Karezza is a gentle, affectionate form of intercourse in which orgasm is not the goal, and ideally does not occur in either partner while making love. Karezza gained its name from Alice Bunker Stockham, MD at the end of the nineteenth century. She based the name on the Italian word carezza, meaning “caress.”
Stockham was initially inspired by the work of John Humphrey Noyes, who taught a concept he called, Male Continence, in which men opt to avoid ejaculation when conception is not desired. However, Stockham encouraged both partners to pass up orgasm, insisting that the practice is neither “male” nor “female.”
Although Stockham and, later, J. William Lloyd, MD both wrote books about Karezza (available free at this site), readers often observe that the descriptions of the actual practice seem vague. This is because technique is virtually immaterial. It’s a practice about not doing, about getting your goal-driven mammalian mating program out of the way long enough to fall into a state of relaxed union. It’s more of an experience than a practice. As a result, each couple has a slightly different tale to tell.
With that truth in mind, here are some suggestions based primarily on the experience of my husband and myself. Incidentally, we did not start out trying to learn Karezza. We started out to learn what we could about the alternative of making love without orgasm, and years later, when we read the original descriptions of Karezza, we realized that what we were doing most closely lined up with Karezza.
Karezza is not “regular sex” but without the orgasm
Although Karezza calls for intercourse, it wouldn’t look anything like the intercourse Masters and Johnson observed in the lab, with its “restricted breathing” and “extreme muscle tension.” Stockham contrasted the “ordinary hasty spasmodic method of cohabitation” with Karezza:
During a lengthy period of perfect control, the whole being of each is merged into the other, and an exquisite exaltation experienced. This may be accompanied by a quiet motion, entirely under subordination of the will, so that the thrill of passion for either may not go beyond a pleasurable exchange.
Our emphasis is on affection, and we stay well away from the edge of orgasm. If we sense ourselves slipping into performance mode while making love, we pull ourselves back into relaxation with deeper, longer breaths. This relaxes our abdominal breathing and reverses the increase in muscular tension and the urge to restrict breathing that coincide with the buildup to orgasm.
Regular, “heat ‘em up” foreplay doesn’t work very well with Karezza
Typical foreplay is geared toward heating yourself and your partner up with orgasm as the goal. The pleasures of Karezza, however, do not rely on the rewards that come from approaching one’s own orgasm or inducing it in a lover. They depend on the rewarding feelings that come from mutual adoration and generous touch (bonding behaviors). Initially Karezza therefore feels all wrong. It seems too non-goal-oriented and relaxed. When I first explained it to my husband, he couldn’t believe his ears: “A woman who is asking me to do less?”
So, without standard foreplay, what do we do when we get in bed with each other? We found it helped to have some structure, because ingrained habits die hard. The more radically and thoroughly we alter our behavior when creating a new pathway in the brain, the easier it is to create one.
One could make it a point to stick to a pre-agreed list of bonding behaviors—and engage in them daily for a few minutes, or more, using a generous mindset. We opted for a fixed three-week program, the Exchanges, a series of sensual, lighthearted activities for adults.
Intercourse is slower and more relaxed
It worked best to begin intercourse in a position that did not allow for much movement. Even so, it was extremely easy to escalate into good old, familiar sex as we added intercourse to our nightly affection. One strategy my husband and I now use is to make sure we put “snuggle nights” in between “intercourse nights.” Snuggle nights are useful refresher courses for our nervous systems. Even a little bit of cuddling offers a taste of relaxed satisfaction with no goal whatsoever. When we next have intercourse it is easier to stay in the tranquil mindset ideal for Karezza.
As far as actual intercourse goes, we move far more slowly than we did during conventional sex. In addition, we fall into total stillness frequently while making love. Some of the most gratifying and profound experiences occur when not moving. As a result, our lovemaking goes in waves, somewhat like breathing. Erections also come and go—and arise again when we start kissing after a pause. (Visit Karezza Korner for comments by other couples about their experiences.)
