When it comes to sex, we usually talk about orgasms as not only the indicator of successful sex—but as sex's ultimate goal. Enter the karezza method.
The karezza method's origins.
Karezza is a slow and sensual way of having sex that entirely removes climax from the sexual equation, leaving space for emotional connection and heightened affection. The karezza method has ancient spiritual roots but began to be widely established in the modern era with the publication of OB/GYN Alice Bunker Stockham's 1903 book Karezza: The Ethics of Marriage. Stockham coined the term karezza, which she took from the Italian word carezza, meaning "caress."
The intent behind the karezza method is to deepen the sexual and emotional connection, according to certified clinical sexologist Randi Levison. The practice "teaches couples to focus on the entire being, not just a body part," she says. "It's all about relaxing and being in the present moment."
The practice has also been known by the Latin name "coitus reservatus," although this is slightly different from true karezza, because coitus reservatus only involves the penetrating partner withholding from orgasm while encouraging the receptive partner to still have them.
Like tantric sex and other more sensual sexual practices, the karezza method has gained popularity over the years with couples who find that it brings true intimacy and connection back to their relationships.
Benefits of the karezza method:
1. It allows you to explore other forms of pleasure beyond the orgasm.
A lot of people can get really caught up in trying to have an orgasm during sex, which can actually distract from actually enjoying the sex. When you remove the goalpost, you're free to just focus wholly on the sensations without any concern about what they're "building up" to. As Levison says, it's all about being totally present in the moment.
For people who tend to feel anxious during sex (which can often be tied to feelings of inadequacy surrounding sexual performance), turning away from the O-goal can feel like a weight lifted. When sex becomes about the journey and not the destination, space is given to really enjoy each sensation for what it is without becoming anxious about where it is leading.
2. It's a more affectionate form of sex.
This is because it encourages couples to take their time caressing, touching, kissing, and snuggling with each other. These actions stimulate the production of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of bonding and love. Caressing for longer and longer periods of time "makes us feel good, happy, and pain-free," says Renee Adolphe, a sex and relationship coach who is well versed in karezza.
3. It allows you to get in sync with your partner.
"As a sex therapist, what I see happening within a couple sexually is usually symptomatic of what's happening in the rest of the relationship," Levison explains. With karezza, "there is a feeling of 'dropping in'...being completely in union with a partner or experiencing the same frequency. This union is inherently harmonious, and when harmony is experienced in sex, it will usually find its way outside of the bedroom."
In other words, the time spent on connecting during karezza might be a healing balm on one's relationship.
4. It connects sex and spirituality.
Karezza started out as an extremely spiritual practice in which the centrality of sex to spirituality wasn't shied away from. In his seminal 1931 text The Karezza Method, J. William Lloyd writes, "Sex is very close to soul. Whoso touches sex touches the secrets and centers of life... The voice of sex, in its power, is as the voice of God."
For people who were brought up to separate sex and faith, karezza can be a way to begin to reconcile the two.
5. It's accessible for people with disabilities or chronic sexual pain.
If penetrative sex (i.e., intercourse) isn't an option for you due to a disability or to a condition that causes sex to be painful, the karezza method offers another way to enjoy sexuality with a partner that almost anyone can enjoy because it's all about caressing and embracing rather than penetration.
Positions, methods, and tips:
Create an intentional, sensual space.
Lloyd emphasizes the importance of having the right environment for karezza—ideally an intimate, romantic bedroom atmosphere.
"If you are novices, choose a time when you can both be all alone, unhurried, and free from interruptions. Concentrate yourselves entirely on your love and joy and the blending of yourselves into one. Let the room be warm, the surroundings pleasant and esthetic; and be as unhampered by clothing as possible," he writes.
Adolphe adds, "Make sure you have ample time, no distractions such as phones turned on or television, as you want to be fully present."
Set intentions for the sexual session as a couple.
When you set out to try karezza, you and your partner should enter the sexual session with a specific mindset about what type of experience you're trying to create. Keep in mind that the practice is meant to be about touching and being in touch with the whole body, not just the genitals.
"Karezza requires preparatory mental exercise," Lloyd writes. "It requires first the understanding and conviction that the spiritual, the caressive, the tender side of the relation is much more important, much more productive of pleasure in fact, than the merely sexual, and that throughout the whole relation the sexual is to be held subordinate to this love side as its tool, its agent, its feeder. Sex is indeed required to furnish all it has to the feast, but strictly under the leadership of and to the glory of love. ... Let both of you think more about your love than your passion; translate your sex-passion as much as possible into heart-passion."
He also emphasizes the importance of beginning from a place of gentleness rather than a feeling of intensity or sexual excitement. Think relaxing hygge vibes rather than fiery lust vibes.
Start slowly and sensually.
Begin by massaging or gently running your fingertips over your partner's body, paying attention to places you might normally neglect during sex. Caress your partner's face, their neck and shoulders, the sides of their waist.
Place a heavy emphasis on communication. Ask your partner what feels good and how the sensations feel in their body. As you touch each other, tell the other where they should linger with their touch. Be direct about what maximizes your pleasure.
Compliment each other.
"As your hands caress her, tell her how beautiful her features are to you—her brow, her hair, her lips, her throat—her arms, hands, bosom, waist, the flowing rounded lines of her limbs. Grow eloquent, poetic in her praise," Lloyd writes. "The Loved One can never be too much praised or appreciated by the Lover. Spend plenty of time on these preparatory caresses."
Don't be afraid to get intimate!
(Lloyd's advice in this area is directed at men with a female partner but can easily be adapted for use by people of any genders.)
Caress their penis or vulva.
When it feels right, move down to caress your partner's genitals with the same gentle touch. But remember that you're not building toward an orgasm here, so move slowly and pay attention to whether your partner is getting too close to the edge. Ease off if that happens.
"Keep your thoughts on love, not passion," Lloyd reminds. "Be utterly relaxed physically...hold the thought of Peace."
(Tantric yoni massage and tantric lingam massage might be great practices to try during karezza.)
Use face-to-face positions.
When you feel ready to move to having intercourse, stay away from things like reverse cowgirl and try to use karezza-friendly positions that allow eye contact and bodily closeness such as the lotus sex position, rocking chair, or missionary.
If you feel yourself nearing orgasm, back away from the activity that you're engaged in and bring your focus back to the fact that karezza is focused on emotional connection and not climax. (For folks with a penis, it might help to practice semen retention alongside the karezza method.)
Take it slowly.
Karezza is a marathon, not a sprint. Don't expect to be able to practice it properly in between other acts.
"Most importantly be loving, kind, and patient with yourself and your partner. Slow, gentle, and tender are keywords to remember and help you on your karezza journey," Adolphe says.
Using the karezza method can ultimately bring you and your partner(s) closer together and widen your capacity to derive enjoyment from sex. It's a space to be mindful of your partner as you explore this new way of relating to each other.
Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.