PQ 19.3 — Does unbarriered sex carry emotional significance to me?
One afternoon as I was poring over posts in one of the many polyamorous groups that I lurk in, I discovered that there was a new in-group war over the term “fluid bonding.”
For those who haven’t heard it before, fluid bonding is unbarriered sex. If you have a fluid bond with someone else, it essentially means that you don’t use protection when you have sex with them. It’s a euphemism commonly used in polyamorous circles. I never gave much thought as to why that phrase was used exactly. I just figured fluid bonding was a bit less harsh sounding than “barebacking” or “raw dogging.”
Plus, like a lot of polyamorous neologisms (for example, polycule — a portmanteau combining “polyamorous” and “molecule” to describe one’s network of relationships), it’s a geeky pun. Fluid bonding is an actual process in polymer science.
But from what I could gather as I read through this particular forum flame war, the chief objection about the term fluid bonding was the word “bonding.” That word was instrumental here, some argued. The use of the word “bonding” introduced a connotation that evoked intimacy. Connection. And thereby delegitimized relationships that use barriers during sex. Furthermore, some argued by elevating the practice (again, by use of the word “bonding”) that the term actively encourages people to have riskier sex.
And here I was just thinking it was a geeky pun.
Unbarried Sex Carries Practical Significance
I mean, the way I see it, having unprotected sex with someone in practice does end up being an additional commitment in that you’re assuming increased risk because of simple logistics. You have to trust your partner’s sexual practices to a higher degree than you would if you were using additional protection (because while the proper use of protection doesn’t take any STI risks to zero, it does impressively mitigate them). And for me, this means I need more communication and check-ins and sheer knowledge of that partner’s other sexual entanglements than I would if we had no sexual relationship at all or were using barriers. It just tends to work out that way.
I have to know more about that person’s sex life in order to make decisions about risk because the magnitude of the risk I assume by proxy from my partner’s (or partners’) choices simply is greater when I’m having unprotected sex with them.
So, even without considering any emotional significance, there’s definite practical significance to unbarriered sex that’s frankly difficult for me to ignore. It’s different.
Now, I’m not arguing that it’s a superior commitment to any other markers of commitment (of which, there are many – see this post for a basic overview). In fact, in some ways it can turn into quite the headache, especially if you later find that your trust in them is misplaced.
I Think It’s a Possible Symptom, But Not a Cause, of Emotional Significance
Still, I can’t honestly argue that it’s not one sign of serious entanglement for me. Because it’s definitely something I don’t do lightly.
While a fluid bond isn’t something I require to have a deep emotional connection with someone, I wouldn’t have unprotected sex with someone if I didn’t.
A child of the 80s, I grew up at the height of the AIDs epidemic. I’ve never viewed sex as being truly strings-free, and I’ve always viewed sex as something that could kill me if I made the wrong choices. So I view unbarriered sex inherently as something that leaves me vulnerable. This means I have to trust someone an awful lot to agree to have unprotected sex with them. A deep trust, where I not only trust that they have benevolent intentions towards me (shockingly, that’s the low bar in this particular equation) but in which I also trust their judgement, self-control, and knowledge of sexual health.
That’s a lot to ask.
So if I’m having unprotected sex with them, yeah, I care deeply for them. But having unprotected sex isn’t what made that happen. It’s a symptom, not a cause.
And I could love someone deeply without having unprotected sex with them.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this indexed list.