Love in France: A Clitoris Stroking Cult in Paris

A close up of a flower

When I moved back to Paris, I met M.*, through mutual friends, an American writer and author of several novels, living in the east of Paris. She’d been living in Paris for thirty-odd years. She had a rich community of French friends.  She was as French as an American could get.

I’d lived in Paris before, for periods of several years at a time. But now, in late middle-age, I’d resolved to be open to any and all activities that would challenge me, break my habitual routines, give me a new outlook, get me out and introduce me to new people, preferably French people. My hope was to be less cocooned in the predictable and, for me, often suffocating Anglophone community: To become, perhaps, more French.

M.’s literary subject and area of interest was sex.  After we’d discussed sex, sexuality, French and American attitudes toward sex, Tantra, etc., having sex seemed a natural extension of our friendship. It was like taking up a new sport with someone — bobsledding, say — and our shared enthusiasm made us very compatible partners. The sex was nice, but the wish to enmesh our lives wasn’t there. So we moved on to a comfortable platonic friendship. Perhaps this was quite French.

We continued to discuss sex, particularly as M. knew it in Paris, and she introduced me to her Orgasmic Meditation group. In OM, a woman lies down on a yoga mat or blanket and her partner, male or female, strokes her clitoris for 15 minutes.  M.’s group met once a month in a yoga studio to practice together, rotating partners through three 15-minute sessions; beyond the monthly sessions, couples got together to practice in each other’s homes. “Practice often and with different partners to improve technique,”  was an OM mantra. Once a month, they met for “OM Café”– a potluck dinner at a member’s home. This appeared to offer the social component, particularly among the French, that I’d been hoping for by expanding my activities in Paris. (Orgasmic Meditation was popularized under the business name of OneTaste, in San Francisco in 2001, which was subsequently investigated by the FBI, but OM predates that organization and is practiced worldwide.)

Invited by M., I joined the OMers, whose Facebook page showed a picture of Leonard Nimoy, dressed as Star Trek’s Spock, along with the caption: “It’s orgasm, Jim, but not as we know it.”

There’s a precise protocol to OM and I had to take two training sessions given by an experienced Omeuse, Isabelle, a friend of M.’s who instructed me while M. kindly lay down for me to practice on her.

First, the nest, or le nid, is prepared: yoga mat, blanket, cushions arranged just so, to accommodate both OMer and OMeuse. The woman receiving clitoral attention, the strokee, removes her clothing—only below the waist—and lies down, legs splayed open, while le stroker sits astride her and dons surgical gloves. The stroker’s gloved right hand cups the strokee’s right buttock, the thumb resting against or just inside the vagina, according to the strokee’s preference, while the gloved left index finger is generously smeared with lubricant, and a timer is set for 15 minutes. The stroker taps the timer on his iPhone, trying not to smear it with lubricant, and the stroking begins. This is done only with the left index finger. The left palm rests on the pubic bone and thumb and middle finger are used to gently pull the labia apart to reveal the clitoris beneath the poised index finger. Then the stroker describes for the strokee what he sees between her legs, confining the observation to the vulva. This might be: “The insides of your labia are pink.” Or, “Your clitoris is visible beneath the hood.” Metaphorical or poetic descriptions are not wanted.

 “Thank you,” the strokee will respond. Politeness and respect are key.

Artvagina. Textile abstract background. Soft folds of pink fabric in the shape of a vagina.

Then stroking begins. The stroker’s left finger moves up and down on the left upper side of the clitoris, remaining close to a one o’clock position. There is no lateral movement across or around the clitoris. Extreme lightness of pressure is desirable. The strokee may direct the stroker with her preferences: “A little less pressure, please.” Or, “More pressure with the right thumb, please.” Or, “push your thumb deeper into my vagina, please.” To which the stroker’s response should be, “Thank you.”

Orgasm may occur but is not necessarily the desired result. The idea, as I understood it, is that this is a meditation, not a goal-oriented exercise, both stroker and strokee going with the sensations that arise through touch and the moment, without a focus on an end result. In a room with eight or ten couples practicing at the same time, there were gentle fluttering sighs over the sounds of rising breath, rather than the louder sounds of approaching or achieved climaxes that one might expect or hope to produce in a lover.

At 13 minutes, the timer sounds a 2 minutes-to-go signal, and the index finger is then directed downward on the clitoris, with a reduced energy. Breathing subsides to more regular rhythm.

