The sharing of bodily fluids (male semen or female lubrication/ejaculation) can be an erotic, emotional, and a prominent bonding experience for many couples. This act, known as fluid bonding, is generally referred to as condom-less penetration. Also known as “going raw” or “barebacking”, having condom-less sex has many implications for relationships.
From an evolutionary procreation perspective, the sexual reward and pleasure released from orgasm can reinforce the desire to copulate, resulting in the strengthening of bonds. Neurotransmitters such as oxytocin (the ‘cuddle hormone’) and prolactin, increase during orgasm for both men and women (Carmichael et. al, 1987). Reaching an orgasm during intercourse can therefore bring feelings of closeness, trust, and love between two partners. The euphoric state post-orgasm can also strengthen the bond of many relationships.
Evolution of Fluids in the Mainstream
The term “cum” has evolved from a male centered context to be more gender inclusive. Johnsdotter (2001) mentions that in many erotic narratives, the word “cum” is a new contextual device to signify female wetness, lubrication and arousal. She argues that it was only in the 1990s when this linguistic term extended beyond the male discharge of semen. Furthermore, the glamorization of fluid is prominent in both pornography and the bedroom. The popular pornographic categories of creampies and facials and advertisements of female ejaculation classes show an obsession with the eroticization of these fluids. However, the fascination for bodily fluids and the desire for fluid bonding have many implications for condom usage and sexual health.
The condom use pattern can commonly be seen as follows: in casual encounters or uncommitted hook-ups, condoms are (usually) used for protection. As trust and exclusivity is built, the relationship progresses, and there is often a shift to alternative forms of contraception (if the couple is heterosexual). Eventually, the monogamous couple phases out the use of condoms. This is a common pattern in both hetero and homo contexts (although not much solid research is done on lesbian relationships). This implies that condom use is often only a temporary form of contraception - before a relationship is established and “real” sex can begin.
This lens however assumes the end goal of sex is penetration and orgasm, when in reality; sex does not always end in orgasm for both partners every single time. In addition, fluid is not necessarily an indicator of orgasm. Not all females are able to ejaculate from orgasm, and males can orgasm with little or no seminal fluid expelled (Roehrborn et. al, 2010). Many couples can engage in pleasurable sex without orgasm, and not all types of sex are penetrative. Many lesbians, transgender individuals, or those who identify as queer, may lack the anatomy or desire, to engage in insertion or penetration behaviours. Who is to say that their sex is not ‘real’, pleasurable, and bonding because there is no insertion of a body part?
Fluid Bonding as a Symbol of Trust and Commitment
As previously stated, the practice of fluid bonding is often metaphorically symbolized to be a statement of a couple’s mutual trust in a committed relationship. This attitude is shown to be alive and well in the West when we look at research of a nationally representative sample of young adults. Higgins (2007), found that western men reported that condoms reduce physical pleasure. Furthermore, both genders believed that the magnitude of the relationship and condom practices both affected pleasure attitudes. In fact, it found that women were a bit more likely to report disliking condoms (Higgins, 2007). Condoms, therefore, seem to have a socially ingrained stigma of representing a “lack of trust”, “lack of commitment” or “lack of intimacy” between two partners. Because it is not “ideal” sex, and does not promote fluid bonding, condoms can be seen to inhibit the emotional development of a relationship. Condoms appear to represent both a metaphorical and physical barrier between two people.
These attitudes have dangerous implications for sexual health. In sexual health education, there is often an assumption that there is no resistance to condoms. As such, contraceptive negation skills are not usually taught. This acknowledges a gap in the sexual education system. Yes, condoms should be used, but how does one pick the right fit, size, and type in the aisle at the drugstore? Who brings it? What do you say when one partner makes excuses or doesn’t want to use one? In disease model sexual health education, the simple message of “use protection” dismisses the extra barriers that one may encounter when using condoms. Furthermore, with society, pornography, and media pushing the desirability of raw sex - along with the popular belief that condoms inhibit pleasure - many believe that sex is not “real” unless it is without a condom.
Furthermore, the desire of fluid bonding to be the “ultimate indicator” of a real relationship has many dangerous implications. The belief that sex is penetrative and ends in orgasm is not applicable to all sexual relationships (lesbian intercourse, queer folks, transgendered couples), and perhaps we should consider sex as a spectrum- not necessarily penetrative or orgasmic, but pleasurable and intimate between two human bodies. The reality is, there is no “real” way to have sex or define a relationship- it is ultimately between two individuals. Fluid bonding can be a powerful tool to strengthen a relationship, but by no means should it be considered a gold standard.
Sex does not have to be a race and does not have to have a end goal, or “finish”. Sex can be intimate, pleasurable, and fun, with or without orgasms, ejaculation or fluid bonding. Most importantly, sex is whatever sex is to the couple. In order to shift our attitudes, greater sexual health education is required. Sexual health educators should provide a greater in-depth breakdown of realistic scenarios and how these could be implemented in regards to condom usage. Many should be encouraged to try a variety of types, sizes, and lubricants before succumbing to a societal dislike of condoms. Furthermore, greater exposure to different types of sex acts that are gender and queer-inclusive will challenge the standard narrative. After all, in the end, aren’t we all just trying to get some?
Written by Westland Researcher Adrianna Xue
Carmichael, M.S., Humbert, R., Dixen, J., Palmisano, G., Greenleaf, W., & Davidson, J. M. (1987). Plasma Oxytocin Increases in the Human Sexual Response. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 64(1), 27-31. doi:10.1210/jcem-64-1-27
Roeherborn, C. G., Kaplan, S. A., Lepor, H., & Violinn, W. (2010). Symptomatic and urodynamic responses in patients with reduced or no seminal emission during silodosin treatment for LUTS and BPH. Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, 14(2), 143-148. doi:10.1038/pcan/2010.46
Johnsdotter, S. (2011). “The Flow of her Cum”: On a Recent Semantic Shift in the Erotic World. Sexuality and Culture, 15(2), 179-194. doi:10.1007/s12119-011-9089-y
Higgins, J. A., & Wang, Y. (2015). The role of young adults' pleasure attitudes in shaping condom use. American Journal of Public Health, 105(7), 1329-1332. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/docview/1687619586?accountid=14656