An unconventional approach to sex known as karezza has been linked with improving health and restoring relationships
There’s an interesting new idea being discussed in sex therapy circles as a way to enhance relationships and revive sex lives. It involves having regular intercourse without it ending in orgasm. The practice is called karezza and while the trend is new, its roots are in ancient times, borrowing from Taoist and Tantric principles, says Marnia Robinson, a karezza devotee and author of Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow (Random House), in which she writes about climax-free sex.
It should be noted that karezza is a sexual practice, not just kissing and cuddling.
“In simplest terms, karezza is affectionate, sensual intercourse without the goal of climax,” Robinson says.
“Intercourse is generally frequent, although not necessarily daily. But couples will typically also engage in daily ‘bonding behaviours’ – non-erotic skin-to-skin contact, gentle stroking and so forth.”
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Why people do it
“Removing the goal of orgasm puts the focus on sex as a sensual experience and puts couples in the moment, so they are thinking about giving and receiving pleasure, not just aiming to get to the end,” body+soul sexologist Dr Gabrielle Morrissey says.
“Research shows that when it comes to sex, people value the connection with a partner more than the physical release. Karezza, and practices like it, can shift that focus to the connection instead of couples constantly chasing the orgasm.”
Robinson adds that karezza has been found to keep the romance alive between couples when the honeymoon period or new relationship high inevitably dissipates after a few years.
“Bonding behaviours and karezza are two ways to keep the romantic feelings flowing even without the racy hit of those extra new-love neurochemicals,” she says.
“Couples practising karezza tend to make love more frequently than they did with conventional sex, which is a very positive outcome in my view.”
Robinson also cites research which claims that orgasms don’t always make everyone feel good and can even lead to a kind of biochemical hangover.
“Researchers are discovering that a surprisingly large percentage of women report chronic tears and irritability
after sex,” she says.
She says this can happen even after satisfactory sex with a loving partner.
Robinson says orgasms bring the level of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres – to an all-time high, only to crash later. She says this feeling can last for some time.
Could it be healthier?
In contrast, the responses she has received from couples who have tried karezza have reinforced her belief that this sexual practice enhances health and happiness.
“Women use words like ‘blissful’, ‘pure contentment’, ‘heart-burstingly loving’. They report that their relationships are more harmonious and playful. Some report less menstrual pain and feeling and looking younger,” she says.
“One man said, ‘I have fallen deeply in love with my wife really for the first time. We’re like teenagers… and are able to have intimacy and sex now that was simply unheard of before.’
“Other men have said things like ‘deeply satisfying’ and that they feel more virile. They report feeling more attracted to their partners and say they are having sex more frequently.”
Robinson says karezza can also help people overcome sexual dysfunction caused by addiction to adult videos.
Many sceptics may question the claim that it is “deeply satisfying”, as having sex without an orgasm may be like trekking to the top of a mountain but not bothering to see the sunrise. But Robinson says that with practice, karezza is totally satisfying.
“Karezza definitely takes a bit of getting used to at first,” she says. “Lovers must learn what they’re doing and why, take a slow enough approach to intercourse, and make love in gentle waves – that is, when things heat up, they allow their arousal to drop down repeatedly, so they end in a relaxed, trance-like state.”
It’s not forever Morrissey describes karezza as a “safe” way to change up your love life and says the practice is not that far removed from the homework exercises prescribed by sex therapists for couples seeking help.
“If adopting a new way of having sex helps bring back some excitement and opens up a positive dialogue between a couple about their sex life, that’s great,” she says. “But I don’t see it as something a couple needs to, or would probably want to, practise forever.”
While Robinson knows couples who practise karezza full time and have for years, she suggests that couples still have conventional sex every now and then, particularly when they are beginning with karezza.
She advises couples take a consistent approach over a three-week period, gradually adding intercourse to the mix. “It can be good to schedule lovemaking during your karezza experiment, so both lovers can look forward to the occasions.”
Robinson says no-one should go into this arrangement without fully understanding the reasons and the techniques.
“Get educated. It’s almost impossible to make any progress with karezza unless you have a clear understanding of why you both want to do it,” she says. “Karezza is a duet, not a solo.
Mary and Darryl are karezza devotees. They have regular sex, but always hold back from orgasm. They offer a window into their sex life...
Why did you decide to try karezza?
Mary: I first learned of karezza 20 years ago through Marnia Robinson. I had had a broken engagement and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong as we had seemed to be so much ‘in love’. The gradual change in our behaviour towards each other and the world in general after we started having regular intercourse was astonishing looking back, and very disheartening. I kept getting ill, feeling depressed and insecure about the relationship. I became very possessive. By nature I am optimistic, easy going and happy so this was an alarming turn of events at a time when I was supposed to be looking forward to long-term bliss with my sweetheart. Learning about how regular intercourse affects hormones and thus our moods, was a huge and welcome revelation. It made so much sense.
Darryl: I have always believed that I could get more out of a sexual relationship than the conventional ways of making love delivered. I was married to my late wife for 26 years. We began by exploring traditional tantra focusing on achieving better and longer orgasms and by using creative visualizations at the point of orgasm to give us the life we desired. We made some progress, but we rarely achieved more than glimpses of wonder. When I met Mary and found that she wanted to make love without orgasms, I agreed a bond with her that I would never stray over into orgasm. The journey has been wonderful.
