“This is going to be sexy, damn it,” is not something you think to yourself before embarking on a genuinely sensual activity, but I had high hopes before pressing play on my eight-minute “quickie meditation.” I was listening to Guided by Glow, an app that produces “erotic audio sessions.”
I found myself in sweatpants and a messy bun, lying on my bed—where I’d eaten pizza mere moments before—ready to listen to a faceless, honey-voiced lady named Sky “take [my] body and mind on a journey of surrendering to [my] inner goddess’ sexual desires.”
Wham, bam, thank you ma’am porn it was not. This would take time. First, Sky would lead me on an opening meditation—breathe in, breathe out—while I waited for the story to begin.
“I picture you lying on some soft sheets,” she cooed. I stared at a grease stain on my bedding that was the size of a gigantic movie theater ice cube. Sky led me in some more deep breaths, and told me to look at my belly. “I would rather not,” I said back to Sky, but she kept on moving.
The scene: a picnic. We sit together on an empty field, feeling the blanket underneath, the breeze against our skin. We’re eating strawberries together. Now Sky is putting strawberries into numerous orifices on my body.
“I accept you as you are,” Sky says, “with all your flaws.” That was kind of rude, I tell Sky, and then she adds, “and your perfections.” I shut her off.
Now it’s over to “Scorpio Seduction,” courtesy of a deep male voice named Miles. “Hello queen,” he soothes out. “I am in awe of your power… We are gonna go together to the center of the burning volcano.”
I don’t really want to go there, at all. It sounds quite dangerous. But Miles keeps whispering sweet nothings—he asks me to get comfortable, tells me I’m “the boss,” and that I’m “safe and seen.” It’s a little much. Consent is very sexy and all that, but at some point you just need someone to pull your hair and throw you around the bed (or volcano, as it may be.)
I switch to one last recording, a “soundscape” called “Morning Snuggle.” It’s the audio of waking up next to a man named Van, who sounds like he knows a lot about the supply chain, while he asks me to do a “morning meditation” with him. I have no clue where this story goes, because by minute three I find myself dozing off. I wake up from my power nap a few minutes later, and the story has ended. I do feel quite refreshed.
I found Guided by Glow on (where else?) The Goop Gift guide, where interested parties can purchase the service for $4 a month, or $48 a year. I reached out to Sayra Player, an actress who founded the app, and tried it free of charge in exchange for, um, research.
“I haven’t had a lot of resonance with conventional porn,” Player told me over the phone. “But I’ve always done yoga, and I love to surrender and stop thinking and just flow. I was listening to a guided meditation and had this moment of, ‘It would be cool if this person spoke to my body and brought in a sexual experience.’”
Player wrote her first script and called it “Golden Boy.”
“That title could go a lot of ways, but it was about being alone in a room with someone who serviced you and told you what they were doing as they did it,” she clarified. She shared it with a writing group. “And everyone was like, this is ridiculously hot, so I had them all write one, too.”
“When you get somebody in your ear, it’s straight to your system,” Player said. “As a storyteller, I have the sensitivity to find when something turns people on. Not just sexually, but it will open their heart, or connect them. There are a lot of different ways to do that. So I’ve become a pleasure connoisseur. I don’t want to be a porn producer. I want to be a pleasure connoisseur.”
Guided by Glow is one of a slew of apps, with millennial-friendly sans serif fonts, that offers guided meditation intended to get listeners off. There’s Dipsea, where one can listen to high-concept stories, like yoga teacher/student sex. There’s Ferly, where users join a program led by an expert to target specific bedroom hangups like low libido, stigma, or painful intercourse. Kama (as in Sutra) offers masturbation meditations and lessons intended “to help you enjoy yourself as well as make you a better lover.”
I listened to a 24-minute guided masturbation session by Kama while eating my lunch, which is admittedly not the way it’s supposed to go, but I was having a busy day. It did not bring me to a rapturous climax while I chewed my salad. Still, I appreciated the lack of story or concept—it was a straightforward meditation—and the breathy voice who led the way, sounding hot but not overdone.