At the 15-minute signal, stroking stops. The stroker disengages his—or her—right thumb and hand from their former positions, places a small cloth—IKEA washcloths were popular—against the vulva and pubic mound, and presses his or her right palm firmly down in order to direct the subsiding energy back into the strokee.

Then both partners, now sitting side-by-side, briefly describe what they individually experienced—“I felt a warm tingle in my legs, rising to my head, and then outward through my limbs,” “My finger felt an electric pulse”—and they thank each other, in the same appreciative tone as if they’d just exchanged back rubs while streaming a movie—although that generally conveys more affection.

These verbal descriptions seemed very silly to me. I never knew what to say. After 15 minutes of such constrained and mindful practice, bent over a naked crotch, I didn’t know what I felt or was looking at, except that I was relieved when it was over.

There is no reciprocity. The stroker stays buttoned up. No touching, though the strokee may lay her hand on the stroker’s leg that’s straddling her stomach, or against his or her back. OM is all about providing a safe place, le cadre, an inflexible protocol-protected “frame,” in which stroker and strokee may both possibly experience a sexual frisson, but without any expectation of reciprocity or further development.

I was surprised to find that I needed much practice to reach even an elementary proficiency at keeping my left finger in the one o’clock position, and at exerting the lightest of pressure. All my previous unrestricted, improvisational interactions with clitorises were of little help to me, but rather, a distracting hindrance, having equipped me with inclinations to stray well outside of the protocol.

My first experience of OM with someone besides my initial orientation with M., was at a group practice one Sunday morning (the monthly meetings were held on Sundays, which added a reflective, devotional air to our meditations) where I stroked first M., then another two strokees, women I had never met.

After our group session, we all went to lunch together at a nearby brasserie. There, one of my partners, Virginie, whose clitoris I’d only a few minutes earlier been gazing at more closely than my lunch, asked if I might be available pour pratiquer one-on-one during the week. I told her I was new to OM, so my technique was not polished, but I’d be happy to practice any time convenient for her. It was new for her too, she said, so we could learn together. M. was pleased for me that I’d found someone to meditate with.

When Virginie turned up at my apartment a few days later, I was curious to see what might develop when left to our own devices. But beyond our strictly protocolized OM, we were wholly chaste. Reserved, even. We meditated twice, took a break for tea, then once again. Each time, I peered closely between Virginie’s legs and offered up a verbal appraisal that I strove to vary. Her pubic hair was slightly greying, closely trimmed and neatly bordered—I wondered if she’d groomed herself for the occasion—but that was outside the tightly localized spot of interest, so I kept my descriptions on point. Her vulva was pale beige and quiescent—“ta vulve est de couleur beige, calme et au repos,” I said, or something like that. But after I began stroking, it became engorged and darker, liver colored, and wet, Virginie’s secretions pooling and glazing over my gloved right hand between her buttocks. She had a delicate but evident orgasm about four minutes into our first session, and again, more pronounced, about halfway through the second, but not in the third. She asked me several times to push my right thumb farther into her vagina, which I obliged by incremental degrees, not wishing to intrude on her boundaries, thanking her each time, until most of my thumb was inside her, and I felt the walls of her vagina clamping around it during her orgasms. We chatted for about fifteen minutes after Virginie dressed, and then she left.

Virginie came back to my apartment weekly. I offered to come to her apartment, across the river, but she preferred my place. Our relationship didn’t enlarge at all. She undressed—that is, just below the waist—lay down on the nest I’d carefully prepared, and spread her legs with no shyness. My technique possibly improved or maybe it just grew rigid, as did my back, which hurt increasingly through our invariable three sessions. I needed ibuprofen after she left.

Being a member of the OMers, I received group posts on Facebook. Some of these, by OMers and OMeuses, read: “Qui veut OMer avec moi cette semaine?” “Who wants to OM with me this week?”

I did. For a while, I was up for stroking anyone’s clitoris. “Practice often and with different partners to improve technique.”  I didn’t want my technique to become inflexible  through practice with only one or two partners. And such an invitation, extended to all comers, was a novelty beyond my experience. So I answered one of these, posted by a woman I’d never met, Christine. We arranged a time and date and she sent me her address.

We were absolute strangers, but Christine appeared quite relaxed. She too had been instructed by Isabelle, and my credentials, as a member of the OMers, were unquestioned. We both knew what we were meeting for—it wasn’t like a date. I was, in fact, dumfounded by the notion that I was taking the metro across Paris to meet someone I’d never met before for the sole purpose of stoking her clitoris in brief, timed, bursts. But that was part of the freaky attraction of OM. You shoved a lot things aside and immediately got down to some kind of naked intimacy. Trust and respect were the foundation of the whole exercise, which I appreciated more even than the prospect of a round-robin of up close and readily proffered clitorises.

