In the first episode of BBC podcast The Orgasm Cult investigative journalist Nastaran Tavakoli-Far sits in a room clutching a microphone as a couple from San Francisco engage in “OMing”, a wellness practice that involves the woman lying on a pile of cushions and having her nether regions stroked by a man for 15 minutes (there’s a clock to remind them when their time is up).
Yes, I know how this sounds. But it isn’t purely about sex, according to Nicole Daedone, OMing exponent and CEO of the sexual wellness company OneTaste. It is “orgasmic meditation”, a practice that is based on Buddhist ritual and, she claims, helps women lose their inhibitions.
In order to experience it, people pay to attend workshops. Often these same people are later recruited to bring in new clients. They are encouraged to leave their jobs, invest in coaching programmes — a snip at $12,000 — and move into “OM houses” where they spend their days refining their technique and touting for business. One ex-employee claims here that, should they fail to bring in new customers, they are encouraged to offer up their own bodies to help persuade them.
You can hear Tavakoli-Far, formerly of The Gender Knot podcast, trying to stay open-minded. This must have been difficult, as the whole thing sounds like a massive con from the off. Daedone and OneTaste appear to prey on women who are vulnerable or unhappy with their sex lives. It also seems a magnet for lonely men who see it as a ticket to sex with multiple women. It’s no wonder the company is now the focus of scrutiny by the FBI over allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution (the company has denied any abusive practices or other wrongdoing).
The podcast is clearly designed to make a splash. There’s the title, which makes it sound alluring and creepy all at once, and the sensationalist opening episode which, clearly, is best listened to in private. There’s wisdom, too, in combining topics that come under the umbrella genres of wellness and true crime, since both are popular among listeners.
There have been points, however, when I’ve been frustrated with the slow pace and zealous signposting. Depth and detail is good, but the narrative is given to sagging; this 10-episode series could easily have been slimmed down to a snappy five-parter. Nonetheless, the scope of the investigation is impressive. Tavakoli-Far has travelled far and wide in pursuit of the story — OneTaste has centres in San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York and London — and what a story it is.
Cults are a big theme for podcasters, with stories invariably taking in trauma, greed, manipulation and criminal activity. Reveal: American Rehab uncovers a brutal new blueprint for addicts in recovery that results in them being forced into unpaid labour. Cults, from Parcast, is a smart, glossily produced series looking at the psychology behind those who start cults and those who join them.