“Fluid bonding” is the idea that two people who test free of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can then decide to forgo safer sex precautions between the two of them — they can now share their bodily fluids. This term is most commonly used among people who may have additional sexual partners with whom they do use protection. So, for instance, Martha and Jane don’t use latex gloves when they fuck, but when Martha has sex with Ted, they use a condom.
I asked my go-to expert, Doc, to summarize the medical research but she came up empty-handed. It appears that fluid bonding is a community-sourced idea, not a medically studied one. It is based on doctors’ common advice to patients — advice that assumes monogamy.
“The classic wisdom works if you use a model where everybody plays around in college, and then they get married and settle down and have kids and don’t do that anymore,” says Doc. “It gives you a clean slate. But if that’s not your life plan, I’m not sure the same logic applies.”
“Each virus is its own thing, each fluid is its own thing,
and each behaviour has a different risk.”
Though it’s appealing, the idea of fluid bonding — whether with two or more people — is not medically sound. This is true for three reasons.
First, plenty of STIs are transmitted by means other than bodily fluids. Genital warts, for instance, spread via skin-to-skin contact, so condoms don’t help.
Second, a negative STI test isn’t a guarantee that you’re infection free. Some STIs are asymptomatic, and you or your doctor might not think to screen for them. Some STIs are not commonly tested for, especially if they are considered nonlife-threatening or you’re considered to be in a “low-risk” group — a concept that doesn’t look at your actual sexual practices, just your demographic data. And for some STIs, no test exists.
Third, fluid bonding doesn’t take into account the key triptych of STI transmission. “Each virus is its own thing, each fluid is its own thing, and each behaviour has a different risk,” says Doc. For example, hepatitis C is more transmissible via blood than sex fluids — so you’re more at risk for this one by sharing a toothbrush than by a blowjob. And while people are understandably very scared of HIV, in penetrative sex with a penis, the receptive and insertive partners each have markedly different risks.
In short, says Doc, “There are more options than you think, and more decisions to make.”
Personally, I’d like to see conversations about safer sex get much more hot and intimate. Let’s talk about the full tapestry of sexual activities, look at the relative risks of each one, and make decisions from there. Doc recommends starting out with indepth information about STIs from the Sherbourne Health Centre (sherbourne.on.ca), the Hassle Free Clinic (hasslefreeclinic.org) or Planned Parenthood (ppt.on.ca). There’s also a great article on risk assessment from the Washington-based grassroots education org Scarleteen (scarleteen.com).
ANDREA ZANIN The Sex Geek blogs at sexgeek.wordpress.com.