We kiss and gaze into each other’s eyes a lot. We also let each other know how loved we feel with wordless sounds of pleasure and reverent, or playful, touch—depending upon our mood. Sometimes we make a conscious effort to diffuse the sexual energy from our genitals throughout our bodies by tightening the muscles of our pelvic floor and breathing the energy up. Sometimes when we close our eyes we notice flashing lights in the third-eye region of the forehead. Sometimes we use the technique of completely relaxing our pelvic muscles, as advised by Michael and Diana Richardson.
We make love in very comfortable positions, where our weight is supported with a minimum of tension. Side-lying position, with my legs wrapped around him, is a favorite. We also sometimes fall asleep connected, which makes waking up especially enjoyable. Because we never “finish,” we’ve noticed that a flirty energy continues to flow outside the bedroom. This helps stave off habituation. In fact, my husband says he feels like a human “Pepe Le Pew,” the amorous cartoon skunk whose love always remained unconsummated—and undying.
Done properly, Karezza relieves sexual tension
Whatever your gender, you probably experience sexual frustration as the strongest weapon in your genes’ arsenal. If you can’t resolve your sexual tension in a relationship, you are keenly motivated to add a lover (or some porn) on the side, or move on to a relationship where you can resolve it—at least temporarily. Sadly, the harder you try to resolve your frustration through better or more frequent orgasm with any partner, the more likely you are to trigger the sexual satiety that can push mates apart. You (like most other mammals) are programmed to be unable to find lasting sexual satisfaction with a mate by having more orgasms, because you have evolved to see a partner with whom you exhaust your sexual desire as less and less rewarding over time.
With Karezza you ease your sexual tension without resorting to orgasm. Dr. Lloyd wrote that Karezza leads to complete dissipation of congestion, complete discharge of nervous surplus, complete relief from sexual tension, and more complete satisfaction than orgasm. He contrasted it with orgasmic sex, which tends to create local congestion and which must find relief in orgasm, or create distress. (Lloyd, Karezza Method: 62.)
Using Karezza’s gentle intercourse, we discovered that we can make love for as long as we need to until any sexual tension melts away entirely—as long as we don’t fall back into hungry behavior, or begin fighting ourselves by going close to the edge of orgasm. During lovemaking, the emphasis is on stillness and heart-centered feelings. If the energy begins to build into goal-oriented sensations, we simply relax back into stillness.
The feelings during these quiet periods can be especially profound, as if we have entered a timeless cocoon of delighted contentment.
I experience what I think of as a “soul orgasm.” It isn’t connected to reproductive sex in any way. It can be produced even without sex, although sex is a great way to produce it. As we gently make love, I imagine us both in a glowing ball of light. I feel as if our spirits have merged. For hours after this kind of sex session, if I think of my wife, the feeling of deep love refills me, just as if I were back in bed having sex. —Todd
Flirting with “the edge” can increase frustration, even if no one climaxes. Frustration equates with high dopamine, and when dopamine goes too high it can lead to tension, resentment, and subsequent cravings. Going too close to orgasm can also build congestion in the genitals, which may cause sharp pains. If you are fighting yourself, you are going too close to orgasm. If you are male, you are also putting unhealthy stress on your prostate gland. Relax!
Karezza is effortless
I just couldn’t believe how effortless Karezza was. This man described it perfectly:
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. —Larry
Karezza works because bonding behaviors work. In fact, Karezza is itself a delicious, intimate, soothing bonding behavior. There is nothing mysterious about this, even though its effectiveness in relieving sexual tension may strike you as remarkable after you master it.
There was a warm glow in the area between our navels and pubic hairline that just demanded that we lie there together motionless to feel the gentle warmth it was radiating. This went on for twenty to thirty “timeless” minutes. Then slowly we inched toward nuzzling in the genital area. Very slowly we got to having intercourse sideways and it was amazing—lots of wetness to make it easy, and lots of control so no frenzy by either. We were both amazed and so loving in the stillness. It is a truly incredible experience. R. is delighted and feels so pleased that he didn’t feel the need to come, which has been a big concern for him. It was such a powerful, loving experience. —Gina
Sometimes Karezza is just pleasant, gentle intercourse that leaves us refreshed and more balanced. Sometimes it’s an amazing, heart-opening experience for which we can hardly find words. The outcome is not in our control. All we can do is keep our biologically driven habits out of the way, and enjoy what bubbles up. Striving is counterproductive. We focus on comforting each other, not fanning sexual hunger.
