emotionally; and then, I went and had an ohm.
That night I was so worn down and sad from the conversation. It was late at night, I was tired, and I just laid back and I didn't try anymore, and I didn't question. It was just, all the sudden, there was this quiet, connected feeling, where there was warmth, like a puddle of warmth, around his finger coming from my clit. [laughs] I felt paralyzed there, like, "Oh". It wasn't the fireworks, it was just this quiet certainty that I had changed. You know, I think I got a little freaked out after that, and started acting out in ways that would have it be harder for me to feel what was there.
J: How So?
Beth Crittenden: Like, with food, you know. Either eating a lot to dull out the sensation, or to manage my anxiety. Or, not eating very much because I wanted to look a certain way.
J: So, it's almost like you wanted to override the sensation that you had started to feel.
Beth Crittenden: Oh yeah. It was so challenging, and it's so hard for me to be that patient. I didn't want to be that patient. I wanted quicker results. Even if the results were going to be bad, I wanted to have control of it again. It is so, there is something so precious and special about it, in a way. It challenges my view of myself to carry something like that inside of me, even if it's not a tangible, static thing. It feels like a greater responsibility to be kinder to myself, once I acknowledge what I can feel. I mean, I do feel like that's my spiritual experience when I can feel my body that much.
J: Once you started feeling, then what? Did you feel more in other parts of your life? More emotions? More feelings? Or, just how did it go?
Beth Crittenden: I started having these like way out of proportion emotions. I had to recalibrate my reactions to things, and learn how to just have it in the moment. When I first started ohming, and I first started opening up, but I still wasn't feeling yet, people would say all the time, "I can't feel you", and I didn't know what they were talking about. It drove me crazy.
J: And what were they talking about?
Beth Crittenden: Oh, oh, I get it now. I can tell, beyond someone's words, what's going on in their being. So, someone could be smiling at me and telling me how much they love me, and if there is an energy coming from them, that like, my chest is getting tight, or my stomach is in knots, I know that's not what they mean. I can feel that they mean something other than what they are actually saying.
J: So, what about now? So, now you're two plus years into doing the practice of Orgasmic Meditation, so that's a long time. I'm wondering, what's the difference between now, in the way that you feel, both in your ohms and also in your life, versus when you first started?
Beth Crittenden: Now, I can feel completely washed out with sensation. I can actually feel - I heard someone say this the other day - that it's like going from that place in The Wizard of Oz, where it's black and white, and then all of a sudden the Technicolor flows in - that's what ohming feels like for me now.
The non-ohming stuff, it is amazing to me how I'm starting to learn how to let love in, whether it's someone loving me, or me loving someone. The practice has helped me learn how to have friends, and learn how to have lovers that are more than just sex.
I think the hardest part for me now is that, in my mind, I want all of my feelings to make sense and be very congruent, really like match my values. It doesn't match my value that I feel so jealous of other women so much of the time, you know. I'm supposed to be a better person than that. I'm supposed to be more mature than that, and it just doesn't work that way. So, ohming helps me also have a sense of humor about it. By finding things, just sensation, and by being curious about it, it helps me feel like this explorer instead of this victim who is having emotions beyond her will.
J: So, do you think it's a good thing to feel?
Beth Crittenden: Oh, I absolutely do. I mean, even when it drives me crazy, I'm just so glad that it's real crazy. I'm so glad that it's not me running the show. It feels like that's my spirituality. It's tapping into whatever source that is for really, really deep emotions.
J: Thank you for listening to "A Taste of Sex: Reality Audio". For transcripts of this show, you can find us on the web at Personallifemedia.com. For more information about One Taste, our lectures, classes, and workshops on connection, sensuality, and relationship, join us next week for another episode about orgasm. I'm J.