Okay, so maybe I’ve been in a committed relationship for so long that I haven’t kept up with some of the new terms in the dating and sex lexicon. When a client of mine told me last week that she was upset with her new boyfriend because he kept “Stealthing her”, I had no idea what she was talking about. I had to ask her what Stealthing was. In her words, she said “It’s when someone takes off a condom during sex without you knowing”. I wasn’t completely shocked by this. I have heard of this happening when I was a teenager and even in my college years, but my patient and her boyfriend are both fully grown adults and even more surprisingly, they both work in the medical field. This prompted me to do more research on Stealthing because apparently it is a bigger thing than I had realized.
What is Stealthing?
I had to turn to the internet for a clearer definitely of stealthing, although my client’s definition was pretty right on. Stealthing is the non-consensual act of removing a condom during sex without the consent or knowledge of the other person.
It can also include damaging the condom on purpose without the other person knowing so that it becomes less effective at its job of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI).
While Stealthing usually involves removing a condom in the middle of a sexual act, it can also mean the removing of any agreed upon barrier in the middle of sexual activity without the other person’s consent.
When I was younger and I would hear guys talk about this, it didn’t seem as bad as it does now that I’m older. Back then the guys I know who did it would say that they didn’t like the feel of sex with a condom on. They’re intent didn’t seem terribly malicious, but in actuality, Stealthing is a form of sexual assault.
Consent is an informed, specific, and ongoing negotiation of enthusiastic desire.
When someone consents to having sex with another person(s) with the use of a condom, dental dam or any other protective barrier, when the other person purposely removes or damages that barrier, the consent of the other person has been broken which then turns the consensual sex into assault.
How Common is Stealthing?
One study I read says that about 12% of women have experienced Stealthing. I asked my client why she thought her new boyfriend was doing this to her (she had caught him multiple times). I even asked if she thought he was trying to get her pregnant as using condoms was the only form of birth control they were using, but she said that he simply didn’t like to use condoms. According to her, he never wanted to use condoms from the first time they engaged in sex, but she insisted. She wanted to protect her body from pregnancy and STIs.
There’s some thought that Stealthing is rooted in misogyny where men who do it believe that their pleasure is more important than the desires, wishes and consent of their partner.
A lot of these men have been raised by society to believe that a man’s happiness and sexual pleasure supersedes that of their partner, especially when it comes to heterosexual men.
I even recommended to my partner that they try different brands and types of condoms such as polyurethane or lambskin, but she didn’t think that would make a difference. Unfortunately, many people believe that condoms ruin sex for the man that is wearing it.
Because of these combined factors, many men believe that it’s okay to remove a condom if it’s getting in the way of their pleasure. Most likely, in their opinion, they are doing no real harm, not realizing that they are not only exposing themselves and the person they are having sex with to STis, unwanted pregnancy and sexual assault.
Stealthing Is Sexual Abuse
The reason why my client’s boyfriend, or anyone would remove or damage an agreed upon sexual barrier doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, it’s sexual abuse and it harms the victim.
Stealthing can be done as a form of physical or emotional abuse. It can be done because someone is purposely trying to pass on a STI or impregnate another person without their consent. Why would someone want to do those things? Manipulation for one. The person who is doing the Stealthing may be trying to trap the other person into being in a relationship with them through getting them pregnant or giving them a STI. They may feel like the other person would have to stay with them because no one else is going to want or love them which of course is not true.
My client was left feeling betrayed, scared and depressed because she can’t trust this guy she really likes. He has shown that he doesn’t respect her or her body and continues to put her at risk despite her telling him multiple times not to. The last time we met she had agreed to not be intimate with him until he shows that he is going to respect her and her desires.
Because of this violation of trust and bodily autonomy, my client has had increased anxiety and depression. She really likes this guy, and it seems as if his only flaw which is a critical flaw, is that he doesn’t respect her when it comes to sex and I can only imagine that if he isn’t respecting her that way then it’s only a matter of time before he shows he doesn’t’ respect her in many other ways, if at all.
What to do if You’ve been Stealthed
California actually made stealthing illegal in 2021 and I believe other states will slowly follow. For now, if you think you’ve been Stealthed, it’s okay to ask your partner “Did you remove the condom (or whatever barrier) while we were having sex” or ask them to squeeze the condom afterwards to make sure there are no holes in it.
It can be hard to know if you were Stealthed, but always trust your gut and if something feels off, proceed as if you had been Stealthed so that you can protect yourself.
- Use emergency contraception- something like Plan B, but time is of the essence as most emergency contraception have to be taken within 3 to 5 days of the incident.
- Take the antiretroviral PEP– if you don’t know your partners STI status or don’t trust that they are being honest about it, you can take PEP but it must be taken within 72 hours of potential exposure to HIV to be effective. If you know that your partner is HIV positive, go see a medical professional immediately about post exposure prophylaxis .
- Take a pregnancy test- you have to wait a couple of weeks or so for this one, but taking a pregnancy test or two (one a week after the first one) can help you either relax or know your options depending on the results.
- Get tested for STIs- unless you know the status of the person you were intimate with, you should plan on getting tested for STIs for both your health and the health of your future partners.
- Get support- being Stealthed can be dehumanizing and traumatizing, but there’s no reason to feel embarrassed. Reach out to family, friends, a counselor or anyone you feel comfortable talking to.
The bottom line is, Stealthing is sexual assault and abuse. The only person to blame is the person doing the stealthing and the only way to stop stealthing from happening is the person who is doing it has to respect the consent and desires of the other person.
If the other person truly doesn’t want to use protection, then they either need to move on or have an open dialogue with their partner and only engage in non-protective sex when both parties fully agree and understand the potential consequences. Some ways of bringing this up include asking if the other person would be interested in having sex without a condom if they got tested for STIs together, or if the other person is open to sex without protection if they used another birth control method. Having an open dialogue, respect and consent are the keys.
Stealthing is not harmless. It’s abusive and potentially dangerous.