Long term relationships

Why Some Couples Are Giving Up Orgasms (but Not Sex)

Published: MARCH 12, 2015 | Updated: FEBRUARY 15, 2022
Sex and orgasms don’t have to go hand in hand. Karezza is encouraging many couples to prioritize intimacy over The Big O.

Sex without orgasm sounds like toast without a satisfying smear of butter or the Super Bowl without the crazy ads. Or at least that's what many of us assume. But you've got to admit that the need to achieve in the orgasm department can sometimes make sex feel like a slog. Devotees of a new sexual practice insist that not only are orgasms not the real icing on the cupcake, but that abstaining from orgasms has improved their sex lives.


Intrigued? It's called karezza and it's a gentle, affectionate form of intercourse that aims to throw the whole idea of having an orgasm as the ultimate goal of sex right out the window.

What Is karezza?

Karezza encourages couples to enjoy regular intercourse without orgasm. The word itself is believed to come from the Italian word for "caress," but the practice has its roots in the traditions of Taoism and Tantra.

Alice Bunker Stockham, an American doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, coined the term way back in 1896 after traveling to Northern India. She was inspired by the tantric techniques she discovered there, particularly those concerned with controlling the orgasm response. However as a Quaker-Christian, she was unimpressed by Tantra’s Eastern religious components. So, she came up with karezza, which borrowed from Indian traditions but interpreted them in a way that didn’t clash with her own faith.

"During a lengthy period of perfect control, the whole being of each is merged into the other, and an exquisite exaltation experienced. This may be accompanied by a quiet motion, entirely under subordination of the will, so that the thrill of passion for either may not go beyond a pleasurable exchange," Stockham wrote in her revolutionary text, "Karezza: The Ethics of Marriage."


"Unless procreation is desired, let the final propagative orgasm be entirely avoided."

No Orgasm? Seriously?

While you can see Karezza may have had some benefits as an early form of birth control, supporters claim that they’re better able to stay in the moment when they’re not aiming for an orgasm. They focus on giving and receiving pleasure in the present rather than what might come next. Taking away the expectation of orgasm also minimizes performance anxiety.

For many of us who assume that orgasm is the ultimate goal, many sex therapists confirm that karezza does get some things right, particularly when it comes to keeping the romance alive once the infatuation of a new relationship wears off. The testimonials of ardent karezza lovers certainly support this theory. Women say their relationships have become more flirtatious and harmonious, while men report feeling more virile and attracted to their partners. Some people have even credited karezza with helping them overcome addictions to masturbation and pornography.

Sex therapists typically suggest karezza as a short-term measure to spice up relationships. However, many of its supporters are so impressed by the impact of the practice they happily swear off orgasms for good. (Learn more about orgasm - and the science behind it - in 10 Things You Don't Know About Orgasm.)


Karezza’s List of Perks

While many people feel that orgasms are the ultimate natural drug, that may not be true for everyone. They flood the body with the feel-good chemical dopamine, which means they can also be followed by a crash.

In her book "Cupid's Poisoned Arrow", karezza advocate Marnia Robinson writes about such a crash. She claims that "the habit of pursuing passion to the point of quenching desire can set off unsuspected mood swings, cause resentment toward a lover and erode attraction."

Women, according to Robinson, are especially prone to becoming teary and irritable after dopamine leaves their body. By eliminating orgasms, the women who suffer this reaction say they’re much happier.

The Big O Question

Sex is certainly about a lot more than just orgasm. It can be about touching, kissing, fondling, even talking. In other words, even without the orgasm, there's still a lot left. But is it enough? For some people, maybe it is. But as many couples continue to seek to explore their sexuality in

new ways, orgasm, naturally, still has a very compelling pull.


So maybe orgasm doesn't have to be the ultimate goal of of every sexual encounter. Karezza proves that much. But if, like many devotees of karezza, you think of sex as a journey, you have to admit that it's nice to get where you're going sometimes, or maybe even wind up somewhere totally out of this world.

What do you think of karezza? Could you enjoy sex without orgasm? Tell us what you think.

Lauren Katulka

Lauren Katulka is a happily married freelance writer living on Australia's Central Coast. When she's not playing around with words she loves roller skating, spending time in the kitchen, watching indie films and cuddling her Devon Rex cat, Gizmo.

Latest Sex Positions