At the dawn of the twentieth century, Alice Bunker Stockham, MD published a remarkable little book called Karezza: Ethics of Marriage. In delicate, Victorian language she recounts the benefits of sex without orgasm. These include better health, and greater harmony and spiritual attainment.

In her book she insists that the essence of the practice is neither male nor female, but rather beneficial to all lovers. To designate it she coined the term “Karezza”, pronounced “ka-RET-za”, inspired by the Italian word for “caress”. Karezza: Ethics of Marriage is available in full at for free.

Professional and reformer

Born on 8 November 1833 on the American frontier (which at that time included her native Ohio), Stockham grew up a Quaker. Her family’s log cabin lay in close proximity to Native Americans whom she regarded with respect.

She graduated from the only medical institute of higher learning in the West to admit women, becoming one of the earliest women doctors in the States. She and her doctor husband raised two children.

Stockham specialized in obstetrics and gynaecology. Fifteen years before she wrote Karezza, she authored a popular text entitled Tokology (Greek for “Obstetrics”). She believed that women should know how their bodies worked. Far ahead of its time, Tokology covered all aspects of women’s and children’s health.

She also provided copies to penniless women and former prostitutes to sell door-to-door to earn their livings. Each volume included a certificate for a free gynaecological exam at Stockham’s clinic.

She strongly advocated woman’s suffrage and engaged in a wide range of reform activities. In fact, by the mid-1890s she was known internationally as a woman of modern views who was courageous enough to educate the masses. This, despite facing critics and discrimination for speaking about issues formerly considered too private for general discussion.

Rethinking sex

Stockham argued that the widespread belief that women should be legally forced to participate in ejaculatory sex – lest they go to any length to avoid the labours of childbirth – was nonsense. She boldly advocated sexual continence during pregnancy and to prevent pregnancy. The latter brought her into conflict with the authorities as it was illegal to promote birth control.

In 1905 the Society for the Suppression of Vice accused her of sending improper matter through the mails, invoking the Comstock Law. Stockham, then in her seventies, hired prominent Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow and the case went to trial.

Stockham was found guilty and fined $250 dollars. Her books were banned, forcing her to close her publishing company and her New Thought School in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

She never recovered from the trial and moved to California with her daughter. Stockham died not long afterward at the age of seventy-nine.  A park in Evanston, Illinois still bears her name.

Sacred sex sleuth

Earlier in her life, Stockham travelled extensively. Her book Tokology appeared in French, Finnish, German and Russian (the latter with a foreward by Leo Tolstoy, whom she met).

It’s hard to imagine a more intriguing facet of Stockham than her zeal for sacred sexuality. Around the time the first tantra books were translated into English, she travelled to India. There she visited a matrilineal caste of hereditary warriors, allegedly of Brahmin descent, on the Malabar Coast.

Known as “the free women of India,” Nayar women were intelligent, well-educated, and all property descended through them. They controlled family business interests and chose their own husbands – until British administration put an end to their unique culture. There Stockham may have learned about tantra.

Tibetan and Indian tantra often cast women in the role of vehicle for men to use to raise their spiritual energy. Stockham, however, insists that both men and women benefit from conserving and exchanging their sexual essence.

Karezza is strengthening and sustaining both to husband and wife, because it is virtually a union of the higher selves…. There are deeper purposes to our reproductive faculties than are generally understood. In the physical union of male and female there may be a soul communion giving not only supreme happiness, but in turn [leading] to soul growth and development. Creative energy may be directed into building bodily tissue and permeating every cell with health and vigour, while also fuelling the birth of non-physical offspring such as great inventions, humanitarian pursuits, and works of art.

Future segments of this post series will recount Stockham’s advice for couples on how to employ Karezza, and address the practice’s spiritual implications. Read Part 2.

Free copy of Karezza: Ethics of Marriage