Jessica Graham, a mindfulness coach and author of Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out, has been recording sexual meditations since 2017 with the app Simple Habit. “Folks get pretty caught in their head during sex, especially around climax,” Graham told me over the phone. “This happens to people of all genders, not just women, who tell me that they can’t climax with someone else because there’s too much anxiety and pressure. This meditation can be helpful for that—it teaches you to come into the body.”
Graham adds that these apps “can be utilized with or without a partner,” and don’t need to be used for explicitly sexual purposes. “I always tell clients that it doesn’t have to be sexual,” she said. “It can be something you use to tune into your sexuality, sure, but also just pleasure in general. You can do mindful meditation but just be stroking your arm, holding yourself, saying, ‘I love you sweetheart, and I’m right here with you.’”
The intros to the sessions can certainly be jarring to someone who’s used to the immediacy of regular porn. You have to be patient and wait for the build-up, and spend time breathing with a random person’s voice before they decide it’s time to flick your clit, or pop a strawberry up your vagina, or do whatever one does inside that sex volcano.
“When you slow down, you access all of this pleasure and turn-ons that are available, but usually get bulldozed over,” Graham said. “As a culture, we’re very focused on the instant gratification of a cumshot and getting off. So many people think that if they don’t get off then they weren’t successful. But there's patience in learning to slow down and be with your body that way.”
A 24 year-old New Yorker named Sabian, who I have never met but is an Instagram acquaintance, answered my call to see if anyone would like to try a sexual meditation app and report back. (Sabian, like everyone else I enlisted in this experiment, asked that I not use her full name.)
“I thought it was going to be weird, and I didn’t have high expectations,” Sabian said. “I thought, OK, it’s going to be corny.” For her first attempt on Guided by Glow, Sabian picked one story but quickly turned it off because “the guy had a really thick southern accent.”
“I was like, no, this is not it,” she said. “You have to be picky. So it turned into this whole subtask of me finding a voice that wasn’t going to bother me for 15 minutes, especially if they’re going to tell me what to do—I don’t need them to have a southern accent.”
Sabian tried to set the mood in her room—she wore noise-cancelling headphones, turned the brightness on her laptop all the way down, and laid under LES lights. She listened to one starring a voice named Rhett, with the simple conceit of him coming up to her in her bedroom for a quickie. “I could not get into that one,” she said. “He said that I smelled ‘like a misty morning seaside,’ and I lost it. Because I know that I don’t.”
The “fake complimenting” was a little difficult for Sabian to work with—at one point, Rhett called her clit “my darling pink bean.”
Sabian found a few more that she liked, though she began to expect the pattern of the meditation—start off with breathing exercises, then get to the sexy stuff. “It was a nice break from normal porn, and it did feel more comforting,” she said. “Sometimes after porn I feel a real shame, but with this I didn’t have the experience.”
Another friend, a New Yorker named Bianca, told me the experience felt “just like phone sex, but with a woman.”
“It felt naughty, like I didn’t want my neighbors to hear it,” she said. “The voice was phony, with the forced inhaling, but it made me horny. So I guess it worked.”
An acquaintance of mine named Frances also attempted to enter the “burning volcano” from the “Scorpio Seduction” recording. “I fell asleep,” she said. “It literally put me to sleep. I laid down to get comfy, and then took a 10-minute nap halfway through. But I did have particularly good sex later in the day, so maybe that had something to do with it?”
Sabian, who is single and lives alone, said she “kind of felt like a cat lady” while listening to the app. “There was a romance novel aspect, and when I think of those I think of elderly women,” she said. “At first I thought it was going to be funny, but then I enjoyed it a bit.”
When I told this to Graham, the meditation coach, she made an emphatic counterargument. “The fact that you’re alone in a room with a meditation app actually makes you really cool,” she insisted. “You’re not a loser. You’re really rad, because you’re educating yourself. What a gift to your potential future lovers that you’ve had this exploration.”