Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy by Mantak Chia (with Michael Winn) was my first introduction to the wisdom of making love without striving for orgasm. This book made a big impression on me and I am very grateful to its authors. Chia, a neo-Taoist master, teaches men another way to manage their sexual energy, as well as the weakness in humanity's current habits. His book greatly expanded my understanding of my role as a lover, helping me to become a safer lover.
However, even before I stumbled upon the ancient account of Taoist lovemaking in the work ascribed to the famous Taoist sage, Laozi (or "Lao Tzu"), I realized that there was an inherent inconsistency in Chia’s teachings.
The mystical, merging experience which he calls “the valley orgasm” is a state of “not doing.” Yet, much of Chia’s book is about performance-oriented techniques, such as clenching the teeth, the buttocks and the muscles around the prostate gland, counting intercourse strokes, and so forth. These vigorous measures permit a skilled man to approach the edge of orgasm, and then maintain his control sufficiently to make love rather vigorously…indefinitely.
Alas, men also report that this impressive lovemaking—which produces lots of orgasms in their partners, and lots of mini-orgasms (without ejaculation) in themselves—does not counter the Coolidge Effect. (Indeed, it may even strengthen it.) That is, although Chia’s performance-oriented method doesn’t leave men depleted—as does regular, ejaculatory, sex—it also doesn’t leave them emotionally bonded with a partner for very long. I suspect that it also does not promote the “valley orgasm” experience. (More in a moment.)
Sadly, Chia’s own experience led to this same outcome. Two visitors to his center in Thailand (one an insider) independently informed me that he left his wife of many years, in pursuit of a young girl from the local village. This behavior is very consistent with the Coolidge Effect. It’s quite inconsistent with the experience of merging deeply with a lover in the “valley orgasm.” That experience, which has been alluded to in various traditions, is a spiritual experience, which enhances vision so we don't feel compelled to follow biology's dictates in our mating choices.
Recently, I’ve had the gift of input from two men who have used Chia’s system for years. One reports that he has no desire for a monogamous relationship, and resents his partners’ desire for one. As he wrote:
I now know how to have sex for hours without depletion. That gives me the energy and stamina. I have always had the desire for lots of women. This is the way to accomplish that. … Each successive girlfriend would invariably request that I comply with an exclusivity clause, with a view towards long-term monogamy, that I couldn't bring myself to agree to.
The other man has also experimented with karezza, and discovered that it created different feelings from those he experienced using Chia’s practices.
For a long time I'd been doing Taoist-style sex with my wife with good results—using exercises, lovemaking techniques and energy visualizations. However, I decided to set it aside temporarily to learn more about Karezza. The first thing I noticed was that Karezza got the same results as my old Taoist practices. But Karezza required no specialized energy work. All I did was to remain nearly still while engaged in sex and breathed slow deep breaths. I did nothing else. Anyone could do Karezza. I soon started to sense another feeling that I didn't recognize—a deep satisfying feeling. I guess it was the oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. It feels like peace and love all mixed up together—a sensation of being in love with life.
In addition to learning from these observers, I have been learning a lot about bonding behaviors—the subconscious mammalian cues that are the fundamental wellspring of emotional glue between mates. Putting it all together, I think that I can at last shed some constructive light on the differences between Chia's neo-Taoist lovemaking advice and the karezza concept.
Two nervous system responses
To understand the difference, you may find it helpful to have a short science lesson about your nervous system. The nerves that connect with organs and blood vessels (as opposed to muscles) are divided into two sets. One set governs such activities as digestion, regeneration of the body, rest, and sexual arousal. Experts call it the “parasympathetic nervous system.” The other nervous system governs performance, and fight-or-flight activity. Somewhat bizarrely, it is labeled the “sympathetic nervous system.” (The names have nothing to do with emotions. They refer only to the nearness of the sets of nerves to the spine.)
