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Founder of sexuality-focused women’s wellness company pleads not guilty in forced labor case

June 14, 2023 Jennifer Peltz, Associated Press
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An entrepreneur who promoted group “orgasmic meditation” as a road to women’s well-being turned herself in and pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of manipulating traumatized people into debt, undesired sex and underpaid work.

Nicole Daedone, who founded the sex-centric wellness company OneTaste, faces a federal forced labor conspiracy case that was unveiled last week. She was released Tuesday on $1 million bond, secured by her mother, her mother’s partner, and a OneTaste ally; the friend put up a sprawling property in Northern California’s Mendocino County.

“The idea that this woman, at this company, engaged in forced labor is as far from the truth and reality as one could comprehend,” defense lawyer Julia Gatto said outside court. She called Daedone “a ceiling-shattering feminist entrepreneur” who created a unique business around women’s sexuality and empowerment.

Prosecutors, however, say Daedone and former sales chief Rachel Cherwitz schemed to draw in people suffering from sexual trauma and turn them into unquestioning, cloistered followers who did their leaders’ bidding -– even if it meant having sex with prospective investors or clients, or taking out new credit cards in order to afford to keep taking courses.

The company’s “members” sometimes were told “to engage in sexual acts they found uncomfortable or repulsive as a requirement to obtain ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightenment’ and demonstrate their commitment to OneTaste and Daedone,” the indictment claims, and “resistance … was not tolerated.”

Meanwhile, according to the indictment, OneTaste didn’t pay promised wages and commissions to members-turned-workers.

OneTaste started in San Francisco, around 2005, as a sort of self-help commune that viewed female orgasms as key to sexual and psychological wellness and interpersonal connection. A centerpiece was “orgasmic meditation,” carried out by men manually stimulating women in a group setting.

The company surfed a wave of media attention to open outposts from Los Angeles to London in the 2010s. Portrayed as a cutting-edge enterprise that dared to prioritize women’s sexual pleasure, it basked in TEDx-talk, Goop-name-checked lifestyle chic.

Then OneTaste’s marketing, labor practices and sway over its clients-turned-workers came under scrutiny in a 2018 Bloomberg Businessweek investigation and, later, other venues. Among them were Netflix’s “Orgasm Inc.,” released this fall.

Daedone, now 56, sold her stake in OneTaste in 2017, according to the company. She remained at large when the indictment was unsealed, and Cherwitz was arrested last week. Daedone’s representatives say she was overseas and subsequently returned to her current home in New York City.

Cherwitz was released on $300,000 bond at an initial court date in San Francisco and hasn’t yet entered a plea, court records show. A message seeking comment was sent Tuesday to her attorney.

Now under new ownership, OneTaste has said its work has been misconstrued, sexual consent was a cornerstone of its operations, and the charges are unjustified.

“The federal government’s description of the behaviors alleged in its indictment bear no credible resemblance to the organization we acquired and have committed our lives to, nor to anything we know of Nicole and Rachel,” co-owner Anjuli Ayer said in a statement Tuesday.

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