Q: My boyfriend is a very spiritual person who practices yoga, meditation, etc. He showed me a website about karezza, which basically involves deriving sexual pleasure through long, drawn-out, non-vigorous physical contact without experiencing an orgasm. It sounds nice and all, but I would greatly miss the orgasm part of sex. Well, he recently revealed that he is a recovering porn and masturbation addict. I see from the way he talks how important it is for him that we give up traditional intercourse for karezza. I love him and want to help him in every possible way, but I’m not sure how to come to terms with giving up orgasms.
A: You aren’t a bad girlfriend if you need your boyfriend to be something of an animal in bed, and not the kind found fossilized in rock.
Okay, to be fair, there is some movement during karezza, just not enough that anybody participating would get anywhere near Orgasmageddon. Alice Stockham, the 19th century Quaker doctor who came up with karezza (named for the Italian word “carezza,” meaning “caress”), argued in her 1896 book about it that orgasms “without cause” (such as the desire to make a baby) are “degrading.” Stockham called for a more “ennobling” sort of sex, “a quiet affair” that is “devoid of lustful thoughts, that is, the mere gratification of physical sensations” — or, to put it in more modern terms, “50 Shades Of Reading Next To Each Other In Matching Snuggies."
Karezza does get props from practitioners, who insist they feel way more bonded to each other than when they used to give each other screaming orgasms. However, the science-y sounding claims for its benefits by some of those who publish books and articles about it seem largely unsupported by research. Also, it is not a solution to your boyfriend’s compulsions but a way to avoid dealing with the issues underlying them. As addiction treatment specialist Dr. Frederick Woolverton explains in “Unhooked,” at the heart of any addiction is an attempt to avoid legitimate suffering — difficult emotions which are part of being alive.
You could agree to try karezza for three weeks to see whether it works for you, and by “works,” I mean gets you thinking, “Oh, orgasms, schmorgasms.” Unless it does, it’s unfair to resign yourself to the sexual equivalent of reading a 300-page crime novel…except for the last 30 pages, which you tear out and burn. And despite the spiritual window dressing around karezza, unless your boyfriend is doing as Woolverton advises — taking steps to “head straight into (his) emotional pain, which is what terrifies (an addict) the most” — what you’ll likely have on your hands is a meditating, yoga-doing, spiritual-talking boyfriend who’s only somewhat present. In other words, you support him by committing to help him deal with his feelings while he develops healthy coping mechanisms, not by replacing your “If the van’s a-rockin’…” bumper sticker with “If the van looks like it hasn’t been moved in years…”
Q: My boyfriend and I just ended our relationship and are trying to heal and move on. This is difficult because we not only work together but are in the same building and on the same research team. I love my job and feel lucky to have it, so moving on to another workplace isn’t the answer.
— Blasted With The Past
A: It’s hard to maintain a veneer of professionalism when the plant’s loudspeaker pages you, “Employee #442, Employee #440 is drunk-dialing you on extension 2.” Unfortunately, it’s easy to end up in that situation when you don’t have the usual benefit of a breakup, which typically involves separating once and for all, not every day at the end of the workday. Give yourself concrete reinforcement that it’s over by writing down five reasons you don’t belong together, and help yourself compartmentalize at work by drawing a line down a piece of paper and listing the appropriate behaviors for “Together” vs. “Just work together.”
Because research finds that ritual is highly effective in helping people assimilate change (and because it’ll probably be comforting to have a cackle with a couple of friends), maybe have a “funeral” for your relationship and “bury” a few symbolic items from it in the nearest Dumpster. That probably sounds a bit wacky, but acting like the relationship is dead and gone and you’re moving on should help you do just that. According to British psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of “The As If Principle,” numerous studies suggest that “the easiest, quickest and most effective” way to change your thinking isn’t by thinking about it but by acting “as if” you’re the person you want to be — in your case, the person who’s managed to demote one of her co-workers from soulmate to paperweight.
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