Chia’s vigorous, performance-oriented approach to lovemaking would be a function of the so-called sympathetic nervous system. (So is ejaculation, by the way.) In contrast, the valley orgasm seems to be a function of parasympathetic nervous system activity - or of a perfect balance between the two. It is a relaxation response. Interestingly, bonding behaviors also appear to produce parasympathetic responses (and more sustained levels of oxytocin).
In short, the body “reads” bonding behaviors as signals for feeling safe, and getting closer. It may be that the body does not “read” performance-oriented lovemaking as a bonding signal, but rather as something more akin to a “fight or flight” activity, or signal. The latter drive may produce orgasms, but not feelings of safety and a desire to get closer.
In our personal experience, intense arousal (which Chia indirectly recommends as part of his performance-oriented techniques) can lead to dopamine cycles of highs and lows…even without ejaculation, or conventional orgasm. Intense arousal can produce subsequent emotional flatness or anxious cravings in response to exciting cues (like an erotic image, or attractive body). These mood swings can actually change one's perception of one's current partner. He or she may appear less interesting, while a novel partner appears quite delicious. This is, of course, the Coolidge Effect…which has been observed in all mammals tested, both male and female.
In short, orgasms are not necessarily effective bonding behaviors. Yes, I know that oxytocin often surges briefly at orgasm, but human behavior shows that orgasm is not emotional glue…even if it can foster a temporary addiction between lovers, where they look to each other for relief from post-orgasmic cravings and anxiety. Besides, that oxytocin surge in the blood at orgasm may not be as critical to emotional bonding as oxytocin releases in the brain, about which we know very little in humans.
In any case, high dopamine can trigger unnaturally low dopamine sensitivity, and recurring low dopamine response appears to erode emotional bonds over time. We need both oxytocin and dopamine at the right levels to keep our emotional bonds strong. For this reason, dopamine that drops after sexual satiation, or dopamine that remains too high and produces sexual frustration, can be a problem. Bonding behavior (including gentle intercourse), rather than intense arousal, appears to be the best way to keep both dopamine and oxytocin at healthy levels for sustaining emotional bonds.
Often lovers think they can’t make love without sexual performance, at least to some degree. However, unlike orgasm, sexual arousal is not a performance-oriented, sympathetic nervous system response. Arousal is a function of the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, relaxation, not forced performance, is best for sexual arousal.
Perhaps this is why karezza authors Stockham and Lloyd both emphasize calm, relaxed intercourse, rather than performance-oriented intercourse. So did ancient Daoist master Laozi: “Where ordinary intercourse is effortful, angelic cultivation is calm, relaxed, quiet, and natural.” This approach increases the harmony between partners. Said Laozi, “The result of this [practice] is improved health, harmonized emotions, the cessation of cravings and impulses, and, at the highest level, the transcendent integration of the entire energy body.”
Here's what a (third) man, who has been practicing this approach to sex for over a decade, said:
While I dont think there is anything inherently wrong with using the [Taoist] semen retention technique, it does imply an ejaculation-control approach to lovemaking. Ejaculation control is core to Taoist sexual practices, which is actually where I started. There was no information about karezza at that time, and I merrily went along in a ejaculation control mode. At the time it was infinitely better than the conventional approach I was used to.
As time went by I realized I didnt want to be in a "control" mode but rather in a "flow" mode. The control mode meant there was a build up of tension, and I was preferring the relaxed state which didn't require control.
The thing about ejaculation control is the focus on control. And the need for control is caused by a build up of energy to the point where it needs to be controlled. I would say that I moved from ejaculation control to being non-ejaculatory. There two very distinctly different body spaces. In the first one, the genitals tense up and require control (a state of effort). In the other, they stay relaxed and more connected with my partner (a state of awareness).
In a more recent book, Chia acknowledges three levels of sexual experience: genital orgasm, whole-body orgasm and soul orgasm. He teaches that his performance techniques, which produce mini-orgasms, can lead to whole-body orgasm. In contrast, the soul orgasm is not something that lovers can force with performance. It arises from exchanging energy and “fusing” with one's partner.
