NOTE: Obviously, Shona didn't realize that "bonding behaviors" are not karezza. Hopefully she'll figure out that karezza calls for intercourse!
After 13 years of marriage to my husband Keith, it’s fair to say that our once-active sex life has become a little sluggish. Recently, my libido seems to have given up the ghost, and too many nights are spent sleeping back-to-back in huffy silence. So when I asked Keith how he felt about testing out a revolutionary new sexual technique called ‘Karezza’ that I’d read about on the internet, he could not have responded more positively. In fact, he was so enthusiastic that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that a key part of this sexual technique was…er…not having sex — something we were already pretty expert at.
Hands off! Karezza is from the Italian meaning of 'caress'
Karezza teaches couples to abstain from the deed itself and put the emphasis on cuddling and affection instead. The thinking is that by shifting the focus away from sexual gratification, a feeling of closeness and unity is created that — unlike an orgasm — lasts all day long.
It may sound unlikely (not to mention unsatisfactory) but with our sex life becoming more dormant than Mount Kilimanjaro, desperate measures were clearly called for.
Before we started the experiment, I drew a bit of comfort from the fact I was not the only woman of my age to have lost my mojo. The largest recent survey of sexual behaviour in Britain — conducted in 2000 — found that married women aged 45 to 59 (like me) had sex on average just twice a month. For those aged 16 to 24, it was six times.
Personally, I think twice in four weeks is pretty good going. I know right now that Keith would be grateful if I obliged just once a month. So, if Karezza can give us what it takes to put the spark back into our marriage, it has to be worth a shot.
Advocates of the technique claim that they feel more energised, happy and content since embracing it. They also say that Karezza — derived from the Italian word carezza, meaning caress — is the first step towards successful tantric sex. (Yes, that business that Sting and his wife apparently get up to, which lasts for hours and hours.)
Apparently, Karezza is a kind of tantric-sex ‘lite’: it turns anticipation into an art form so you supposedly get a deep and satisfying sense of connection with your partner without actually having intercourse or orgasms.
You're not getting any more! The guide suggests holding each other to improve intimacy that lasts
According to its devotees, Karezza can help heal relationships, put the oomph back into marital beds and even cure sexual dysfunction.
But I am more than a little dubious when Keith and I set about following the regime for a month. Trying to improve your sex life by not having an orgasm sounds pretty pointless to me. After all, I spent my entire 20s chasing the blasted thing — only now to be told it’s overrated.
Before meeting Keith 20 years ago, the handful of lovers I had told me all I needed to do was ‘relax’.
But luckily Keith and I connected well sexually, and for the last decade or so I have managed to achieve orgasm relatively easily.
However, now the goalposts have been moved again, and I’m being told that the secret of sexual fulfilment lies in not having one.
There are 11 guidelines to successful Karezza — but the most important things to take on board are that there is to be no kissing, talking, penetration or orgasm.
None of that please, we follow karezza: Shona Sibary says that the technique kick started her and her husband's sex life
You are permitted, however, to lie in bed and smile at one another, hold lengthy eye contact, cuddle for at least 20 minutes, listen to each other’s heartbeat and synchronise your breathing.
When I finally admit to Keith what Karezza is all about, he manages to remain optimistic. ‘Does it involve lying naked next to each other?’ he asks. When I tell him it does, he is positively gleeful. ‘Count me in!’ he says. Bless him.
I feel a wave of love for the man who’d been consigned to a sexual Sahara for weeks on end but was now happy to spend evenings scrutinising my retinas in the hope of getting me in the mood.
Each of Karezza’s 11 points is designed to create closeness and intimacy but some are more time- consuming than others, so Keith and I opt to take a pick ’n’ mix approach and just try the ones we feel most comfortable with.
With four children in the house — Flo, 13, Annie, 11, Monty, nine and Dolly, two — we have become adept at keeping any bedroom activity to a tidy 20 minutes.
Any longer and we’re likely to be interrupted by a child wanting a drink or — more likely — distracted by me remembering a household chore I’ve neglected.
We decide to kick off with one of the more ridiculous guidelines of ‘cradling or gently rocking your partner’s head and torso’. Have you ever tried rocking the torso of a 14st man in bed? Forget about getting hot under the collar. I felt like I was getting a hernia.
In the end I just went for rocking Keith’s head, which, in all honesty, was a little odd. It was as if I was trying to decapitate him.
