We answer all the questions regarding the disturbing sexual trend of “Stealthing” and other condom sabotaging acts including: What is stealthing? Is stealthing legal? Is stealthing rape or sexual assault? What are the potential risks involved with stealthing?
What is Stealthing?
Stealthing is the act of a man secretly removing his condom during intercourse without letting his partner know. Stealthing affects both gay and straight couples. The act of stealthing quickly gained publicity when Alexandra Brodsky submitted a study for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law titled, “‘Rape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal“.
Stealthing Is Not Okay
Stealthing is not okay for many abhorrent reasons. There is a notion of safety when condoms are used during sex and sexual activities, after all, they are often referred to as protection. Not only do condoms help prevent unwanted pregnancies, they also help prevent and protect against bacterial infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, and viral infections that stay with you for life like HIV and genital herpes.
Aside from the aforementioned personal and medical reasons to use a condom, there is the fact that sometimes sex is consensual between two people simply because a condom is being used or is to be used. Condoms are only used during sex and sexual activities because of the safety they provide one or both partners during sex. When you intentionally remove or damage a condom, that safety is significantly diminished or gone entirely. Once a man intentionally removes the condom without telling their partner (whether it is a man or a woman), that consent to have sex was conditionally on the condom being worn.
By definition, non-consensual sex with penetration is rape, while non-consensual sexual contact is considered sexual assault. This means that if one partner stealthily removes their own condom during sexual penetration or play and their lover only consented to sex or sexual contact because they believed their partner was wearing a condom, that consent is gone and a sexual attack occurred.
Is Stealthing Legal or Illegal?
Here is a quick run-down of current stealthing-related laws by country: In the United States, there is no active law against the act of stealthing, so currently stealthing itself is technically legal. In her law review, Brodsky mentions numerous ways the legal system could address stealthing. Whether or not an individual (or the law currently) considers stealthing an act of sexual assault, it is clear that the conduct is harmful or at least has the potential to harm. There is an intentional betrayal of the terms in which sex or sexual activity was initially agreed upon.
In the case of Julian Assange v. Swedish Prosecution Authority  EWHC 2849 (Admin) (02 November 2011), Assange was accused of removing having sex without a condom with his partner who said she would only have sex if a condom was used. Whether her consent was withdrawn solely because of his lack of using a condom is unknown, but in Sweden, it is a crime to continue having sex after your partner withdraws their consent.
Sadly, consent in the US is not as transparent as other countries. In September 2010 in North Carolina, the rape and sexual battery charges a high school football player was facing were dropped because the sexual contact between him and the alleged victim was initially consensual. Charges were dropped because the 1979 North Carolina Supreme Court ruling of State v. Way states that if intercourse begins consensually, “no rape has occurred though the victim later withdraws consent during the same act of intercourse.” It is ridiculous! This means that if agreed to have sex originally and during so change your mind for any reason– it’s painful or hurting you, your partner has started being violent, you forgot you had something else to do or just no longer want to– your partner can persist regardless, and it isn’t rape.
In the UK, the “Sexual Offences Act of 2003” states that in relation to sexual offenses a person (person A) is guilty of an offense if she/he: acts intentionally; if person B does not consent to the act; and/or is person A does not reasonably believe that person B consents. In terms of stealthing, all three of these criteria are met. (It also includes additional criteria regarding age and mental disorder.)
Furthermore, according to the Crown Prosecution Service of the UK, “Section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 has recently been considered by the High Court and the Court of Appeal in a series of cases where ostensible consent in relation to sexual offenses was considered not to be true consent, either because a condition upon which consent was given was not complied with or because of a material deception.”
Condom Sabotage: Sexual Acts Similar To Stealthing That You Need To Look Out For
Stealthing doesn’t necessarily have to require the actual removal of a condom. Stealthing can include never actually putting the condom on after sex is agreed to, leading your partner to believe that you have a condom on. It can also include purposefully putting the condom on incorrectly or loosely so that it appears to come off on its own during sex.
Condom sabotaging includes any act of purposefully or intentionally destroying or lessening the effectiveness of a condom. Everyone has heard tales of women who have poked holes in their partners’ condoms in an attempt to become pregnant. Similarly, there are men who do the same thing to their condoms to try to impregnate their female partner.
In fact, in Canada in 2008, a man sabotaged a pack of condoms in the hopes of getting his girlfriend pregnant, so that she would stay with him. She did get pregnant, but they broke up anyway, leading him to confess to her what he had done. She filed sexual assault charges, and while he was found not guilty in the first two trials, a Chief Justice maintained that “it is clear that protected sex was an essential feature of the proposed sexual act and an inseparable component of (the woman’s) consent.” He ended up serving an 18-month jail sentence for his crime.
There are men who poke holes in or otherwise sabotage their condoms by used lubricants that degrade the condom material because they believe their partner should “Take their seed” or that they have a right to ejaculate inside their partner. These misogynistic actions and beliefs are wrong, no matter what sex or gender their partner is. If you are the receiving partner, do not trust the condom unless you provide it yourself. You do not know how old the condom is or what condition it is in (perhaps it left in his hot car for weeks, or in his wallet that sits in his back pocket every day).
What To Do If You’ve Just Been Stealthed
Here is a list of what to do if stealthing happens to you or if you are a recent victim of stealthing:
- Take an emergency dosage of PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), an FDA-approved antiretroviral pill taken reduces your chances of contracting certain viral infections like HIV, within three days (72 hours) of when the high-risk sexual encounter occurred.
- If you’re a woman who wants to avoid an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, get an emergency dose of Plan B (the morning-after pill).
- Get a comprehensive STD test panel done once the incubation periods for each STI has passed. (We offer an STD test panel that checks for 10 STDs, and offer an early detection HIV RNA test that can detect HIV as early as 9-11 days after potential exposure.)
- If you want to take legal action, consider filing a police report. There may not yet be a legal protection for those who have been stealthed, but at least it will be documented.
- Speak with a therapist or counselor. As mentioned in Brodsky’s law review, often victims of stealthing feel distressed and/or violated. It can help to talk to a professional about how you are feeling and how to positively cope with these feelings.
- Don’t trust this man in the future and do not have sex with him again. You discussed prior to having sex that a condom was to be worn and he made the choice to bareback from the start or during sex without you knowing. This is not okay and that act was no longer consensual.
Stealthing is not okay, it is harmful and it can lead to potential unwanted pregnancies and STIs. There need to be up-to-date legal repercussions for stealthing and other sexual acts that violate sexual consent in the US other countries that are also lacking legal ramifications.