Sex that doesn’t culminate in orgasm (for both partners, ideally) is often written off as crappy sex. But for those practicing the sex technique known as “karezza,” not climaxing isn’t a failure at all — it’s the point.
Karezza, which comes from the Italian word for caress (“carezza”), prioritises gentle, affectionate forms of intercourse that don’t end in orgasm, with the goal of boosting intimacy, improving communication and deepening connection.
It may also include other bonding behaviours like soft touching, kissing, deep breathing, gazing, cuddling and skin-to-skin contact.
“Karezza’s goal is not about orgasming, nor is it about the tension and excitement that produces orgasms,” Jesse Kahn, a sex therapist and director of the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York, told HuffPost. “It’s much slower and low tension.”
“She advocated karezza for a number of reasons: as a method of birth control — perhaps not the best method since the ‘pre-ejaculate fluid’ released by the penis can contain live sperm — as a practice to encourage and enhance marital intimacy and improve equality between the sexes by prioritising female sexual pleasure,” said New Jersey sex therapist and neuroscientist Nan Wise, who noted the practice has roots in Tantric and Taoist principles.
We asked sex experts to teach us more about karezza and how it might be able to reignite the spark in your stale relationship.
Karezza reduces sex-related performance anxiety
“This fixation on orgasm actually makes sex a lot less enjoyable for most people,” said Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and creator of the online course The Passion Project. “Sex ends up feeling like a race to the finish, like the moments leading up to orgasm aren’t important.”
For women who have never orgasmed from sex, karezza relieves the pressure to fake a “When Harry Met Sally”-style climax to stroke their partner’s ego. And it may also be appealing to men (or anyone with a penis) who’s dealt with erectile dysfunction.
“If you’re a man who struggles with erectile or orgasmic challenges, you’ll have the relief of knowing there are other ways to connect that don’t require perfect ‘performance’ from your body,” Marin added.
It brings you into the present
When you’re singularly focused on having an orgasm, it’s hard to be in the moment. You can’t enjoy the physical sensations and feelings of connection because you’re trying desperately not to lose that orgasm momentum.
“As I like to say, a ‘watched orgasm never boils,’” said Wise, author of “Why Good Sex Matters.” “It means that once we start thinking about chasing the orgasm, we are out of the present moment — and the present moment is where pleasure happens. If we are in our heads, we aren’t in our bodies, and if we aren’t in the experience of our bodies, sexual pleasure stalls.”
It makes sex last longer
“In regular lovemaking, the male orgasm or ejaculation tends to end the party,” Wise said, pointing to a 2005 study of 500 heterosexual couples that found that the median time it takes for a man to orgasm during sex is 5.4 minutes. In a separate study, researchers found it takes women 13.4 minutes on average. This disparity could explain, in part, why the orgasm gap is widest for straight women.
When orgasms are off the table, sex can last as long as you’d like.
“People have sex like rabbits. Karezza is more like having sex like a tortoise,” sexuality counselor Eric Garrison told Women’s Health.
It leaves you feeling closer to your partner
Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone,” is released during karezza-type activities like embracing and kissing, which creates warm, fuzzy feelings and a sense of well-being. So it’s no wonder the experience can leave you feeling extra bonded to your partner.
“It’s a great option for couples rekindling a connection after some form of rupture has harmed trust in the relationship or for survivors of sexual trauma,” said Liz Afton, a psychotherapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center.
One husband, who previously struggled with a porn addiction, explained that practicing karezza “creates a deep feeling in a relationship that is very difficult to describe — much deeper than conventional sex,” according to ABC News.
What To Know Before You Try It
You don’t need to be in a serious, committed relationship to practice karezza — anyone can benefit from the experience of slowing down and tuning into sensations in their own body while connecting with their partner, Wise said.
But given how intimate the experience can get, karezza might be better suited for people who have established trust, mutual respect and feel comfortable around each other, Afton said.
“It’s not the best fit for a casual encounter, unless both parties are interested in getting an oxytocin bath that will likely accelerate the emotional bonding between partners,” she said.
So Afton wouldn’t recommend trying karezza on a first date, with someone demonstrating red flag behaviour, or anyone “your gut is telling you isn’t trustworthy.”
Below, experts share the advice they’d offer to people interested in trying karezza:
Check in with yourself first.
Doing some solo work beforehand — including mindfulness techniques like meditation and yoga — can teach you how to cultivate awareness and help clarify your own desires.
Masturbating can help you get in touch with your body and tune into pleasurable sensations.
“We need to learn how to play our own pleasure instruments — our bodies — before we can play in a band — or have sex with another person,” Wise said.
Communicate with your partner before, during and after the experience.
Talk about what you each hope to get out of the experience. Lay down some ground rules so you’re both clear on which elements (physical or emotional) you’re interested in exploring, and anything you want to avoid. If your partner hasn’t heard of karezza, share what you’ve learned, encourage them to do their own research and make sure they’re on board with it.
“Just like any other sex act, karezza requires enthusiastic consent at every stage of the experience,” Afton said.
Start gradually and build up from there.
If you’re more accustomed to fast-and-furious, orgasm-driven sex, karezza may be a big departure from the norm. Slowing things down may feel odd at first so take small steps to make things more comfortable for you and your partner.
“First, try just spending a session with each other where you focus on touching each other all over your bodies. Don’t even think of it as ‘sex,’ just think of it as trying to slow down and pay more attention to touch,” Marin said. “Then try doing a session where you exchange hand jobs, but don’t allow each other to orgasm. Then try it with oral sex. Then with intercourse, if that’s a part of your sex life.”
Find little ways to bond, physically and emotionally.
That might be in-sync breathing, massaging, kissing or eye contact — whatever brings you closer to your partner.
“Consider what positions close or open the current of energy moving between you,” Afton said. “Placing each other’s hands on your hearts, layering limbs, mirroring positions and synching breath patterns can all heighten sensation and deepen your connection.”
As Kahn said: “There is not one set way to perform karezza — find what works for you.”
And stay present using your breath and by focusing on the different sensations.
“Imagine your partner’s body as a conduit of energy because it is,” Afton said. “Infuse every motion with gentleness, curiosity and a desire to learn from the experience.”
And if you do orgasm, don’t beat yourself up over it.
Although orgasming isn’t part of karezza, if it does happen for you or your partner, know that it’s not a failure. While you’re not aiming for climax, you shouldn’t be focusing all of your attention on avoiding it either.