ALICE BUNKER STOCKHAM
and
JOHN HUMPHREY NOYES


The illustration on this page is a ancient Roman bas relief
from the pages of the Lucky W Amulet Archive.

In 1995 i posted this message to a forerunner of the usenet newsgroup alt.magick.tantra:

Alice Bunker Stockham was, as far as i have been able to determine (although i welcome rebuttal with citations) the first writer to promote sexual equality in tantra. That is, she stated that if men will benefit spiritually from learning to control their orgasm response, so will *women*.

The following response from tyagi nagasiva addresses the matter of the differences of opinion between Noyes and Stockham. It consists of a collection of passages from the book 'Tantric Sex,' by Robert Moffett (Berkeley Medallion, 1974), and contains direct quotes from the writings of Stockham and Noyes. My comments appear at the conclusion of the quoted material. (And my sincere thanks to tyagi for the research.)

[quoting John Humphrey Noyes]

"'I conceived the idea that the sexual organs have a social function which is distinct from the propagative function, and that these functions may be separated practically. I experimented on this idea, and found that the self-control which it requires is not difficult; also that my enjoyment was increased; also that my wife's experience was very satisfactory, as it had never been before....'

"'Logically, therefore,

"'The discharge of the semen, instead of being the main act of sexual intercourse, properly so called, is really the sequel and termination of it.'"

'Tantric Sex,' Robert Moffett, p. 85.

"The psychosexual discoveries [made by John Humphrey Noyes] were not allowed to die. They had attracted the attention of an incredible woman, Dr. Alice Bunker Stockham, who has oddly escaped the notice of feminists. America's gratitude to Noyes is best expressed in the fact that the only complete collection of his works is in the British Museum. Dr. Stockham was to be arrested and fined $300 for distributing a type-written sex-education pamphlet entitled 'Wedding Night.'

"Significantly, Alice Bunker's family were Quakers rather than Calvinists. Born in 1833, she grew up on the frontier, in Michigan, living in the classic American log cabin surrounded by Indians. She received her high school education at Olivet College, paying her way by manual labor and teaching during vacations. Keenly interested in progressive medicine, at twenty she entered Eclectic College in Cincinnati, the only institute of higher education in the West that admitted women. She was among the first five women in America to receive an M.D.

"A dedicated advocate of the rights of women and children, Dr. Stockham was a pioneer in obstetrics. In 'Tokology,' which she published herself in 1883, she urged 'natural childbirth.' The book was translated into Swedish, German and Russian (by Leo Tolstoy, no less). In its pages, we find the first mention of the tantric technique called karezza. While she acknowledges Noyes' work, Dr. Stockham quite evidently had other sources of information.

"So now we have Tantra in the hands of a scientist, as well as a woman. One would expect a considerable contrast to Noyes' treatment of the subject. What we find is this:

'In the physical union of male and female there may be a soul communion giving not only supreme happiness, but in turn conducing to soul growth and development...and there may be a communion, rightly understood, not less significant than the begetting of children. Creative energy in man is manifold in its manifestations, and can be trained into channels of usefulness and power.'

"Noyes started with religion and arrived at sexuality. Dr. Stockham reverses the logical process. The inference is clear. The two are, one and the same. What she had to say about the results of using this technique is particularly interesting. Tantrics claim you can spot their women by the vibrant glow of their faces. Dr. Stockham writes:

'Men who are borne down with sorrow because their wives are nervous, feeble and irritable, have it in their power, through Karezza, to restore the radiant hue of health to the faces of their loved ones, strength and elasticity to their steps and harmonious action to every part of their bodies.'

"Body consciousness and sexuality are intimately linked in a relationship of mutual reinforcement. The physical effects of the psychological changes that take place during sexual arousal are far more general than we ordinarily realize...."

ibid, pp. 87-9.

"Another karezza advocate was George N. Miller, and Dr. Stockham published his novel, 'Strike of a Sex,' in which he described the tantric approach to love, calling it Zugassent's Discovery. Testimonials from readers who tried it were included in Dr. Stockham's 'Tokology' and make fascinating reading...."

ibid, p. 90.

"What happens is easy to understand if you recall that ecstasy is regression. The mind goes back to a point before its conditioning. Concepts it has been trained to reject are suddenly acceptable because the inhibitions are inoperative. These changes in attitudes, particularly if they are subse quently reinforced by logic, can be fundamental and lasting.

"At least one of Dr. Stockham's disciples recognized the potential practical applications of this. Her husband wrote:

'She wishes that all these works could be placed in the hands of every prospective bride, as she is quite sure it would save much suffering and misunderstanding at the very beginning of married life.'

"It was the attempt to carry out this wish that brought the good doctor afoul of the law. [She was accused of illegally promoting birth control.] Three-quarters of a century later, it is still considered usual for marital 'adjustment' to be a lengthy period, often years, if it succeeds at all. Certainly the problem is no longer the unavailability of information on physical sex. It is the difficulty of overcoming the inhibitions against ego-dissolution.

