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What Is Stealthing? And What To Do If It Happens To You

Condom stealthing

When it comes to the world of dating and sex there seems to be a new buzz word every week, from “ghosting” and “orbiting” to “breadcrumbing.” One relatively new sex term is “stealthing.” 

Stealthing, however, is far more serious than a sex trend. It’s the act of removing a condom during sex without the other person’s consent — and it’s considered sexual assault in a number of countries.

We all know that a healthy sex life can be a fun, enjoyable, and safe experience for everyone involved. Stealthing, however, breaks the barriers of trust in a relationship and can cause both mental and physical issues. 

Here, we’ll explain everything you need to know about stealthing and share advice on what to do if stealthing happens to you.

What is stealthing? What does stealthing mean?

Condom stealthing is the act of secretly removing the condom during sex when the other person has only consented to having sex with the condom on and still thinks the condom is in place.

Stealthing is becoming more common. Non-consensual condom removal has been reported in the LGBTQ+ community since 2014. In 2019, a U.S. study found that 12 percent of young straight women surveyed have experienced stealthing. While one in three women, and a fifth of gay men, who responded to a 2019 Australian study had also been stealthed.  

Stealthing is never OK. It’s an act of sexual aggression that negates your right to consent, breaks trust, and can leave you feeling violated, angry, fearful, and disrespected.

As well as the emotional distress stealthing can cause, unprotected sex can lead to significant problems for the affected person, including unwanted pregnancy or catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Is stealthing considered sexual assault?

Condom stealthing is considered by many to be a form of sexual assault. This is because when you agree to have sex with a condom, that consent only extends to protected intercourse. Removal of the condom means that you’ve lost the ability to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy or STIs, and, therefore, something is happening to you against your will.

Stealthing is a deceptive, non-consensual act which is illegal in many countries, including the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Canada. As such, it’s a type of behavior that should never be tolerated in a healthy relationship. 

The fact that stealthing is on the rise means we need to talk more openly about sex and consent— not just with our friends, but in academic settings such as colleges and universities too. By destigmatizing the conversation around stealthing, people who have unfortunately experienced it can share what they have been through without fear or shame and help others learn.  

Stealthing couple

Stealthing: The physical side effects

In addition to psychological distress and feelings of shame and a loss of trust, sex without a condom is unprotected sex that can pose physical problems for the person affected, such as:

Unwanted Pregnancy

If you’re not using any other form of contraception besides condoms, there is a possibility that stealthing could lead to unwanted pregnancy. 

An unwanted pregnancy can cause great emotional distress, and it represents a financial burden that many people aren’t prepared for. This is how condom stealthing negates your right, as a woman or person who menstruates, to choose what happens to your own body.

STIs

Contracting an STI is another potential outcome of stealthing. Condoms, both external (male)  and internal (female), are the only contraceptive method that can help protect you from most STIs. So when someone practices stealthing, they may knowingly — or unknowingly — pass an STI to the other person. 

The most common STIs include:

The good news is that the majority of STIs can be treated effectively, but contracting one can still impact your health. If you think you’re having protected sex, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to get tested for STIs, which could allow one to go undetected for a long period of time. 

If you think, or know, you’ve experienced stealthing, it’s a really good idea to make an appointment with your local family planning clinic or health care professional, to get tested. If you’re nervous about getting tested for STIs, we’d suggest asking a friend to accompany you. Remember, what has happened is not your fault in any way.

Why do people engage in stealthing?

There are a number of reasons why people engage in stealthing. Maybe you’ve been with someone before who said that sex felt better for them without a condom — this is the most common reason that men give for stealthing. 

However, experts agree that the motivation behind condom stealthing usually runs deeper than that. Stealthing is often used to assert power and break the bonds of trust, which may, in some way, be thrilling for those who do it. 

This is why it’s so important to remember the person affected is not to blame, and that everyone is vulnerable to condom stealthing, regardless of gender.

Is stealthing illegal?

Stealthing is illegal in countries including the U.K., Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Switzerland because it is considered a form of rape or sexual violence. The state of California also recently passed a law making stealthing a crime.

Canada, for example, has successfully prosecuted men found guilty of stealthing under the concept of conditional consent. This means that even though you consented to sex, you did not consent to sex without exceptions, such as intercourse without a condom. So someone could face criminal charges because they changed the terms of consent.

Elsewhere though, the law is still a little murky around stealthing. Although debates on consent and sexual assault condemn it, most countries don’t have legislation against non-consensual condom removal in place.

Knowingly transmitting an STI is, however, punishable by law in most areas. That means that if someone who has an STI commits stealthing and passes it to the other person, they can be charged.

Woman experiencing stealthing side effects

Stealthing: The takeaway

If you have experienced stealthing, the first thing to remember is that it’s not your fault. Someone you had sex with has gone against your wishes and violated your boundaries, and it’s completely normal for you to no longer trust them because of this. We’d advise speaking to someone you trust about what has happened — this could be a friend or family member — so you have support from people who will have your best interests at heart.

It might not feel easy, but we’d also recommend making an appointment with your local family planning clinic, or healthcare professional, to be tested for pregnancy and STIs. The positive news is that most STIs can now be easily treated.

You might continue to feel hurt about what has happened for a long time. This is completely normal. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional, like a counselor or therapist, if you need it. If you feel up to it, consider researching local legislation on sexual violence to see if you can take legal action.

An active sex life is something to be enjoyed and should always be consensual and safe for everyone involved. There are many steps you can take towards a more pleasurable sex life, but the key is to always feel comfortable with your partner and know that you can trust them.