Founder, top executive of OneTaste, sexual wellness company with Mendocino County retreat center, indicted on forced labor charges

Prosecutors say that Nicole Daedone, who founded OneTaste on promises of nurturing women’s sexuality, abused her followers and lived off them.|

Have you used OneTaste’s services or gone to one of its events? The Press Democrat would like to hear from you. Please contact Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

The founder and a top officer of a San Francisco-based commune and sexual wellness company that promoted “orgasmic meditation,” before questions of abuse began to circulate, were indicted Tuesday on charges of forced labor conspiracy by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York.

Nicole Daedone, who founded OneTaste in 2004 and served as its CEO until 2017, and Rachel Cherwitz, the former head of sales at the company from 2009-2018, engaged in what prosecutors said was a yearslong scheme “to obtain the labor and services” of volunteers, contractors and employees by subjecting them to “economic, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse, surveillance, indoctrination and intimidation.”

Cherwitz, who lives in Philo, was arrested Tuesday and was expected to appear in federal court in California on Wednesday. Daedone, who lives in San Diego, was still at large as of Tuesday afternoon. If convicted, the two women would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Calls to the women’s attorneys were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

The company, which grew in popularity for its focus on female sexuality and by providing courses, coaching and events around the topic, gained notoriety for its practice of orgasmic meditation. The ritual was described in a New York Times article from 2009 as involving about a dozen women, naked from the waist down, lying with their eyes closed in a velvet-curtained room while clothed men huddled over them, stroking them ritualistically.

At the time, Daedone said she saw herself as the leader of “the slow-sex movement,” where the emphasis is placed on women’s pleasure.

Over the years, the company had operations across the country in New York City; Denver; Las Vegas; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles and even London, prosecutors said. Cherwitz told the Times that she commuted to offer private lessons at the commune’s New York City outpost, where many of her clients were married Orthodox Jewish couples from Brooklyn.

A website for OneTaste lists a Santa Rosa address as its sole location, but it is likely a mailing address. One of the company’s retreat centers was in the Mendocino County community of Philo.

But as the group and Daedone’s teachings became more well known, former members began telling about a darker side to the organization. In a Bloomberg Businessweek investigation published in 2018, some former members detailed how the company led them into what they said was sexual servitude and debt. A 2022 documentary on Netflix examined the company’s rise and the allegations it faced.

Between 2006 and 2018, according to prosecutors, Daedone and Cherwitz targeted vulnerable people by advertising that the teachings of OneTaste could heal sexual trauma and dysfunction. Members who couldn’t afford the courses, which could cost thousands of dollars, would be induced to take on debt, prosecutors said.

The two leaders’ manipulation and control went further, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.

The women subjected members to “constant surveillance in communal homes and collected deeply sensitive and personal information about them which the defendants then used to render the OneTaste members emotionally, socially and psychologically dependent on OneTaste,” prosecutors said.

The group also demanded “absolute commitment” to Daedone, prosecutors said. The two women, along with others, pressed members to engage in sexual acts, even ones they found uncomfortable or repulsive, as a “requirement to obtain ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightenment’ and demonstrate their commitment,” prosecutors said.

And after promising to pay members for work, the leaders would later not pay them or would change members’ employment status or location without notice to exert control, prosecutors said.

If members did not follow the directions of the two women, they would deploy “public shame, humiliation and workplace retaliation.” They would also harass, coerce and intimidate anyone who they believed to be their enemies or critics, prosecutors said.

The Bloomberg report five years ago, which included information from 16 former staffers and members, found issues similar to those detailed by prosecutors in the indictment.

Former members told the outlet that OneTaste “resembled a kind of prostitution ring” where victims of trauma were exploited. Cherwitz was a “top lieutenant” during her time with the organization, Bloomberg found, and leaders ordered staffers to “have sex or OM with each other or with customers.”

In addition to the sexual pressures, the report also found that students and members were financially manipulated.

The price of courses ran from about $500 to $16,000 for intensive sessions, according to the reporting, and yearlong memberships could cost up to $60,000. As students went into debt trying to keep up with payments, the organization “encouraged students to take out multiple credit cards to pay for courses, and some turned to such sites as GoFundMe and Prosper Funding for help.”

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, OneTaste’s current CEO, Anjuli Ayer, criticized the reporting and the indictment, saying Tuesday’s charges were based on “unfounded allegations.”

“Given OneTaste’s culture of individual empowerment, choice and consent, this is completely unjustified,” she said. The practice of orgasmic meditation, she said, has been “misunderstood and maligned” and the organization remains “undeterred.”

Press Democrat staff contributed to this story.

Have you used OneTaste’s services or gone to one of its events? The Press Democrat would like to hear from you. Please contact Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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