Last year, there was a brief publicity flurry about a venerable, but little known, approach to sex called “karezza” (pronounced ka-RET-za). ABC ran a news story and karezza articles showed up from Argentina to India. The ladies of “The View” even grappled with it. A karezza subreddit gained steam, and Germany gave birth to a new karezza website.
Still, chances are good that you haven’t a clue what karezza is. Before I explain, here’s a bit of context. Human mating has some very un-Disney characteristics. True, new lovers are jacked up on thrilling honeymoon neurochemicals. For example, they have extra nerve growth factor and cortisol flowing through their veins. Dopamine-releasing areas of the brain are activated. Their serotonin is often as low as the levels of OCD patientsâ€”which is why lovers obsess over each other. In addition, odd things are going on with their testosterone levels: They’re lower than normal in men during early romance, and higher than normal in womenâ€”bringing their libidos more into sync.
Yet all these potent neurochemicals return to base levels by the end of year two at the latest. Once that booster shot wears off, cracks tend to appear. That’s when habituation can set in if couples don’t learn to counter it. The standard sex advice for committed couplesâ€”which is to heat things back up to earlier intensity with more variety in the bedroomâ€”often backfires. “Heat” can gradually numb lovers’ response to pleasure, making vanilla pleasures even less fulfilling. Mates may end up on an unsatisfying, but very demanding, treadmill of seeking new highs while feeling less overall pleasure.
Karezza is an organic way to hack our pair-bonding machinery and remain attracted to each other. It has turned up in various cultures over thousands of years. In simplest terms, it’s affectionate, sensual intercourse without the goal of climax. Intercourse is generally frequent, although not necessarily daily. But couples typically also engage in daily “bonding behaviors.” These attachment cues are very powerful, and have been shown to reduce stress as well as strengthen bonds.
Image by I Made Yanuarta DPY from Denpasar – Bali, Indonesia (kuta couple) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons