An unconventional approach to sex known as karezza has been linked with improving health and restoring relationships, says Fiona Baker.
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.”
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.”