Within minutes of meeting Nicole Halpern, an instructor at the One Taste Urban Retreat Center in SoMa, I was naked and bent over with my ass in her face. In fact, in her naked yoga class there was nothing but penises and vaginas, dangling breasts and balls as far as the eye could see.
I'd come to the center to do research on what I'd heard was a sex cult, and by the looks of things the rumors weren't far off. In fact, as I'd entered the center on my way to class, I got the feeling my story was writing itself. I would talk about how the receptionists at the front desk had to stop groping one another in order to greet me, how the women looked younger than the men, and how all the signs of new age spirituality earth tones, organic food, Birkenstocks seemed a cover for what I sensed was actually a coven of perverts.
One Taste helps people attain deeper connection through sexual experimentation. The most hardcore members have given up their normal lives to frolic in nonmonogamous bliss at the retreat center, which, along with yoga studios, also houses a café, a lounge, and a system of co-ed dorms where members work long nights testing taboos. The idea is that if you free your sex, the rest will follow. To this end, the center also offers public classes in touching, genital stroking, and even prostate massage. Weird shit, right?
So as I relaxed into my second downward dog, I smiled, assuming I'd found the perfect subjects for my antiValentine's Day story, a tongue-in-cheek commentary on all of the weirdos in this city who believe sex is something more than a basic human need. It would be investigative journalism at its finest: "I Joined a Sex Cult," by Justin Juul.
But it didn't work out that way. It was the last thing I expected, but this naked yoga stuff was making me happy. The shock of public nudity was forcing me to let down my guard and experience the moment for what it was: exciting and naughty. I wanted more.
I decided making fun of these people would be too easy and dishonest. It seemed that a little sexploration really might benefit the soul. So instead of rushing home afterward to write a sarcastic piece about sex freaks, I swallowed my cynicism and asked Halpern if I could come back sometime.
"If you really want to see what we're all about, you'll take the Man Course," she said. And with that, my fate was sealed.
My research later that night revealed that the Man Course would involve 10 "extremely orgasmic" women who'd spend an entire day fielding questions and revealing their secrets to a small group of men. It was boot camp for jilted lovers, designed to help downtrodden men build confidence and score more chicks.
It all sounded great for 40-year-old virgins, but what could I, a young journalist with a girlfriend at home, expect to gain? I wasn't sure, and neither was my girlfriend. "Sounds like some Venus versus Mars bullshit," she said. "Men and women are more similar than different. It sounds like a way for sleazy men to hang out with young girls to me."
I was afraid she might be right, but I decided to go for it anyway. After all, I hadn't expected the yoga class to be anything but funny. Maybe I could learn something in the Man Course. After all, although our relationship is great, I can't say I understand my girlfriend any better now than I did when I tricked her into liking me three years ago.
So two weeks later I was back at the center.
The dudes in the lobby on the morning of class were visibly nervous. They weren't as ugly as I had imagined, but they all reeked of desperation, their trembling hands running through their hair, their eyes darting. I felt a surge of superiority wash through me as I watched these poor souls drink coffee and wait for instructions.