Sex in the News: No Orgasm as a Choice – The Anti-Climax Therapy

By Robert Page

An old idea, called “karezza”, has become new news. The way to strengthen relationships and marriages is to have cuddly intimacy whilst on purpose giving up on orgasms.

In bed, smiling, gazing, cradling, making contented noises, touching and sucking breasts and even gently placing the palm of your hand on your lover’s genitals, so long as it is with “the intent to comfort”, are all fine. But intercourse and orgasm are to be avoided.

The word karezza – from the Italian word ‘carezza’ meaning ‘caress’ – was coined back in 1896 by Dr Alice Bunker Stockham, a Chicago obstetrician. She was a crusading feminist campaigning for birth control, a ban on female corsets – and sexual fulfillment for all. Her underlying belief for strengthening relationships was to bring about “male continence”, though Dr Stockham also encouraged female abstention from orgasm “in the interest of equality”. The therapy has been revived by Marina L. Robinson in her book “Cupid’s Poison Arrow”.

The theory behind the therapy, rooted in recent neuroscience research, is that orgasm is comparable to a drug ‘rush’. Indeed, MRI scans have shown that the only brain event equivalent to the brain-wide phenomenon of orgasm is a full-on epileptic seizure. What goes up must come down – and these repeated highs in the pleasure receptors dulls them and desentises the brain. Worse, in terms of relationship longevity, it can lead to a craving for new partners because the boost of dopamine creates a craving for a new partner – and the adrenalin and other pleasure hormone release renewal that a fresh lover provides.

Given that many therapists suggest moving away from goal-oriented orgasm to learning and towards learning to enjoy the more long-term pleasure of the karezza-type approach, coupled with statistics showing that as many as 75% of women have difficulty achieving orgasm in penetrative sex, and that 10 to 15% are chronically anorgasmic, karezza is being being hailed as a potential cure for sexual dysfunction, porn addiction in men and lack of desire in women.

One counselor told ABC News in the U.S. that men, too, are discovering that “the emotional intimacy far outweighs any thrill of the chase and the mating mind.” Nor is this seen as only applicable to middle-aged couples struggling with the boredom of “mating in captivity” (see the excellent book of that name on the theme of reconciling the erotic with the domestic in long-term relationships, by Esther Perel) but young lovers, too. They will “wake up each morning not obsessing on genital stimulation and climax” but on “snuggling, holding and breathing with eye contact and flow. It’s very conscious – from the genitals to the heart”. So the emphasis is on building deep attachment and increasing one’s stocks of the bonding-hormone, oxytocin, not on climax.

Some men agree. Matt Cook, a 51 year old publisher from Virginia, happily married for 25 years says: “it creates a deep feeling in a relationship that is very difficult to describe – much deeper than conventional sex.” And Darryl Keil, a 56 year old furniture maker from Miane, married 29 years, agrees: “In karezza, lovemaking has no finish line, so sexual energy continues to flow. You follow the sensations in your body, not the stimulation.”

Not surprisingly, other men, unwilling to accept the idea of giving up on orgasms, push back. Their position was summed up by one man who asked: “You want me to climb 10,000 feet up Mt Everest and not get to the top?” Some women equally do not want purposively to give up on orgasm; they just wish their men would take the time and provide the right stimulation for them to achieve them.

Does karezza only go back to Dr Stockham and 1896 – or is it a re-skinning of tantric sex which dates back over centuries? Though currently lauded by many couples counsellors, at least for short-term therapy, and being practiced by increasing numbers of couples, more research is needed to indicate whether strict adherence to its “orgasm continence” agenda doesn’t create its own sex and relationship problems over time.

Robert Page is the founder of the Lovers’ Guide, the worl’d’s number one sex and relationship brand

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