Karezza, with its emphasis on generous, non-goal-oriented affection, seems to rely heavily on activating the body’s relaxation response. In contrast, ejaculatory sex is a function of the fight-or-flight (sympathetic nervous system) response. Regular sex is an athletic exercise. Your heart rate increases; you perspire. It’s like any other goal-directed activity, particularly when your survival is at stake. Indeed, biologically driven sex is exactly that. You are in performance mode, doing what needs to be done to survive (through passing on your genes).
The body “reads” bonding behaviors (like Karezza) as signals for feeling safe and getting closer. In contrast, it may not “read” performance-oriented lovemaking as a bonding signal, but rather as something more akin to a fight-or-flight activity. This powerful drive produces orgasms, but not necessarily profound feelings of safety or a desire to remain close.
Karezza’s effects are subtle and cumulative
Karezza can be a bit like watching paint dry at first—albeit with the added joys of a companion and an increasing sense of well-being. It does not produce rapid, obvious results (as, for example, a new foreplay technique might). Instead its effects are cumulative. We needed several weeks of pleasant, but patient, consistency to see why we had made the effort to try it. During that time, we experienced a growing sense of empowerment, optimism, and connectedness with others. We felt as if we were “in the flow.” Yet these changes seemed so natural (and well-deserved), that it was easy to miss the link between cause and effect.
The Karezza way doesn't require climax by either man or woman, since it emphasizes intimacy, harmony, and unity. It also takes a lot of practice to make it work right, and the couple wishing to practice Karezza should be patient. It takes time to harmonize energy fields, emotions, rhythms, and responses between two persons. Expect to practice at least a dozen times before you begin to see increasingly delightful results. —Bernard Jensen, MD
Karezza is a return to equilibrium. For some that may mean a few uncharacteristic naps, for others it will mean a welcome increase in libido. Either way, Karezza is not an attempt to recreate the intensity of honeymoon neurochemistry. The energy it produces is not “edgy,” but rather lighthearted. With or without clothes, it feels more like two dolphins frolicking. We tend to laugh a lot, to find just the right times to make love, and to enjoy hugging or touching each other at other times.
You need to try Karezza for at least three weeks to be in a position to compare the benefits with conventional sex. Otherwise you may not taste what life is like beyond the ups and downs of the post-orgasmic passion cycle. (For more on this cycle see Women: Does Orgasm Give You a Hangover? and Men: Does Frequent Ejaculation Cause a Hangover?)
We often learn the most about Karezza from our inadvertent departures from it. We never “go for” orgasm, but it happens occasionally. It’s the perfect reminder of why we stick with this practice. During the two weeks after an orgasm, we notice a temporary dimming of good feelings, and we are always delighted when, like clockwork, we come back into sync at the end of the cycle.
You may believe that you will feel more frustrated the longer you avoid orgasm. Yet if you experiment carefully with Karezza, using lots of relaxation and generous affection, you are likely to find that this is not true.
I have experienced great feelings of well-being after non-orgasmic sex over long periods of time. The contact with the person becomes the orgasm, the sexual contact becomes the orgasm, and then there is no need for orgasm. —Mike
In our experience, there was surprisingly little inner conflict while learning Karezza, as long we took a gradual approach and remembered to wallow luxuriantly in the soothing pleasures of touch and connection. As Karezza lovers we grow more balanced and therefore more sensitive to every pleasurable nuance. Certainly, we have done a lot more giggling and enjoyed a lot more harmony.
Above all, Karezza teaches us to put each other first. As Bernard Jensen said in Love Sex & Nutrition, “To attain the most exalted state of happiness and fulfillment, it is necessary to help someone else get there, too.”
See Karezza FAQs or visit Karezza Recent Posts. You can also learn more about Karezza from these two free books by A. B. Stockham, MD and J. W. Lloyd, MD. Also see Bernard Jensen MD’s suggestions for Karezza lovemaking, and this interview with Stanley Bass about his book: Energy Karezza.