Another Way to Make Love

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Elude the Coolidge Effect with a forgotten approach to sex

loversRecent posts discuss (1) why lovers might want to know more about what's going on in their limbic brains, (2) how too much intense stimulation of the brain's primitive reward circuitry can lead to subtle mood swings and a need for more stimulation, and (3) how dopamine fluctuations drive the Coolidge Effect (the tendency to lose interest in a mate after sexual satiation.) I've also mentioned that there's a way to make love that helps ease dopamine extremes and promote harmony.

I happened upon this concept decades ago in a book on Daoist lovemaking. After modifying the ideas based on practical experience I eventually read a book on karezza—and realized that it described what my husband and I were doing. Karezza is gentle intercourse, with lots of affection and relaxation, but without the goal of orgasm. (Yes, it still happens on rare occasions.)

This practice has apparently been used to deepen and harmonize relationships for millennia, going by many names through the ages. These include: Daoist dual cultivation, le jazer (cortezia), amplexus reservatus, tantra (in its more relaxed variations), transorgasmic sex, and so forth. To taste the benefits, both partners emphasize daily bonding behaviors (such as skin-to-skin contact, gentle stroking, spooning, and occasional gentle intercourse) and sidestep orgasm for three weeks. (Details in Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships.)

At first, intercourse not geared toward orgasm seems like..."WTF?!" but this may be due, in part, to the fact that we in the West have so thoroughly codified our current biases, even branding sex without orgasm a "paraphilia." Incidentally, karezza creates strange bedfellows. Pope Pius XII also condemned it. In his time, Catholics in France and Belgium were extolling amplexus reservatus (karezza) as a legitimate means of avoiding conception, and also as a means of achieving a more perfect, more spiritual kind of conjugal love. The Pope said it either wasn't "a true marriage act," or, when it did result in inadvertent orgasm, it was dangerous because of its potential for hedonism. Sometimes you just can't win.

Over the last century or so, three medical doctors have written books affirming karezza's benefits. (Stockham, MD, Lloyd, MD and Jensen, MD) Here are comments of some of today's husbands (none of them mine):

The thought of removing foreplay / orgasm etc. is mind-boggling. Your mind fights it. "It will be boring. What will we do in bed?" Once you try it though, at least for me, there is no going back. Not achieving satiety using karezza is truly wonderful. Of course, satiety can never be reached via conventional sex either, but that lack of satiety always seems to result in a lustful feeling of wanting more.... This is different. It is heavenly, for lack of a better word. I am satisfied, but I am not. I do not feel the sense of urgency I usually feel when I am not satisfied. I feel complete somehow, at peace, and best of all, in love.... My wife and I are really bonding again.

My wife and I have been practicing/doing what can be called karezza for a number of years. As time passed, we found the position that works for us, scissors position, and developed a routine that actually leaves out foreplay and makes the whole affair less "hot." We use jojoba oil for lubrication and connect before sleep and each morning. We've been doing this for 6-7 years, and it is great. Every couple hopefully finds their own way to make love often with no pressure, stress, or depletion. Karezza works for us. We stay high and grateful almost all the time. Negativity can't last long because our positive energy is generated and supported daily.

At first my wife resented me taking away her pleasure. So we compromised. We decided to have orgasms on the first of every month and on some special occasions. Now we are in our third month of squirtless loving, "because we do not want to ruin a good thing." We usually stay engaged for an hour twice per week. We comment daily on how cute we appear to each other. I have had opportunities to have sexual relations outside of our marriage over the last eighteen years and I do not know how I remained faithful. Now my attitude is that nothing could ever match what is going on inside our marriage.

Intriguingly, Canadian research recently confirmed that "great sex" is generally not focused on orgasm. The head researcher also noted that, "There is plenty of evidence that most people believe that the secret to sexual fulfillment is technical, that it's about better manual and oral stimulation techniques." However, the study showed that "You could have terrible sex with orgasms and despite orgasms, but you could have optimal sexuality without orgasm."

How could this be? I suspect that karezza yields benefits because it sidesteps hidden neurochemical fallout. Orgasm, and more particularly sexual satiety, is a (delicious) neurochemical blast, which sends out ripples for as long as two weeks while as the body returns to equilibrium. (More in "The Passion Cycle.")

Perhaps those who have been plagued by the Coolidge Effect will find karezza especially beneficial. When lovers make love gently and only rarely "finish," they seldom feel "fed up" with a partner. They also sidestep the potentially risky tendency to cure all post-orgasmic fallout (flatness, heightened frustration, neediness) with more orgasm.

Marriage counselors sometimes recommend that couples seeking to reconcile begin by refraining from conventional sex, but engage in affectionate touch or even non-goal-oriented intercourse. (Both gently raise dopamine and oxytocin without triggering the full passion cycle.) Perhaps bonding techniques of this type restore positive feelings because our "mating" and "bonding" programs operate on distinct subconscious cues. When we project these conflicting signals (of attachment/attraction and satiety/aversion) onto a mate we may feel like we're falling in, and out, of love in bewildering way. In effect, we're delivering mixed signals at a level below the conscious mind.

In a future post, I'll explain what research can already show us about the neurochemicals involved in the passion cycle, and more about how this phenomenon can create unwelcome projections.

(More on karezza)

Recovering addicts may also find this thread of interest.