Here's What You Should Know About Fluid Bonding

A naked couple embracing
A naked couple embracing

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For some, the term "fluid bonding" might sound cringe-y or even scientific. For others, the meaning of fluid bonding may be obvious: the mixing of bodily fluids — often, specifically, genital fluids. And, yes, that's exactly what it is: deciding to skip the condoms or other barrier methods and "bond" your fluids with someone else.

Fluid bonding isn't just about merging fluids. It's also about trusting that each partner is honest about their STI status, the safety precautions they take with others, and what birth control is being used (if one of the partners has a uterus). It's also about the why. Does it mean you just hate condoms? Or is there some more significant reason why bonding fluids is important to you? Here's what you need to know about fluid bonding, why it matters, and the way it can impact sexual partners physically and emotionally.

The Origins and Meaning of Fluid Bonding

The exact origin of the term "fluid bonding" is unknown. It's often used in polyamorous relationships — where partners make very intentional decisions about who they will or won't have unprotected sex with — but it's relevant in monogamous relationships, casual dating relationships, hookups, and any relationship where sexual contact is being made.

"Fluid bonding is when consenting sexual partners choose to no longer use condoms when having intercourse," says Maureen Pollack, co-owner of Lovability, a sexual health and pleasure company. "The decision to move a relationship from using condoms to removing them is different for every couple and depends on many factors… But one thing that's true across the board is there is a deeper level of trust."

Having unprotected sex on a whim doesn't necessarily constitute fluid bonding — while, yes, technically your fluids do swap in that instance, the concept of fluid bonding is more about making the conscious, consensual decision as partners to forgo using barrier methods during sex. (Related: Yes, Stealthing Is Considered Sexual Assault)

Since fluid bonding is a term that's used when talking about bodily fluids and secretions, it doesn't just involve just penis-in-vagina intercourse, but all types of sex — including anal sex, oral sex, and things like scissoring with two vulvas, since they all involve fluid exchange. Technically speaking, swapping saliva is also a type of fluid bonding (since you can transmit STIs, bacteria, and viruses through kissing). However, if two people consent to fluid bonding with their saliva via kissing, that doesn't necessarily mean they consent to fluid bonding during sex (of any kind), too. (Reminder: Consent to one act or in one instance doesn't automatically translate from sex act to sex act or from one situation to another.)

The Physiological Impact of Fluid Bonding

When you decide to fluid bond with someone, you're taking a risk. It's not just about ditching the condoms because you think intercourse feels better without them. It's about taking away a safety measure — one that prevents the spread of STIs and unwanted pregnancy — that was once in place. That's why it's extremely important to have a conversation about fluid bonding with your partner — and ideally, outside the bedroom, as opposed to in the heat of the moment. It's not a decision that should be taken lightly and should be thoroughly discussed when you're not naked and about to have sex. Decisions made in the heat of the moment aren't always the most responsible, because arousal tends to get in the way.

"You increase your STI risk anytime you fluid bond with another person," says Kenneth Play, an international educator and creator of the Sex Hacker Pro course. "There are varying degrees of risk. For instance, if you are monogamous, you're less likely to contract an STI through fluid bonding than if your partner has many other sex partners." (Related: What's the Difference Between a UTI vs STD)

But, as Play points out, that risk does increase if your supposedly monogamous partner is cheating without using protection. As much as you don't want to think your partner would do so, cheating is not uncommon — and a lack of specific boundaries (especially if you haven't defined the relationship or specifically agreed on monogamy) can mean that your partner may not consider something to be cheating while you do, or vice versa. Because of this, it's worth having a conversation with your partner about what constitutes cheating and what doesn't before diving into condom-free waters.

However, before you and your partner decide to fluid bond, there is a first step to seriously consider taking: getting tested for STIs. "Most people get tested within the same timeframe when they decide to fluid bond, ensuring that they neither have nor are passing along any STDs," says Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven, an online intimacy shop. Remember that many STIs don't present with any symptoms, so it's important to get tested even if nothing appears off. (See: How Often You Should Really Get Tested for STIs)

In addition to STI concerns, having sex without barriers means you're introducing your vagina to new bacteria — if your partner has a penis, for example, there are roughly 10 million bacteria per every milliliter of semen. Such bacteria (whether it comes from a penis, another vagina, a mouth, or otherwise) can interrupt the pH balance of the vagina, possibly leading to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, and general irritation.

The Emotional Impact of Fluid Bonding

Knowing that you and your partner are having intercourse, skin to skin, without anything separating you can spark lots of feelings. Not only have you taken things to the next level, but it can create an intimacy that wasn't there before. While that may be psychologically the case for some, it's not a guarantee for everyone. (Related: How to Build Intimacy with Your Partner)

"There is a debate as to whether people who are fluid bonded are more emotionally bonded than couples who use a barrier method," says Pollack. "I would argue that couples who have intercourse are emotionally bonded regardless of whether they use a condom or not. Caring for your partner's safety is a pretty deep emotion."

More than anything, it's about the commitment that has been made to each other and the connection that creates. From an emotional standpoint, each partner has opened themselves up, being vulnerable in a way that they weren't before, and it can speak volumes as to what that means for the relationship.

"When you exchange all bodily fluids — saliva, vaginal, penis, and anal secretions — you knowingly want to bond in every way possible," says Sparks. "For some, it's 'becoming as one' in their relationship status."

This "oneness" can feel incredibly intoxicating. After all, bonding is something babies need from infancy, then onward throughout their lives. It's true that all physical and emotional intimacy releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone sometimes called "the love hormone," into your body; however, fluid bonding can elevate that sensation of being bonded from a symbolic perspective.

"Whether this [feeling] is from the symbolic act itself of eradicating a barrier, the trust that the act entails, the increased pleasure that many report experiencing without using barrier methods, or a combination of these, many people experience the act of fluid bonding as relatively significant emotionally," says Play.

Granted, not everyone sees fluid bonding in such a way. And those who don't see it as an intimate bonding experience probably don't refer to it as fluid bonding, because they likely don't see it as bonding as much as they see it as skipping the condoms. But for those who do regard fluid bonding as an act of intimacy and taking the next step in their partnership, it's a big deal. And, as with all big deals in relationships, it deserves careful consideration and open dialogue. You and your partner should be able to answer the big "what if?" should an STI or pregnancy situation come up in the future, or anything else that might need a game plan in place. Fluid bonding may be about intimacy and trust, but it's also about safety and accountability.