Did you find it difficult?
Mary: Although karezza made sense at an intellectual level, especially as I grew to understand the neuroscience and psychology around it, deep down I waivered and was inconsistent. I was into pleasing others and was concerned that no man would really be willing to try this, far less take it on as the main practice. I had to decide to commit to it properly to give it a chance to work.
I am very happy to say that the two partners I was so fortunate to meet in the UK who were open to this, were both Australian men. The first had recently come out of a very messy divorce after 25 years of marriage and was pleased to discover a gentle, fun, non performance-driven approach to love making with a woman who didn’t scream at him the next day. We ultimately split after two and a half years because he didn’t think his high level of drinking was affecting the relationship (it was) and wasn’t willing to try using karezza consistently to help him control his addiction. I had to move on. We remain good friends however.
I had little success with potential partners after that. One prospect had a serious porn addiction and kept giving very mixed messages. He couldn’t concentrate on reading even a two-page article summarizing it. Another man liked the idea but wanted to practice it with several women at once (but not with me). He loved the idea of having sexual control over women but keeping his emotions detached. He really missed the point. He just wasn’t ready for it.
What I found challenging was explaining it to prospective partners. Some guys freaked at the thought of ‘giving up’ orgasms.“What? You mean no jollies!” Of course language is tricky. I had to learn to phrase it in such a way that said how much we actually ‘gain’ by learning to take control of our sexual energy rather than letting it control us. Men need to trust the woman and at least be willing to try it for a couple of weeks before passing judgment.
I was beginning to resign myself to a life of celibacy when I met Darryl, Australian number two, I was introduced as “an expert on sacred sex”. This was the last thing on my mind despite having spoken on the subject of karezza at a debate in his place of work when he had been away a few weeks before. He appeared very interested in it. Wow! The danger is some men think you must be sex-crazed to speak so openly about sex- they couldn’t be more wrong. I was very lucky that Darryl had some knowledge and experience of tantra so we had a common basis for discussing it further in a unsensational way. After a period of ‘courting’ and slowly getting to know each other, we were ready to put karezza into practice on a daily basis.
Darryl: Karezza sounds difficult because our society and our regular sexual selves have focused on achieving orgasm as a goal. Sex without orgasm is seen as a failure. By definition it must be boring. The reality of living a karezza lifestyle is as far from boring as it could possibly be. Karezza is not difficult. It is just a set of physical and emotional skills a couple can develop to help them make love in a fabulous way without tipping either party over into orgasm. It is wholly founded on trust and on your being able to travel together through the sexual experience as partners in the truest sense. Karezza needs a strong foundation of forgiveness and acceptance – if someone strays into orgasmic territory it is not a disaster, it is something for us to learn about to have a better experience in the future.
What are the benefits?
Mary: There is a necessary period of adjustment just getting used to each others’ bodies and learning to sense and harmonize with each others’ rhythm. But the benefits are amazing. We feel we are improving the quality of our intimate connection all the time. I have become calmer, better able to focus on my work and projects; become less worried about the future; feel more secure and loving as well as loved, within the relationship. I am better able to lose weight and follow a healthy regime. My skin is better than ever. People are always amazed at how young I look for my age. The stability of the relationship that comes from frequent affectionate touch and gentle intercourse is reflected in wanting to help and support each other in all areas of our lives.
Darryl: Karezza has huge benefits if you like sex. I don’t drink alcohol, smoke or take drugs. Because I am not losing my sexual energy through ejaculation, I am now having much, much more and better sex than I have ever experienced. I am 56 years old and I now find it normal to make love for several hours at a time or several times a day. I find it fully satisfying and it helps me to truly appreciate just what a wonderful person Mary is.
Why you’d recommend and want to go on and run workshops?
Mary: I know how powerful and alluring orgasms can be. But I also know that the few seconds of intense pleasure are just too high a price to pay for the 2-week cycle of fluctuating moods and exaggerated emotional responses that follow. I have never felt better in my life even at 53 years of age. Karezza is 100 per cent responsible for balancing me out. I steer clear of orgasms. Darryl prefers me on an even keel emotionally. I am a much better and more loving partner with no orgasms in the way.
I left practising the law 20 years ago to go in search of knowledge about what makes us tick better. I was tired of watching so many relationships disintegrate and hopeful lives go off the rails. Too many women like me are finding it almost impossible to get into steady relationships. Alcohol, pornography, drugs, mindless shopping and compulsive eating become substitutes for a good relationship. We need to learn and teach others how to steer a relationship into long-term harmony. I believe we have found answers and are keen to pass on that knowledge and experience through workshops and other channels. I am also returning to practice law to help influence the policy makers and educationalists about what works to strengthen family relationships, especially between the parents, reduce addiction-related crime and other domestic problems.
Darryl: I want to develop a workshop programme to allow other people to have the chance to appreciate just what a wonderful thing our sexuality can be if we manage it well. Our bodies are one of the great creations of nature, but our breeding cycle gets in the way of the real heights of pleasure life and lovemaking can deliver. I would like to help other couples to find better relationships with their partners. Karezza has made my life so much better.