“Karezza” was a name coined (from the Italian for “carress”) by Alice Bunker Stockham in the 19th century. It refers to non-religious spiritual sexual practices that draw upon Tantric techniques of body control but do not involve any of tantra’s cultural or iconographic symbolism.
Stockham, an OB-GYN from Chicago, and the 5th woman to be made a doctor in the United States, traveled to northern India to learn the “secrets” of tantra — i.e. control of the orgasm response — but she did not have any interest in Eastern religions and she felt that such addenda to the methods were not essential. Her view of spirituality was basically Christian, and she fitted sacred sexuality into a Christian paradigm with no apparent difficulty.
A well-traveled and well-read person who counted among her friends Leo Tolstoy and Havelock Ellis, she also visited Sweden and from her trips to schools there she brought back the idea of teaching children domestic crafts, thus single-handedly establishing shop and home economics classes in the United States.
Stockham was a “reformer” in the true Victorian sense of the word. She lectured against the use of corsets by women, made public endorsements of the healthiness of masturbation for both men and women (“If God did not want you to experience these beautiful feelings, he would not have given you the ability to experience them or the desire to produce them”), advocated complete abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and believed in woman’s rights. She promoted Karezza as a means to achieve:
1. birth control (she was against abortion but she wanted women to be able to control pregnancies);
2. social and political equality for women (she felt that “Karrezza men” would never rape their wives and would actually treat them “decently”);
3. marital pleasure and hence marital fidelity (she advocated Karrezza as a cure for “failing marriages”).
From the above description, it might seem that Alice Bunker Stockham was a severe person who got no fun from the esoteric sexual practices she studied and wrote about. Quite the contrary. Her book “Karrezza” is filled with delightfully erotic descriptions of the “mutual satisfaction” to be had in “conjugal embrace.” Likewise, her book “Tokology,” a layperson’s text on gynecology and midwifery, contains references to “increasing marital pleasure through the practice of male continence.” (In case you are wondering, “tokology” is the Greek word for obstetrics.)
One more thing about Stockham: she was very concerned that divorced women with children and prostitutes who wanted to get off the street but had no marketable skills would be unable to support themselves, so she had copies of “Tokology” privately printed and gave them to “unfortunate women” to sell door-to-door in Chicago. Each copy came with a bound-in certificate signed by Stockham and entitling the bearer to a free gynecological exam. My copy of this book still contains its certificate, and whenever i look at it, i feel a rush of admiration for the brave woman who did so much for her gender and for “mutual sexual enjoyment” — and is so largely forgotten today.
Herewith a quote from the tenth edition of Alice Bunker Stockham’s book “Tokology,” published in 1884.
Remember — this is a book on obstetrics, not tantra/Karezza; it only mentions sexual relationships in terms of contraception.
“Many of the means used to prevent conception are injurious, and often lay the foundation for a train of physical ailments. Probably no one means is more serious in its consequences than the semen being discharged external to the vagina. The act is incomplete and unnatural…
“Some of the appliances sold for the purpose [of contraception] are a sure preventive by mechanical interference. If the material is pliable [she is probably referring to a condom] the only positive injury is from preventing the complete interchange of magnetism…
“The method adopted by the Oneida Community is also adopted with complete satisfaction by many married people. In this the sexual relation is entered upon but not carried to completion. Some call it sedular absorption. No discharge is allowed. People practicing this method claim the highest possible enjoyment, no loss of vitality and perfect control of the fecundating power. Those interested in this subject are referred to a pamphlet by Rev. Mr. Noyes [of the Oneida Community].”
From these brief allusions it can be seen that Stockham subscribed to the “interchange of magnetism” theory popular among 19th century sexual-spiritual teachers. This theory, or its “interchange of electrical currents” counterpart, underlies most 19th century Western “tantra.” Stockham’s interest in birth control (and mind you, she had to be very careful in how she phrased herself in print at this time, as disseminating information on contraceptives was illegal) could not overcome her fear that a mechanical sperm barrier would prevent “the complete interchange of magnetism.”
The statement that external ejaculation was “injurious” sprang in part from the Biblical injunction against Onanism, but it also seems to have been seen as a failure of magnetic interchange.
Finally, she is seen here advocating “the Oneida method,” then also known as “Male Continence,” in which men refrained from ejaculation but women were encouraged to have contractive orgams at will. Stockham’s “Tokology” predates her book “Karezza” by several years and it was only in later writings that she went full-tilt into descriptions of sexual techniques that would be familiar to tantrikas and also began to promulgate the need for women to learn to control their orgasm responses in the same way that the men of Oneida did.
Allow me to close with a quote from Stockham that does not bear upon tantra/Karezza, but demonstrates her place as a Victorian sex-reformer:
“I am a temperance woman. No one can realize more than I, the devastation and ruin alcohol in its many tempting forms has brought to the human family. Still I solemnly believe that in weakness and deterioration of health and moral principle, the CORSET has more to answer for than intoxicating drinks.”
The techniques of Karezza, as propounded by Alice Bunker Stockham and others in her circle consisted of control of the orgasm response in both male and female.
At the time — the last half of the 19th century — traditional Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist tantra texts and teachings emphasized MALE control, because it was MEN who were supposed to be raising their kundalini and re-absorbing their sperm into their brains and doing all that other sacred shit. Women were seen as “shaktis,” that is, empowering incarnations of goddesshood who endorsed or validated the male spiritual experience.
In any case, most tantric texts of the time — and virtually every one i read up until the end of the late 1970s — stated outright that women need not learn to control orgasm. Some teachers took a misogynistic viewpoint (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). Some tantric schools recommended the use of prostitutes as shaktis, although the British rulers of India tried to put a limit on this form of religious freedom. Considering the low value placed on women in India, none of this is surprising.
Around the time that Stockham was formulating her ideas, other Western forms of “tantric” sex were also being proposed. One of these was “Magnetization.” Another was “the Anseiratic Mystery.” A Third was “Male Continence.” Each had its own limitations and idiosyncrasies.
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. This placed her in contradistinction to the John Humphrey Noyes (Oneida Community) approach, 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-restraint, 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 kept the woman drained off continually 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 situation.
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 they did not want more children, couples 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. 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 occurs when, after several episodes of tantric lovemaking it becomes impossible to distinguish pre-orgasm from orgasm and without any pelvic thrusting on either party’s part, both people achieve orgasm together. No techniques exist to bring this condition on, as far as i know; it is simply a byproduct of tantric practices. This was the only kind of orgasm Stockham endorsed or recommended.
Quotes: Karezza, Tantra, Stockham, and Noyes
(collected by tyagi nagasiva)
In alt.magick.sex, firstname.lastname@example.org (Cyronwode) writes:
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 quotes address catherine’s question above about the differences of opinion between Noyes and Stockham. They are from Tantric Sex, by Robert Moffett, Berkeley Medallion, 1974.
[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….’
“‘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.’”
“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 typewritten 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….”
“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….”
“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 subsequently 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.”
“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.”
“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'] 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 powers experienced.’”
by catherine yronwode