"Alice Bunker Stockham's knowledge of Tantra wasn't gained from books. It would be twenty years after 'Tokology' before Sir John Woodroffe (using the nom de plume Arthur Avalon) would begin publishing his translations from the Sanskrit of the tantras, the scriptures of the sakti sects. Instead, she went directly to the source, to India, to study the Nayars, a matriarchal caste of hereditary warriors on the Malabar coast.

"Certainly, if there were any women capable of enlightening her about Indian sexology, they were the Nayar sisters. This Dravidian people had never developed the concept of the nuclear family and were, into the nineteenth century, practicing polyandry. After puberty, when they were ceremonially deflowered, the Nayar girls were entitled to have up to twelve husbands at a time.

"The proud, famed beauties were in no way subservient to or dependent upon their men, however. They -- and any children born -- went right on living with their families; all the males were entitled to were visiting rights. By custom, reminiscent of the Sarmatians (as well as several polyandrous African tribes), the husband in residence left his sword outside the door as a warning to others.

"At the same time the Americans were forcing Noyes to recant, the British Raj compelled the Nayars to take up, if not accept, monogamy. Polygyny, on the other hand, was tolerated in the castes that practiced it on the grounds of religious freedom."

ibid, pp. 92-3.

"Dr. Stockham, incidentally, was very strong on meditation as a preamble to lovemaking and also emphasized reading poetry -- an idea not so quaint as it might sound. Poetry is, in essence, the language of the primitive mind. Imagery is verbal symbolism."

ibid, p. 126.

"The whole tantric technique, of course, is based on the principle of mutual reinforcement. It simultaneously destroys the inhibitions against sexual enjoyment but, because it is providing ego-dissolution at every point, it reduces the tension of the drive for self-gratification in the orgasm, to get a quick hit-and-run battery recharge.

"It looks like a good plan but, as every male (and frustrated female) knows, there's a built-in cut-off point. When sexual excitement mounts to a certain level, it's out of his hands. The orgasmic mechanism takes over and that's it....

"But... it is not the invariable course things must run. This the tantrics discovered and, more than three thousand years later, so did Noyes. It is karezza, the means of indefinitely delaying the male orgasm. The Buddhists, Noyes and Dr. Stockham, for all practical purposes, abolished it altogether. But, in an age when mechanical and hormonal birth control techniques are as sophisticated as they have become, this is clearly unnecessary.

"The idea of sex without orgasm -- which is precisely what most women experienced until relatively recently -- is bound to turn off most men. And yet if, like Noyes, we think of sexuality and the orgasm as separate phenomena, it substantially changes matters. If the end result of sexuality is ego-dissolution, could it not be possible to obtain it *without* orgasm? The answer is *yes*. Those who have practiced karezza without going to the point of orgasm have reported they experienced complete satisfaction. How?

"Noyes described the technique as akin to rowing a boat just above a waterfall.

'This whole process, up to the point of emission, is voluntary, entirely under...the control...and can be stopped at any point. In other words, the presence and the motions can be continued or stopped at will, and it is only the final crisis of emission that is automatic or uncontrollable....'

"Havelock Ellis interviewed Noyes Miller, who had spent most of his life at the [J. H. Noyes' Oneida commune] colony and reported,

'In intercourse, the male inserted his penis into the vagina and retained it there for even an hour without emission, though orgasm took place in the woman. There was usually no emission in the case of the man, even after withdrawal, and he felt no need of emission.'

"During this time, according to Kinsey, the man might reach as many as twenty peaks of sexual response on the verge of orgasm without actually reaching it.

"Stockham carries it into the next dimension:

'At the appointed time, without fatigue of body or unrest of mind, accompany generally bodily contact with expressions of endearment and affection, followed by the complete quiet union of the sexual organs. 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. Unless procreation is desired, let the final propagative orgasm be entirely avoided.

'With abundant time and mutual reciprocity the interchange becomes satisfactory and complete without emission or crises. In the course of an hour the physical tension subsides, the spiritual exaltation increases, and not uncommonly visions of a transcendent life are seen and consciousness of new power experienced.'"

ibid, pp. 143-5.

Robert Moffett's rather Freudian opinion that "ecstasy is regression" aside -- and overlooking his odd conceit that the Nayar women were uniformly "proud, famed beauties" (i'll bet there were a few homely ones in the bunch, and i'll bet they had just as much social and sexual power as the beautiful ones) -- there is also one further matter in which i would like to correct his otherwise valuable discourse on the subject of Karezza and Male Continence:

Moffett mistakenly calls karezza "the means of indefinitely delaying the male orgasm," although it is obvious from context that Stockham was referring to both sexes, not just to men, when she wrote, "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."

I do not know why Moffett failed to notice the key concept of gender parity that differentiates karezza from traditional Hindu tantra yoga and from Male Continence, but when i recast Stockham's words into modern, sexually explicit terminology, what i get is: "With gentle and mindful stimuation, the arousal level of both partners can be maintained indefinitely just below the threshhold of involuntary contractive orgasm." This does not describe a man delaying or controlling his orgasm; rather, it describes two people riding the wave below orgasm together. In Stockham's view, both partners, regardless of gender, are equal in cause and in effect -- which, incidentally, means that the techniques of Karezza are just as relevant to homosexual relationships as they are to heterosexual couplings.

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