What, you may ask, is fluid bonding? And why should you care? Fluid bonding frequently comes up in the context of non-monogamous or polyamorous relationships, but it’s just as important for monogamous folks, because it entails discussion and negotiation of acceptable risks, intimacy, trust, and pleasure.
Fluid bonding, at its most basic, is the agreement to share bodily fluids with someone. You and your partner(s) discuss what makes sense to you in terms of sexual health and emotional intimacy. For many monogamous relationships, fluid bonding is assumed to be part of the deal: you two are only sleeping with each other, so there’s no need to discuss sharing bodily fluids. But many monogamous couples do implicitly touch on this topic, when they discuss methods of birth control (since barriers like the condom inhibit the passage of fluids between bodies) or whether to be intimate when one partner is sick (since kissing can transmit colds and cold sores alike). These discussions can implicitly or explicitly refer to any bodily fluids, from saliva while kissing, to semen, vaginal fluids, and even blood (from menstruation or blood play).
It is more common to hear explicit verbal communication about fluid bonding among people who are not sexually monogamous, though. In these cases, partners must talk openly about which risks they can live with, and how to mitigate those risks. For instance, a non-monogamous couple might decide that they can fluid-bond with one another, but must use condoms or another form of protection (such as latex gloves or dental dams) when playing with others. Or a polyfidelitous grouping of three or four individuals might agree to fluid bond with one another, and have absolutely no bodily fluid contact with anyone else. Agreements about how often to get tested for STIs are frequently also a part of fluid bonding discussions; some partners think once a year is adequate, while others get tested before and after contact with new partners.
Regardless of whether you are single, in a monogamous relationship, or in a non-monogamous relationship, identifying and discussing your comfort with bodily fluid transmission is a significant part of overall relationship communication. It helps you take charge of your sexual health, by deciding how you feel about coming into contact with the bodily fluids of others – which always carries some risk with it. Exposure to bodily fluids could potentially lead to pregnancy or transmission of STIs on the physical level, and to feelings of violation if one is unprepared on an emotional level.
How does one assess risk? First, make sure you are educated about the risks entailed in various sexual activities. Planned Parenthood posts this kind of information online, along with a helpful guide to safe sex. Decide how you feel about the risks associated with the different activities you’re interested in. For instance, if you are a woman who’s taking hormonal birth control, would you feel comfortable having unprotected sex with your male partner, knowing that disease transmission was a possibility even if pregnancy was not? Or if you use condoms to protect against most diseases while having penetrative intercourse, is unprotected oral sex an acceptable risk, even when it could still convey HPV? When you can articulate your own feelings on these matters, talk to your partner(s) to see how they feel. The points of overlap in your perspectives should help guide you to acceptable compromises – though, of course, only you can decide whether your health is an area in which you should compromise at all. These discussions help you take responsibility for your health by encouraging you to establish how often you should get tested for STIs, regardless of your relationship status (even single women who are not sexually active should be getting annual exams to check for cervical cancer risk, and it’s easy enough to tack on an STI test). Most importantly, these conversations can help all partners feel safe and secure, and that their concerns about sexual health are valid.
For some people, fluid bonding is an obvious step in establishing emotional intimacy with their partner(s), while for others, it’s an expectation that’s not ever explicitly discussed. Communicating about bodily fluids, however, is one of many significant steps in bringing together pleasure and safety in a sexual relationship, along with talking about your needs and desires, fears and feelings. Like sexuality in general, there are many ways to go about fluid bonding – it’s just a matter of figuring out what works for you.