The second man mentioned above explained to me that neither genital nor whole-body orgasms have anything to do with the "soul orgasm." They are both actually forms of “fertilization-driven sex.” Whole-body orgasm is just a diverting of the usual genital orgasm, which works as follows:
The feeling of coming—ejaculation or female single orgasm—is caused by the accumulation of "too much" sex energy in the sex organs. Every time you feel you're getting close to ejaculation, if a male, or every time you get close to the single orgasm, if a female, you are to draw the sex energy up the spine and away from your sex organs. This relieves the urge to ejaculate or have the single orgasm. It lets you start over in your climb to ecstasy, but not quite.
According to him, a whole-body orgasm is superior to the genital orgasm in that it’s less depleting, but it has little to do with “fusing” with a partner. It is not a steppingstone to the “soul orgasm.” He says it still leaves him with a desire to ejaculate…eventually. This is in contrast with karezza, which leaves him feeling satisfied with recurring feelings of bliss. These may arise even after intercourse, or without intercourse - simply through hugging or gazing into his wife's eyes.
Intense (conventional) orgasmic experiences may lead to altered states. But they also have hidden, subconscious hangovers that interfere, over time, with intimacy. They eventually promote stagnation or relationship friction. So conventional, and even "whole-body," orgasmic approaches are not a way to increase the union between male and female...although they do unite genitals briefly. In short, they are a glimpse of union...perhaps...but not a path to union. I suspect that the soul orgasm is the same goal the karezza practitioners were trying to describe.
I suspect it is also the experience Laozi was talking about when he used the term "angelic dual cultivation." I believe that relaxed, transcendent experiences during lovemaking will turn out to be a function of the parasympathetic nervous system (or a unique balanced state between the two systems, reflecting a special state of mind). From a scientific perspective, such experiences will have little in common with sexual performance, genital or whole-body orgasms, most tantric orgasms, or the so-called sympathetic nervous system.
The soul orgasm is an experience of “being,” not “doing,” of “merging,” not “doing to,” and of “relaxation,” not “performance.” The body registers such an experience as a profound bonding behavior, unlike either the performance-oriented genital orgasm, or its close relative, the whole-body orgasm.
Perhaps with a clearer target, and an understanding of how these different orgasms relate to our nervous system and influence our urge to bond (or not), it will be easier to choose the outcome we desire - whether we happen to be thinking in terms of karezza, Daoist lovemaking practices, or any other sacred sex tradition. The key to slipping into blissful relaxation together is not doing.1
A holy relationship is a means of saving time. One instant spent together with your brother restores the universe to both of you. You *are* prepared. Now you need but to remember you need do nothing. It would be far more profitable now merely to concentrate on this than to consider what you should do. When peace comes at last to those who wrestle with temptation and fight against the giving in to [it]; when the light comes at last into the mind given to contemplation; or when the goal is finally achieved by anyone, it always comes with just one happy realization;
*I need do nothing." ... "I need do nothing" is a statement of allegiance, a truly undivided loyalty. Believe it for just one instant, and you will accomplish more than is given to a century of contemplation, or of struggle against temptation. To do anything involves the body. And if you recognize you need do nothing, you have withdrawn the body's value from your mind. Here is the quick and open door through which you slip past centuries of effort, and escape from time.
Incidentally, Chia's book Taoist Secrets of Love: Cultivating Male Sexual Energy does mention karezza, but describes its history, its goal, and the technique itself quite inaccurately on pp. 60-1:
To clarify, karezza did not originate in Persia. It had nothing to do with harems. It is not about increasing or prolonging physical pleasure (or performance of any kind). It is ideally a spiritual communion of souls, according to both Stockham (who gave it its name) and Lloyd. Therefore karezza certainly does permit "true depth."
- 1. A Course in Miracles, Foundation for Inner Peace, T-18, VII.5-7