‘Stealthing’ is deliberately removing a condom during sex without a partner’s consent. It is sexual assault. Here’s what you need to know.
For those of you who have been watching I May Destroy You (2020), the latest episodes covered Arabella’s sexual encounter with Zain, and how she reassesses her previous understanding of it. The sequence shows how after Zain switches positions, he removes the condom mid-way through sex without Arabella’s consent, and later admits to taking it off because it was uncomfortable. It is only after she listens to a podcast on the act of ‘stealthing’ she re-evaluates what occurred that night. Stealthing has become a more prominent topic in recent years, yet many are still experiencing this form of sexual assault, primarily because they are largely unaware that it is a form of assault.
I want to remind my readers that stealthing is not a trend, but a form of sexual assault, because your partner has not consented to the removal of the condom. It is coining a term for a form of sexual assault. According to UK law, when consent is given to a specific sexual act but not to any sexual act without exceptions is considered as conditional consent. There have been few convictions of stealthing.
In 2014, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling had upheld a sexual assault conviction of a man who poke holes in his condom. In 2017, in Lausanne a man was convicted for rape by removing a condom during sex against the expectations of his sexual partner. However, in 2019, the cantonal supreme court of Zurich did not agree. They argued that stealthing, with regret, was not illegal. In 2018, another man was found guilt of sexual assault through stealthing in Germany. It was not until 2019, when a man was sentenced to 12 years in prison, after raping a woman in a hotel when he chose to remove the condom being used during sex.
Although, there are few existing laws in the United States that cover stealthing specifically, and there have been no known legal cases about stealthing either. There has still been a steady rise in cases of stealthing nonetheless and it should be treated as rape. Alexandra Brodsky’s study in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law found that the issue of stealthing has been increasing. From the interviews who “have experienced condom removal indicate that non-consensual condom removal is common practice among young, sexually active people”. Brodsky argues that stealthing is legally “rape-adjacent”; it is similar to rape itself.
It's both affirming and terrible to write about an under-acknowledged form of gender violence and hear a chorus of "me, too" in response
— Alexandra Brodsky (@azbrodsky) April 24, 2017
By taking off your condom or intentionally damaging it prior to or midway through sex without telling a sexual partner poses physical and emotional risks. It is natural to feel betrayed and violated when stealthing occurs. The practice compromises the victim’s dignity and removes their autonomy over the situation. It can lead to an unintended pregnancy or the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Still, the practice is largely discussed on websites and forums, like Reddit. If you look deeply enough on the internet there are individuals who brag about stealthing, how they have achieved it, and share tips on how to commit the act. There are still few statistics around the prevalence of stealthing. However, there have been studies that focus on condom negotiation. Leah East et al. (2011) conducted of a study of sexually active young women’s experiences in regards to negotiating condom use prior to and after a diagnosis of an STI. They found that none of the women “initiated or negotiated use of the male condom for various reasons”. There was reliance on male partners, abusive and unequal gender dynamics, or they were unnecessary in a monogamous relationship.
On the basis of online testimonies, according to Brodsky, they practice and promote non-consensual condom removal due to “misogyny and investment in male sexual supremacy”. They largely argue that they gain more physical pleasure or the thrill from degradation, it is “a natural male instinct”, a “natural male right”. The practice of stealthing is rooted in taking power and control selfishly. In their tips, they share how to gaslight victims who have been stealth, manipulating you into not questioning their sexual violence. They’ll usually undermine you in subtle ways, deflect your arguments and objections, then lead you to question the events that just occurred.
Ultimately, when one partner consents to a specified sexual act with you using contraception, and you decide to not use one without getting consent mid-act then it is a sexual offence. Stealthing is not a trivial matter. It is a common form of sexual violence. This needs to be discussed more openly and the victims need to be shown the respect they deserve. There are no excuses for tampering with condoms, or removing them, after conditional consent has been given. You cannot justify it, if you are defending a perpetrator or you are the perpetrator, you are gaslighting sexual assault victims.
Note: Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. If you think you have been sexually assaulted, there are sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) that offer emotional, practical and medical support with specially trained doctors, nursers and support workers to help you. There are voluntary organisations, such as Women’s Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK. There is also the Rape Crisis national freephone helpline, that runs from 12:00-12:30 and 19:00-21:30 everyday.