Dr. Jessica Tartaro wants you to get to know the most private parts of yourself. That could mean your secret desires, or it could literally mean your genitals.
Tartaro is a clinical psychologist who has studied breast cancer survivors in London and worked extensively with veterans in San Francisco and Austin, but when she moved back to her hometown of Dallas she abandoned the traditional work of a psychologist in favor of teaching workshops that help people connect more deeply with themselves and others.
Sometimes the workshops focus on communication games or ecstatic dance, but the primary technique she teaches is "orgasmic meditation," a practice that's all about sex.
Tartaro, who has a bachelor's degree in health psychology from UNT and a master's and doctorate in clinical psychology from Arizona State University, learned of it when she was living in Austin and working at a VA hospital, the largest employer of psychologists.
Her work was primarily focused on spirituality in recovery, which echoed the work of her parents, who had done Christian-based substance abuse counseling in Richardson when she was growing up in the '80s. She had volunteered at her parents' center as a kid and always knew she wanted to someday be a clinician and "in the grit" like them, she says.
In 2011, the VA said they had run out of money to fund her position; she was also going through a painful breakup. A lifelong believer in taking on self-improvement challenges in times of difficulty, she decided to look into a San Francisco-based company called OneTaste that was all about self-discovery and building greater intimacy in relationships through the sensation of orgasm.
"I had heard of it [when I was in San Francisco] but thought it was too freaky and weird," she says. "But in February 2012 I went to one. And that really sent me off. I had done all these personal change projects but no one had ever said, 'Sexuality, oh you need to pay attention to that.'"
Orgasmic meditation is what some might call "out there." But Tartaro says the way OneTaste teaches it, it's actually very clinical, and quite different from sex or masturbation, even though it involves sexual touching.
It's an asymmetrical practice, which means that one partner is always clothed. A timer is set for 15 minutes and the clothed partner strokes the disrobed partner's genitals in a very slow, deliberate manner, without any intention of inducing climax.
When the time is up, it's up. "It doesn't matter if she's close," Tartaro says. "We’re not in it for the same reason that we’d typically go to sex: to feel good, have a release, get off. It's about getting connected to your own body and your own person without any expectation. We use the word orgasm to mean the whole journey of an involuntary sensation rising moment by moment.
"We’re taking sexuality, which is so hot and so powerful — and can make our lives hell or ecstasy — and we contain that thing and we have a chance to have a much more intentional relationship with it," she continues.
After taking a few classes — which generally don't involve practicing in front of the teacher, although that does happen in "labs" — Tartaro decided to complete the 10-month coaching program and discovered orgasmic meditation, or OM, was having a big effect on her and her work as a psychologist.
"I’ve had big impacts on clients since I was a trainee," she says. "But what I hadn’t been able to do is let people know me. I started learning how to be more accessible."
Tartaro realized that she didn't necessarily agree with the one-sidedness of the traditional doctor-patient relationship. She began to feel, she says, that being able to own herself and her experiences, to relate to her clients, was a critical part of helping them.
"[Often] we’re helping other people but we’re not actually being hugely accountable to us being humans in a human relationship with our clients," she says. "Now I bill myself as a coach with a PhD. My value system is about doing my work and doing my work as a human with a strong background in mental health."
After she completed OneTaste's course, Tartaro began running their Austin location, and even went back to San Francisco briefly to train with senior staff.
She says one common occurrence when she's teaching OM is that a male partner will say he's disappointed he can't give his female partner an orgasm. Through meditation, Tartaro tries to teach the couple to take a different view of intimacy.
"You can't give anyone an orgasm," she says. "Let go of the idea that you have to be something for her or do something to her. Both of you are co-creating something and plugging into something."
Although OM itself isn't about climaxing, Tartaro says one of its natural benefits is that by getting in touch with your desire and how to communicate it, your sex life outside of meditation is enhanced.
When Tartaro left San Francisco for the second time in 2013, she decided to move back to Dallas to be closer to her family, a choice that surprised even her since she'd always deemed it too conservative a place for her to settle.
"My story was that I'm from Dallas and I'm not going back to Dallas," she says. "I felt like I couldn't get my needs met physically or politically here."
But after she arrived and began making connections through the ecstatic dance community, a type of free form dance that has always been part of her personal wellness program, she found herself quickly growing a base of counseling and orgasmic meditation clients.
Dallas' buttoned-up nature turned out to be the very thing that makes it a perfect market for her skills. She started out doing home visits and eventually found a North Dallas office.
"In some ways it’s not unlike any other town. People are hungry to connect and they’re lonely," she says. "But where there are more progressives there tends to be more openness. The thing that made me not want to come [to Dallas] accounts for the success of my services [here]."
But she's still hesitant to advertise her OM services here, even though she thinks it's arguably the best way to resolve the feelings of disconnectedness from themselves and their desires that clients often bring to her.
"I might not tell everyone," she says. "OM is the most expedient path to get there, but I haven't taught an OM class since January cause I'm very careful with the practice and I believe in it. I've seen it change lives, but it's not for the faint of heart."
Instead she's taken some of the techniques she's learned while teaching OM and refashioned them to appeal to a wider audience. One example is SpeakUp, a donation-based, drop-in night of communication games that she adapted from games she learned at OneTaste.
The purpose of the games is to encourage authentic communication. "These games are about getting revealed and saying the things everyone is thinking, but no one's saying, and saying them in a group," Tartaro says.
On Tuesday evening SpeakUp met for the second time at Sync, and about 15 people gathered in a circle on mats for two hours of communication exercises.
In the second game, "Inside Out," Tartaro started a series of statements and, moving around in the circle, participants were asked to complete each one truthfully.
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When Tartaro says "I have a secret desire to..." a woman who looks to be in her mid-20s responds, "to be a grandma someday; but a cool grandma." Other women in the group wiggle their fingers in the air as a sign of their sympathy. Then the circle reaches a man who says, "to hire a stripper, blindfold her and spank her," this time eliciting giggles from the listeners.
Finally the question gets back around to Tartaro. If she were your average psychologist that would have marked the end of that portion of the exercise, and a new statement would have been sent around. But instead she jumps in, finding it her duty to respond to the question she posed to everyone else, and enthusiastically expresses her own desire to be surrounded by children.
Tartaro is a psychologist for whom nothing is off limits. It's all just a matter of how private you're willing to go.
If you would like to learn more about Dr. Jessica Tartaro and her classes, visit drjessicatartaro.com.