Christine was in her thirties, raven-haired, from the island of Malta. She offered me a selection of teas, made me a cup of thé vert menthe, and we chatted a little: brief biographical details, failed marriages, children, our preferred Paris neighborhoods.

Then we got down to it. Three meditation sessions. Christine had been OMing for several years and was very free with her precise and frequent directions, which I appreciated—no two clitorises, or their owners, of course, were alike—and thanked her repeatedly for her instruction. But again, the rigidity of my position, bent over as if I were doing a jigsaw puzzle on the floor, working only my gloved left index finger with all the control I could muster, was killing my back and, by the third session, I was waiting as the minutes dragged on for the timer to ding on my phone. When we were finished, Christine asked me if I’d like another cup of tea, but I could tell she was ready for me to leave, and I was dying to get out and move. We remained, for all intents and purposes, absolute strangers.

But I became fond of Virginie. We continued to meditate for several months. Over cups of tea, we shared our love of hiking; she entered 50k endurance walking events and sent me a few photos of her at the finish lines. I sent her photos of my hikes along the distant reaches of the Seine. We talked about nothing personal. She asked me almost nothing about myself, though I mentioned my son and my hopes that he would come and visit me in Paris. We did not become friends. I was much closer to my grey-bearded Moroccan corner alimentation store owner, with whom I talked about all sorts of things, including our families and the state of the world, and he seemed to proffer a genuine affection for me.

One of the group, Laure, held a potluck “OM Café” dinner at her apartment once a month. I brought hummus and chopped vegetables. The talk was mostly about the recent manifs des gilets jaunes, the protests for economic and political reforms by demonstrators wearing yellow vests, and the just then emerging Covid virus.

Laure was a musician and had played with a traveling orchestra, but an illness had finally stopped her playing altogether. As she was talking, I imagined Jacqueline du Pré belonging to a genital-stroking cult. I sympathized about her physical condition, and told her I didn’t know what I would do if I couldn’t write.

I was attracted to Laure. When I’d stroked her clitoris in our group practice, she’d put her hand on my back and moved it occasionally with a firm companionable pressure that was more exciting than anything else I might have imagined then.

I brought her a plate of food. I asked her what music she liked to play, I tried to talk about our children, but I could tell that she was more interested in the discussion that had erupted across the room about the hot-button issue of the French state retirement pensions.

Looking around Laure’s living room, at the OMers and OMeuses, I began to picture the clitorises, labia, hair or shaven mounds of the assembled women, some of which I had seen and touched. I felt suddenly completely dislocated, unseen as a man or a friend, reduced to the essence of my contribution to the group: a finger.

I stopped going to the group sessions, to the OM Cafés. I stopped responding to Facebook posts for practice with strangers. Nor did I sign up for events popular with OMers, also posted on Facebook: Ateliers Stages Tantra et Formation au Massage Tantrique. Nor the 4-day OM retreat in Provence.

OM finally seemed to me the antithesis of the connection I’d hoped to find in Paris.  I’d been too dazzled, if you will, by what was on view. I’ve always enjoyed interacting with clitorises, but I wanted to get to know the rest of the woman. There was no intimacy, and very quickly for me, no sexual excitement in these compartmentalized 15-minute bouts. OM was less intimate, less convivial, than the wine-tasting course I’d recently taken. It made me feel lonely.

I wondered if this clinical separation of technique from emotion, or finger from heart, was a French trait. The French state provides its citizens with a fabulous health care system that allows them a deep and lifelong preoccupation with the body and its needs, to which they pay great attention. They have a matter-of-fact view of sex, a function as natural as defecation, and due equal care and maintenance. I would have found more connection and intimacy in a yoga studio.

I’d been back in Paris almost a year when I met, through old friends, a woman, a lovely, funny, worldly Parisienne, and I fell in love—really, what I’d always come to Paris hoping to find. When I told her about the OMers, she laughed. She’d had many encounters with clitorises, she told me, but never with gloves, a timer, and protocol.

* Frenchly regrets not making it clear in our original publication of this story that all names, except the author’s, were changed in this personal essay for privacy reasons. Since publication we have also removed more generic details, and one inaccuracy, at the request of members of the OM group. This essay is one person’s story about his impressions of a time in his life when he was a part of the group here described. 

Peter Nichols is the author of 6 books of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestsellers, The Rocks and A Voyage for Madmen. He lives in Maine.

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