Couples who choose to stop practicing safer sex with each other are sometimes said to be fluid bonded. This is because they share bodily fluids with each other. Some monogamous couples believe that fluid bonding is a way to enhance intimacy. However, there is nothing inherently more intimate about having unprotected sex in comparison to safer sex. Many couples have great intimacy for decades without exchanging fluids.
Many couples do not practice safe sex. However, such actions are generally only called fluid bonding if they are an active choice of the people in the relationship. The decision to become fluid bonded usually occurs after a period of time during which the couple has been practicing safer sex.
Risk of STIs
It’s important to know that fluid bonding can put partners at risk of STIs. That is particularly true if their prior STI testing is not comprehensive. Not all healthcare providers test for all STIs, but not everyone realizes that, so testing can give you a false sense of security.
In addition, many couples don’t realize how many STIs have no symptoms.1 They may incorrectly believe that it’s safe to stop using barriers even without testing if neither partner has any obvious symptoms.
Fluid bonding does not only happen between heterosexual couples. Men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women also engage in fluid-bonded relationships. Furthermore, some people who engage in polyamory (having more than one intimate relationship at a time) and other forms of consensual non-monogamy consider themselves to be fluid bonded with one or more partners.
They may still engage in protected sex outside of those relationships. This reduces—but does not eliminate—the risk of bringing an infection into the fluid-bonded relationship.
Some people think unprotected sex means partners are more committed to the relationship, but that’s a belief many sex educators want to change. Practicing safer sex shouldn’t be seen as a sign that someone doesn’t trust their partner. Instead, it should be seen as a sign of respect for their body and a symbol of their desire to protect the person (or people) they love from harm.
It is certainly possible to make an informed decision to become fluid bonded with a partner. That’s true even with a partner who is positive for an STI. However, fluid bonding is not a choice that should be made lightly.
Fluid bonding should never be a way of proving your love or your trust. Why would you even start to discuss the possibility of having unprotected sex with someone if either love or trust was a question?
A Well-Thought-Out Decision on Fluid Bonding
Example: John and Marianne have been dating for over a year, practicing safer sex the entire time. Two months after their anniversary, they make an appointment to visit a clinic together to get tested for sexually transmitted infections.
Having done their research, they ask their doctors to screen them for HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. When their results come back negative, they discuss things. They decide that since they are both faithful with each other, and intend to remain so, they want to stop practicing safer sex and become fluid bonded.
Marianne starts using the pill so that she can protect herself from pregnancy once they stop using condoms.
A Poorly Thought-Out Decision on Fluid Bonding
Example: Brian and Annie have been together for three months. They got together when both of them were cheating on other partners. Last week, they moved into a new apartment together.
Neither one of them has been recently tested for STIs. They both occasionally sleep with other people, but they are committed to making this relationship work.
Even though Brian has previously been diagnosed with genital herpes, he rarely has outbreaks. Therefore, when he asks Annie if she wants to become fluid bonded with him, she decides to take the risk. She believes that becoming fluid bonded will help to intensify their mutual commitment.
Six weeks after they make the decision, she is diagnosed with chlamydia after he has unprotected sex with another woman.
A Word From Verywell
People may engage in fluid bonding for good reasons or for bad reasons. That’s why it’s so important for people to be aware of, and able to discuss, the risks.
If you are considering becoming fluid bonded with a partner, it’s important to discuss your sexual histories openly and honestly. It’s also important to discuss your commitments around sexual exclusivity and or practicing safe sex. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do in your relationship.
Then you can make a good decision about whether becoming fluid bonded makes sense, or whether you’ll both be happier and feel more secure if you decide to continue practicing safer sex.