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by catherine yronwode

The illustration on this page is a Thai penis amulet
from the pages of the Lucky W Amulet Archive.

The physical techniques of karezza, as propounded by Alice Bunker Stockham and others in her circle, are designed to teach control of the orgasm response in both men and women, for the purposes of physical pleasure, partnership bonding, better health, and spiritual benefit. What sets karezza apart from traditional religious teachings such of tantra yoga is that karezza method applies equally to both partners in the relationship, whether they are a man and a woman, two men, or two women.

In order to understand the enormity of Stockham's contribution to the field of sacred sex, it is necessary to note that at the time when she was formulating her ideas -- during the last half of the 19th century -- traditional Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist tantra practice emphasized MALE orgasm control only, because under the Hindu and Buddhist paradigms, the major point of sacred sex was to teach men to raise their kundalini energy to a fever pitch by metaphysically re-absorbing their sperm and sending it shooting up their spinal chords into their brains and thus achieving blissful union with the Goddess and doing a lot of other sacred shit that women, lacking sperm, obviously could not do. Under these paradigms, women were thought to be "shaktis," that is, empowering incarnations of goddesshood who endorsed or validated the male spiritual experience.

Some Hindu teachers took a misogynistic viewpoint of the shakti (females can't have religious or spiritual experiences anyway, so why bother teaching them) and others took a misogynistic-disguised-as-worshipful viewpoint (women are already so holy and sacred that they need learn or do nothing to be spiritual), but in the end the message was the same: men must learn to control orgasm; women need not. Considering the low value placed on women in India at the time, none of this is surprising. (What is surprising is that as late as 1974, the well-intentioned Western author Robert Moffett, in his book "Tantric Sex," was so blinded by cultural conditioning that although he quoted extensively from Stockham's book, "Karezza," he still mischaracterized her teachings as "karezza, the means of indefinitely delaying the male orgasm.")

Stockham was not the first or the only Westerner to advocate a non-religious form of sacred sex. Other 19th century variants of "tantra" include John Humphrey Noyes' "Male Continence;" "the Anseiratic Mysteries" of Paschal Beverly Randolph; "Magnetation," a name proposed by Stockham's follower John William Lloyd; A. E. Newton's "The Better Way," and Gerge N. Miller's fictionalized account of Stockham's method, promulgated in a novel under the title "Zuggasent's Discovery."

Still, 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 clearly stated that if men will benefit spiritually from learning to control their orgasm response, so will *women*. This placed karezza in theoretical conflict to John Humphrey Noyes's Oneida Community method, where "Male Continence" was practiced. "Male Continence," as the name implies, allowed women to have all the orgasms they wanted, while men were expected to restrain themselves.

In describing her methods, one metaphor Stockham used was that of a fountain that fills a basin slowly, drop by drop. The build-up of sexual desire, she believed, continued day by day, filling the basin until it overflowed naturally. (The result of the basin overflowing gently is orgasm, but see below for more on this.) If the basin was drained dry through continual orgasmic sex acts before it filled naturally (which she estimated took two weeks to a month), she believed that the drained person would be in a state of "magnetic depletion" during that time.

On this basis Stockham argued that the traditional Hindu technique of draining the woman's basin of sexual desire through allowing her to have an orgasm, while leaving the man's basin full through teaching him tantric methods of self-restaint, produced an inequality that would in time create aversion in the couple. The man would become a sort of psychic leech (she used less derogatory language) who continually kept the woman drained off while basking in the spiritual luxury of his own overflowing basin of sexual magnetism. Because he would come to see the woman as a drained being or empty vessel, in time he would no longer respect her or desire her. Meanwhile, the amative woman would come to see the man as a provider of pleasure who coldly withheld his own pleasure and in time she would feel powerless and resentful of his cold-blooded domination of the reltionship.

Stockham's solution to this problem was to instruct couples to engage in sex whenever they wanted, as often as they wanted, under three conditions:

1) Each sex act should be preceded by some form of spiritual dedication, similar to the traditional Hindu puja ceremony in intent, but adapted to American cultural needs. She recommended writing love letters and making "dates," spending at least an hour before making love away from the children, lighting candles, sharing a glass of wine, reading poetry, and other common adjuncts of romance -- up to and including maintaining separate bedrooms so that each sex act would be obviously intentional and not merely a prelude to going to sleep.

