Recent research from Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that the average time between penetration and orgasm among 500 couples around the world was 5.4 minutes. (Yes, the couples used stopwatches.)
Perhaps that’s why the opposite—karezza—is so intriguing.
WHAT IS KAREZZA?
The term, which means “caress” in Italian, usually refers to potentially lengthy love-making sessions involving touching, stroking, fondling, and gazing—but not orgasming. “People have sex like rabbits. Karezza is more like having sex like a tortoise,” says Eric Garrison, a sexuality counsellor.
The method has ancient roots, and an influential manual on it titled The Karezza Method was first published in 1931, says Rachel Wright, a marriage and family therapist. Yet, not a lot of people are familiar with the name—even if they’ve practiced the concept, but thought of it as something else, like tantra or, well, blue balls.
“It can be like [blue balls],” Wright says, “and it can be absolutely phenomenal.” That’s because while orgasms trigger the release of an addictive drug-like amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to pleasure, into your system, karezza allows oxytocin, a bonding hormone, to flow out more steadily.
The result? Ideally, improved intimacy, closeness, and communication between partners. “Doing karezza helps make sexual play less physiologically dramatic and more about the romance and connection,” Wright says.
The practice can engage many more senses than everyday sex, Garrison says. “It’s about being mindful; it’s about optimising the sexual experience; it’s about diminishing the importance of orgasm—and it’s also about embracing the individuals involved,” he says.
Tempted to trade in your afternoon quickie for a Sunday morning kind of love? Here’s how to get the most out of a karezza session:
1. CHOOSE YOUR PARTNER WISELY
Karezza is not meant for a one-night stand. “It’s really not a good practice if you’re not very trusting and pretty much not in a relationship with that other person,” Wright says. Even if you are in a relationship, keep in mind that karezza can only help if both partners are on board.
2. TALK ABOUT THE WHY
It’s important to get on the same page regarding the reason you’re trying it—especially if you have different reasons, Wright says. “Understand your partner’s ‘why’ so you can really show up in that way" (a.k.a. give them the loving they're looking for).
3. ESTABLISH GROUND RULES
Are you going to caress each other for a set amount of time, or use some word or phrase when you’re ready to wind down? Are there certain areas of your body you do or don’t want touched, or touched in a certain way? What will you do if you think you might orgasm?
These questions are all good to talk through with your partner since, without orgasm as the default endpoint or even penetration as a necessary component, it's important to reframe your expectations.
4. START SHORT
Just because karezza can go on for hours doesn’t mean it has to. “For people who are used to quickies, just do five minutes of this,” Garrison says.
Suck on your partner’s nipple. Cradle her head. Embrace his penis resting between your thighs. Explore hidden corners of each other’s bodies. Keep your eyes open while kissing. Basically, do whatever feels good to you both, now that the constraints of orgasm-driven sex are removed.
Like any new habit, the more you practice it, the more natural it will become and the more benefits you can reap.
Still, that doesn’t mean an isolated karezza session doesn’t have its benefits. “The excitement of doing something new and stepping outside the norm of your day-to-day is huge,” Wright says.
5. DON’T BE AFRAID OF ORGASM
If someone orgasms during karezza, is it still karezza? Does it matter? “I don’t want people to be so afraid of orgasms that they forget about everything else,” Garrison says. Especially if it’s your first or second time trying karezza, an accidental orgasm is unsurprising, Wright adds. “There’s so much pressure around orgasms, so when we take them off the table, it allows for them to happen, which is the ironic part.”
Communication is just as important post-karezza as pre-karezza. If there was a certain stroke that felt surprisingly good, tell your partner. If you want to try it again with a different goal, time frame, or set of parameters, speak up. And if you thought it was totally lame? That’s okay.
It may get better with comfort; you may like it better later in life, with a different partner, or for a different reason; or you may just inherently not like it at all. Wright says: “There’s nothing wrong with trying it, stopping it, and going back to the norm for you."
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US