Can avoiding orgasms improve your sex life?

Yes, it’s a serious question. An ancient technique called karezza — based on the Italian word carezza, for caress — is coming back in vogue with therapists as a means of addressing more modern sex problems. Karezza refers to intercourse that eschews orgasms for both parties and focuses on attachment and affection. Serious devotees claim that it can overcome sex addiction, female sexual dysfunction, erectile dysfunction and sexual boredom, and extend the honeymoon period of a relationship for, well, forever. Which sounds to us like a bit of a Sophie’s choice: Would you be willing to give up orgasms — or, at least, intentional orgasms — for the rest of your life in order to have a permanently awesome sex life?

In theory, we totally get it. The term karezza was coined in 1896 by Dr. Alice Bunker Stockham, a Chicago OB and feminist who campaigned for birth control, a ban on corsets and sexual fulfillment for both genders. The idea was to achieve equality in bed — couples help each other to extend the plateau period indefinitely so that sexual pleasure can be experienced with none of the pesky post-orgasm hangover.

And take Darryl Keils, a 56-year-old furniture maker from Maine who was interviewed about his karezza sex life with his wife (they’ve been married 29 years and been having karezza sex for the past eight years; their only orgasms during that time have been accidental): He describes conventional sex as ”lick, pump, squirt, snore.” We’d like to give him the Golden Dildo Award for Feminist Husband just for that. He says his wife finally feels like an equal partner in the bedroom and that he never gets bored with sex. “The pleasure goes up another level,” he says. “You follow the sensation in your body, not the stimulation.”

But in practice…? Man, imagine getting all that equality and affection and connection and sensuality in the bedroom… and then turning the lights out without letting it lead to an orgasm? That sounds like torture, and not necessarily the exquisite kind. As one of Keils’ male friends said to him, “You want me to climb 10,000 feet up Mt. Everest and not get to the top?”

We’re not sexual extremists by anyone’s yardstick. That said, we could absolutely see how a temporary experiment with karezza could revitalize a flagging sex life. One therapist suggests trying it for three months, which sounds like a long time to us — but then again, in the grand scheme of decades of monogamous marriage, perhaps not. If you can think of it as just a different way to experiment in bed, maybe you could get off on it. Without getting off on it, of course.


Photo credit: flickr