Fluid bonding is often used as a form of intimacy, when a couple decides to stop practicing “safe sex.” You can learn more about why it may be best to consider fluid bonding as just one element of deepening intimacy and trust.

Fluid bonding refers to the decision to stop using barrier protection during sex and exchange bodily fluids with your partner.

During safer sex, some barrier methods, such as a condom or dental dam, reduce the chance that you and your partner will share fluids. This includes semen, saliva, blood, and ejaculate.

If you avoid sharing fluids, you reduce your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancy.

Because of the risk involved, fluid bonding is more intentional than an on-the-whim choice to skip a condom or forego a dental dam.

Here’s what you need to know to make sure fluid bonding is the right choice for you and your partner.

All sexual activity comes with risks. That’s true regardless of whether you’re in a relationship, using barrier protection, or on birth control.

With fluid bonding, you can still contract an STI. And if you have penile-vaginal intercourse, pregnancy is still possible.

If you decide to fluid bond with a partner, there are things you can do to reduce some of these risks:

Be honest. Don’t hold back details of your sexual history, both past and present. This way, you can make the choice that’s best for your relationship.

Get tested. If you don’t know your current status, get tested. Basic screenings may not test for all STIs, so talk with a doctor about your sexual history. This ensures that your provider selects the appropriate screening options. For example, throat swabs may be necessary if you’ve performed oral sex.

Use selective barrier protection. Some STIs aren’t shared easily through fluid contact. HIV, for example, isn’t transmitted via kissing, but the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the herpes simplex virus (HSV) can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

If you or your partner have previously tested positive for an STI, learn how it’s transmitted and use barrier methods in the activities where contraction is most likely.

Pick a new form of contraception. If you stop using barrier contraception, you’ll need to find another option. Hormonal birth control, like the pill or an IUD, may be beneficial.

Some people believe sex without a barrier method is more enjoyable, but they reserve unprotected sex for committed or monogamous relationships.

For them, the choice to fluid bond may be a sign that they’re confident in the direction of the relationship and want things to be more intimate.

For others, fluid bonding may hold no special emotional meaning. It may instead be a way to stop using barrier methods in a relationship but do so in a thoughtful and intentional way.

For some couples, the choice to become fluid bonded is an emotional act of trust.

It could signal to one another that you’re serious and moving in a common direction together.

This may, for some individuals, lead to a greater sense of intimacy and a feeling of a deeper physical connection.

On the other hand, the choice to have a fluid bond may simply be born out of the understanding that each person has been tested for STIs and is aware of their status.

This way, you can engage in unprotected sex without worrying.

Fluid bonding commonly refers to any secretions or fluids produced during sex, whether that’s oral, anal, or vaginal.

These fluids may include ejaculation, vaginal fluid, semen, and anal secretions.

But other fluids can also be exchanged during sex, including saliva and blood.

Urine usually isn’t considered a part of fluid bonding. Golden showers are a popular sex kink, but the decision to perform this act isn’t considered part of the fluid bonding choice.

Almost any type of sexual contact can lead to STI transmission.

That means fluid bonding should be considered for each type, whether oral, anal, PIV (penis in vagina), or even physical touching.

You can also transmit STIs by sharing a sex toy that has a porous surface and isn’t easily cleaned.

Most sex toys are made with durable nonporous surfaces to protect you and your partner, but some can carry around a virus or bacteria for hours or even days.

Fluid bonding may also be a choice to stop using barrier methods on these toys.

No, not all unprotected sex is fluid bonding.

The decision to become fluid bonded is intentional, and it requires the consent of all people involved.

Unless this conversation has been had, a one-time encounter without a condom usually isn’t considered fluid bonding.

Yes, you technically do fluid bond — unprotected sex exposes you to your partner’s fluids — but it likely wasn’t part of an open, honest dialogue about your sexual health and choices.

The first few months of a relationship are often casual and fun as the two of you get to know one another.

Sex at this point likely involves barrier methods. This protects against the two biggest concerns — STIs and pregnancy.

Later, the two of you may want to stop using a barrier method. At this point, you can discuss whether you’d like to fluid bond.

As part of that discussion, you should talk about your STI status and decide whether to get tested alone or together.

With test results in hand, you can decide if you’re ready to abide by monogamous rules to protect each other against possible STIs.

The choice of two people who are sleeping with other people to become a fluid-bonded pair is a choice that ripples through a polyamorous group.

In other words, this choice doesn’t affect the two of you in isolation.

Even if you’re considering bonding with someone you’ve been in a relationship with for an extended period of time, the exchange of fluids increases the risk to others in the group.

You’ll need to have the consent of everyone in your circle before you can undertake fluid bonding with a partner.

Fluid bonding is built on a system of trust: trust that you’ve been tested and will maintain regular STI testing, and trust that you won’t go outside the bond of a relationship and put your partner(s) at risk.

If you haven’t been tested, don’t entertain the idea of fluid bonding until both you and your partner have had an extensive STI screening.

As much as you might be tempted to trust your partner, don’t take their word for it. Ask to get tested together, or ask to see the results of their latest test.

You should still be tested regularly after you become fluid bonded.

Every six months is ideal, but once a year may be sufficient. Your doctor can help you determine the right frequency for you.

Keep in mind that not every STI will show up immediately after exposure. Some STIs don’t even produce symptoms.

For that reason, you should wait at least two to three weeks for most STI tests. Others, like syphilis, may not show a positive result for at least six weeks after potential exposure.

That’s why regular, routine testing is needed.

STIWhen to get tested after potential exposure
chlamydiaat least 2 weeks
gonorrheaat least 2 weeks
genital herpes at least 3 weeks
HIVat least 3 weeks
syphilisat 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months
genital warts if symptoms appear

If you receive a positive result, talk with your doctor about next steps.

Then, talk with your partner immediately. This new result may change fluid bonding.

STIs aren’t the only risk associated with fluid bonding. If you’re having penile-vaginal intercourse, pregnancy is also possible.

A barrier method, such as an internal or external condom, can prevent pregnancy up to 82 percent of the time.

Not using a barrier method or other form of birth control dramatically increases that risk.

If pregnancy is something you’d like to avoid, you’ll need to consider another form of contraception.

You should also use this opportunity to talk about what you would do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.

For example, if you or your partner were to become pregnant, would you keep the pregnancy or terminate it?

It’s best to be on the same page before you go into this phase of your relationship.

Before you and your partner make the choice to become fluid bonded, ask these questions:

  • Who needs to consent to this choice? In a monogamous relationship, the answer is clear. In a polyamorous one, you may need to think about others and their feelings about fluid bonding.
  • How often will you test? Regular STI testing is important, even in a monogamous relationship. Lay the ground rules before bonding.
  • At what point does the fluid bond end? Once fluid bonded, not always fluid bonded. Would infidelity or the introduction of a new partner make you want to end the bond? You may wish to establish when the two of you would want to use barrier methods again.
  • What about contraception? If pregnancy is a concern, figure out how you’ll prevent it without a barrier method. Also, discuss what happens in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.

Fluid bonding is often used as a form of intimacy, when really it should be one element of deepening intimacy and trust.

Don’t let the choice to become fluid bonded be the final say on the subject.

Keep open lines of communication, and be willing to reevaluate your boundaries as your relationship changes with time.

If you or your partner decide that fluid bonding is no longer appropriate, it’s important that choice be respected. After all, intimacy requires respect, trust, and honesty.