2) If a couple did not want more children, they should not have orgasms during the woman's fertile time. (Remember, there were no birth control pills or diaphragms when she first wrote -- and condoms were illegal.)

3) Orgasm must be under volitional control. The accomplishment of orgasm should only occur when it resulted from "overflow" of the basin of desire. How often this happened was left to the discretion of the individuals.

I think everyone who has practiced tantric sex knows what Stockham was describing as the overflow type of orgasm. It ooccurs when, after an extended period of tantric lovemaking (hours, days, weeks; whatever it takes) it becomes impossible to distinguish pre-orgasm from orgasm -- or one body from another, for that matter -- and without any pelvic thrusting on either person's part, the couple achieves a sort of "flowing" state of shared continual orgasm which lasts...well, in some sense, "forever," since one of its most notable characterisics is that the participants experience a psychedelic perception of timelessness along with the exquisite bliss of bodily and spiritual rapture. No specific techniques exist to bring this condition on, as far as i know; it is simply a byproduct of regular Karezza practices -- when both partners learn to control their orgasm responses.

So what are "regular karezza practices"? Well, karezza is far more improvisatory than tantra yoga, so although the overall concept is to make love slowly and gently, to relax rather than "suppress" orgasm, and to be always mindful of one's partner's state of arousal and attentive to one's own breathing, specific techniques are left to the participants to devise.

In karezza, the relative roles of men and women are not fixed. Each author has his or her own opinion, since the entire field is experiential and not based on religious or social dogma. Here is what ONE karezza author, John William Lloyd, had to say about the subject of "who is in control" -- and notice how he contradicted himself within the same chapter!


The opinion prevails in Karezza that the man does it all and the woman's part is negligible. This error may have arisen in part from the old name, "Male Continence," for the method. ["Male Continence" refers to Rev. John Humphrey Noyes' 1844 booklet on semen retention; it does not refer to male celibacy. -- cat]

As a rule the woman's passion, however great, must be subordinated to the man's. He must feel himself the stronger and more positive of the two and as controlling the situation.
There should be often, long, tender, restful pauses -- alternations of "storm and peace," as one woman happily phrased it -- and in many cases the whole embrace may most helpfully be very quiet. This part should be decided by the woman and as she wishes it.
-- John William Lloyd, "The Karezza Method or Magnetation: The Art of Conubial Love" (Privately Printed for the Author, 1931; reprinted 1964 by Health Research, Mokelumne Hill. California)
There is no "by the book" approach to karezza love-making, after the manner of one of those self-help sex manuals of the 1960s that used to hand out such dubious coitus-prolonging hints as "If you feel like you're about to come, simply run through the names of every team that ever won the World Series, or do math puzzles in your mind."

Even John William Lloyd, obsessed though he was with the "failure" of premature ejaculation (apparently a real problem for him when he was young), didn't envision mechanical rote-work of the self-help-book sort to avoid the "accident" of loss of orgasmic control. Instead, he emphasized the ultimate goal of spiritual sexuality:

...translate your sex-passion as much as possible into heart-passion; be sensitively alive to the charm of each other's forms, tones, touch and fragrances; let the thought of mutual tenderness and blessing never leave you for an instant, and make everything that you do and say and feel and think *religious* in its purity, idealism, aspiration. If you do not come nearer heaven in this act and relation, than in anything else you do or ever will do, you fail of perfect Karezza.
-- [ibid.]
(Frankly, i'd rather be loved with tender blessing by a guy who came too soon than touched mechanically by a guy who was silently reciting the Periodic Table of the Elements in his head to keep from coming too soon.)

I know of no teachers who give workshops in karezza, but contenporary Western teachers of tantra yoga have borrowed a lot from karezza in the matter of personal improvisation (even though some still discount the value of female orgasm control). Likewise, many modern books on tantra yoga now recommend that students develop their own style of love-making rather than slavishly mimic postures and movements developed in Hindu or Buddhist cultures. I am only one person and thus my experience is limited, but for what it's worth, some of what i personally know to work is described in the following four articles also online at this site:

In addition, i have collected a few links to other sites which may contain further information on specific sexual methods common to tantra yoga and karezza.


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