Shona Sibary decided to try the technique because her sex life had ground to a halt, and found it helped her find unity with her husband (picture posed by models)
Another guideline suggests holding or hugging each other in stillness for 20 to 30 minutes. This was much more pleasurable.
Usually when we cuddle in bed, I am aware that Keith is only tolerating it as a preliminary to what he hopes will follow. There is always an undertone of: ‘Are you going to make the next move or am I?’
With Karezza there is no such pressure. You are simply supposed to enjoy the moment without any further expectation. Of course, I fell asleep. But at least on this occasion I didn’t feel guilty about it.
Fans of Karezza argue that because there is no finish line, sexual energy can continue its flow.
Certainly, this is not always convenient. One morning Keith and I wake early and decide, before the children get up, to try another technique — stroking, hugging and massaging with intent to comfort rather than gratify. That is all very well, but then we are left to get on with our day with all the sexual energy still flowing.
The feeling of friskiness flows all the way through breakfast and the school run until I get home and discover our new puppy has made a mess on the kitchen floor. Then it stops. Thank goodness.
So, can it really be good for couples to go through the day feeling unbearably frustrated that they’re not allowed to finish what they started?
Apparently, it can be. Those for whom Karezza has worked insist the tension is precisely what keeps their romances alive.
Devotee Marnia Robinson, who has written the book Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow and owns the website Reuniting: Healing With Sexual Relationships, says: ‘Even for those with the highest libidos, performance can become tough, and drive a craving for novelty.
‘Such feelings, although perfectly natural, can create projections and resentment that cause disharmony, especially after our temporary honey- moon neurochemistry wears off.’
In mine and Keith’s case, our sex life has been flagging because it is the easiest thing to push down the priority list — after earning money, looking after the children and collapsing in a semi-comatose state when they’ve gone to bed.
But during our Karezza month, something quite strange happens. I stop regarding sex as just another thing ‘to do’ and begin to see how creating a closeness with Keith in bed is having a positive effect on our stressful daily lives.
As hippy-dippy as Karezza might sound, I can testify that it really did improve our relationship
As each week progresses — and we repeat the guidelines as often as we feel able to — we start functioning with more unity as a couple.
Things that had caused niggles and tension in the past (his untidiness, my terrible time-keeping) no longer feel so acute. We are able to navigate the myriad daily issues that running a family throws at us without resorting to rows.
Something about restraining from sex yet still acknowledging the physical presence of my husband in bed brings a new intimacy to our marriage.
For a start, it removes that predictable cycle of love-making we’d fallen into — you stroke my back, I roll over, we kiss for a bit then do the usual.
Looking back, it’s no wonder our sex life had started to dwindle.
Keith also concedes we are closer as a couple, and that just having me in bed with no pyjamas on is a definite step in the right direction.
But he also admits that he finds the whole Karezza concept a bit like eating an appetiser and then being denied the pleasure of the main course.
And we both acknowledge that a number of the guidelines take some getting used to, and can make us feel embarrassed.
For example: ‘Gently place your palm over your lover’s private parts with intent to comfort.’ As Keith asks: ‘Why do my private parts need comforting? They aren’t upset. They’re bored.’
Both of us also find it quite difficult to be restrained, particularly when naked and stroking one another intimately. Having got my libido back and hammering on the front door like a bailiff demanding entry, the last thing I want to do is a spell of ‘synchronised breathing’.
But as hippy-dippy as Karezza might sound, I can testify that it really did improve our relationship.
Like most modern spouses we’d often felt inadequate when being constantly told how sex was the glue that held together a marriage. Our glue had become a slightly dried-up Pritt Stick. It did the job for a few days then things gradually became unstuck again.
Karezza, on the other hand, was a fiercely strong adhesive. It really brought us together — and has kept us that way.
I am very grateful to it for kick-starting the physical side of my marriage again. But after four long weeks, I wasn’t sure either of us could (or wanted to) keep it going in place of good old conventional sex. Perhaps the ideal, eventually, would be a combination of both?
Certainly, I was desperate to make love by the end of it. All the touchy-feely stuff had been great and had introduced a new level of intimacy…but where was the passion, the rush? I wanted my heart-stopping, toe-curling Meg Ryan moment!
So Keith and I decided to ditch the caressing and have sex ‘properly’. And after all the denial, the anticipation alone was delicious.
As for the main event…were there fireworks? Modesty forbids — but let’s just say it was a fantastic reminder that making love is a bit like going to the gym. You might not always fancy it but when you’re basking in the afterglow, you can’t help but think: ‘I really should do this more often.’