Alice Bunker Stockham

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Dr Alice Bunker Stockham

Alice Bunker Stockham (born November 8, 1833 in Cardington, Ohio – d. December 3, 1912 in Alhambra, California)[1] was an obstetrician and gynecologist from Chicago, and the fifth woman to be made a doctor in the United States. She promoted gender equality, dress reform, birth control, and male and female sexual fulfillment for successful marriages.

A well-traveled and well-read person who counted among her friends Leo Tolstoy and Havelock Ellis, she also visited Sweden and from her trips to schools there she brought back the idea of teaching children domestic crafts, thus single-handedly establishing shop and home economics classes in the United States.

Stockham lectured against the use of corsets by women, made public endorsements of the healthiness of masturbation for both men and women (still controversial when echoed by US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders more than 100 years later), advocated complete abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and believed in women's rights.[2]

Stockham was very concerned with the economic plight of divorced women with children and prostitutes who wanted to get off the street. She felt that these women had no marketable skills and would be unable to support themselves, so she had copies of her book Tokology, a layperson's guide to gynecology and midwifery, privately printed and gave them to "unfortunate women" to sell door-to-door in Chicago. Each copy came with a bound-in certificate signed by Stockham and entitling the bearer to a free gynecological exam.

Karezza[edit]

Main article: Coitus reservatus

She coined the term Karezza (from the Italian for "caress") and authored a book by this name in 1896. It refers to non-religious spiritual sexual practices that draw upon tantric techniques of body control but do not involve any of tantra's cultural or iconographic symbolism.

She promoted Karezza as a means to achieve:

  1. birth control (she was against abortion but she wanted women to be able to control pregnancies);
  2. social and political equality for women (she felt that "Karezza men" would never rape their wives and would actually treat them "decently");
  3. marital pleasure and hence marital fidelity (she advocated Karezza as a cure for "failing marriages").

Stockham's interest in birth control could not overcome her fear that a mechanical sperm barrier would prevent "the complete interchange of magnetism" (a theory popular among 19th century sexual-spiritual teachers). In part this stems from the Biblical injunction against Onanism, but she also felt a failure of magnetic interchange was injurious and unnatural.

Thus she advocated "the Oneida method" (from the Oneida Society), then also known as "Male continence", in which men refrained from ejaculation but women were encouraged to have contractive orgasms at will. In later writings she also began to promulgate the need for women to learn to control their orgasm responses in the same way that the men of Oneida did. Ultimately, Stockham rejected the "Male Continence" techniques of John Humphrey Noyes in favour of gender parity in orgasm control. She also rejected Noyes' polyamorous ideas and promoted Karezza as a way to strengthen marriage and monogamy.

Stockham's gender-parity version of tantra yoga, despite its somewhat anti-orgasmic, and thus apparently anti-hedonistic bent, serves as an important counterpoint to the male-centered aspects of traditional tantric sexual practices and later variants such as the "sex-magick" of Aleister Crowley. In the field of sex magic, the only practice that is similar to Karezza as far as the sex act is concerned is Samael Aun Weor's The Perfect Matrimony; otherwise, they diverge as far as doctrine is concerned.[3] She saw Karezza as a way to promote health and happiness in marriage. The emphasis was on selflessness in lovemaking, gentle, harmonious passion leading to sublime spiritual delights.[4]

Despite the many benefits of Stockham's approach, including granting couples the ability to choose opportunities for parenthood without contraceptives, the Vatican did not like Karezza or its relatives. Forty years after Stockham's death in 1912, the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office issued a moratorium, citing an express mandate of Pope Pius XII. It noted that several contemporary writers, in discussing married life, had described, praised, and even ventured to recommend something they termed "a reserved embrace", and forbade priests and spiritual directors ever to suggest that there was otherwise. On October 29, 1951 in his "allocution to midwives", Pope Pius XII citing Pope Pius XI's Encyclical Casti Connubii of December 31, 1930 declared

...that every attempt of either husband or wife in the performance of the conjugal act or in the development of its natural consequences which aims at depriving it of its inherent force and hinders the procreation of new life is immoral and that no 'indication' of need can convert an act which is intrinsically immoral into a moral and lawful one.

The precept is in full force today, as it was in the past, and so it will be in the future also, and always, because it is not a simple human whim, but the expression of a natural and divine law.[5]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Stockham, Alice B. Tokology: A Book for Every Woman, Sanitary Publishing Co., Illinois, 1886, with eight color plates in a sleeve inside the back cover.
  • Stockham, Alice B. Tokology. A Book for Every Woman. o.O., (Kessinger Publishing) o.J. Reprint of Revised Edition Chicago, Alice B. Stockham & Co. 1891. ISBN 1-4179-4001-8.
  • Stockham, Alice B., Karezza Ethics of Marriage, Kessinger Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1-4179-3969-9.
  • translated in French: Tocologie, le livre de la femme enceinte Alice B. Stockham, Ed. Librairie de Culture humaine, Paul Nyssens, Bruxelles 1911, 391 pp. with eight color plates in a sleeve.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Arthur Versluis, The Secret History of Western Sexual Mysticism: Sacred Practices and Spiritual Marriage (Bear & Company, 2008) p. 114.
  2. ^ Alice Stockham. Tokology. 1898.
  3. ^ Samael Aun Weor. The Perfect Matrimony, ch. ix, Thelema Press/Glorian Publishing, 2001 ISBN 0-9742755-0-6; Spanish 1st ed. 1950.
  4. ^ Alice Stockham. Karezza. 1897.
  5. ^ Pope Pius XII on Casti Connubii: "The conjugal act"