What is Stealthing?

Is stealthing considered sexual assault?
on July 12, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Consent is a vital part of any healthy relationship, particularly in the context of sexual activity. 

The act of stealthing is a violation of consent, whereby the victim is exposed to unprotected sex without their knowledge or agreement. Even though it’s common for men to complain about condoms, it’s unacceptable for this barrier to be removed without prior agreement. 

Due to the rise of stealthing in recent years, it’s important to be aware of how to deal with this breach of trust and to understand the motivations behind it. 

Note: This article includes information on the topic of consent and sexual assault. Please be mindful of your own history as you continue reading. 

What does stealthing mean? 

Stealthing refers to the act of removing or tampering with a condom during sexual intercourse without the knowledge or consent of one’s partner. 

Non-consensual condom removal exposes the partner to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancy. Removal of a condom in this way is also considered a violation of sexual consent and a breach of trust with your sexual partner.

With a rise in stealthing in recent years, several studies have looked into the act of condom use resistance through both coercive and non-coercive tactics. Recent research shows that 35% of men reported using coercive tactics to obtain unprotected sex, such as emotional manipulation or deception to negate the use of a condom. 

Stealthing shouldn’t be confused with consensual condom removal, which involves open discussion and agreement to remove the condom with your partner’s consent. 

Is stealthing considered sexual assault? 

Due to the nonconsensual nature of stealthing, some legislators in the US have recently introduced bills that would class this behavior as a form of sexual assault. 

Owing to the work of Californian Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, California was the first state to make it illegal to remove a condom without consent in 2021. In this case, stealthing is classified as a civil offense rather than a crime. 

While legislation has been proposed to make stealthing illegal in states such as New York, no laws are currently in place. 

Despite some positive developments, Alexandra Brodsky makes a case for a new cause of action in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law

This study emphasizes that the current laws fail to condemn stealthing, since few recognize condom removal as a kind of legal wrong. Due to this lack of legal clarity, Brodsky emphasizes that victims of stealthing are themselves unsure whether or not this was merely boys behaving badly or a true moral wrong.

Therefore, even though this is commonly considered a type of rape-adjacent behavior, this form of sexual violence often goes unpunished from a legal perspective.  

Side effects of stealthing 

Victims of stealthing are subject to several sexual health risks and other serious consequences as a result of this non-consensual act. 

“Stealthing breaks down trust in the relationship,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

“Especially when a partner addresses it or shares feelings about the experience the other partner is dismissive, defensive, or gaslights their partner in their response.”

Unwanted Pregnancy: If you’re subjected to nonconsensual unprotected sex, without another form of birth control, stealthing could result in an unwanted pregnancy.  In some cases, the victim of stealthing may not have realized the condom was removed — this leaves them more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy. 
STI's: Removing a condom without the knowledge or consent of one’s partner exposes them to a higher risk of contracting STIs and STDs.  In fact, the term stealthing was first familiar in the LGBTQIA+ or gay community, and commonly used in reference to the transmission of HIV/aids. 
Violation of consent: Even though studies show that pregnancy and STIs are the most common fears, all of the survivors saw condom removal as a disempowering, demeaning violation of a sexual agreement.  This dismissal of the person’s consent in this way can lead to significant emotional distress, with this breach of trust having a long-lasting impact on victims. 

What to do if stealthing happens to you? 

If you’re a victim of stealthing, first be kind to yourself as it can be a very overwhelming and disconcerting experience. Not only do you have to deal with the potential physical side effects, but also the long-lasting psychological side effects as a result of this violation of trust, autonomy, and consent. 

“Due to the social stigma and shame that surrounds sexual betrayal and abuse it can feel isolating, lonely, and hard to bring up in conversation,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“It’s important to have some support from either a trusted friend or therapist knowing you do not have to navigate this alone.” 

According to research, 12% of women have experienced stealthing in their lifetime. However, it’s important to remember that consent and communication are part of any healthy relationship and therefore, all victims of stealthing should seek support. 

If your partner has removed a condom without your consent, it’s important to take a number of steps to safeguard your health and well-being. 

Use emergency contraception: If you’re not on another form of birth control, it’s important to seek emergency contraception as soon as you can to prevent unwanted pregnancy.  Emergency contraception is most effective when taken within 72 hours of the incident, so it’s important to act quickly if you feel you’re at risk. Depending on your location having access to another form of contraception can be difficult, adding to the anxiety and emotional impact of stealthing. 
Take a pregnancy test: While emergency contraception should be taken as soon as possible, patience is required when it comes to taking a pregnancy test.  Based on your period schedule, you’ll have to wait until your period is late before taking a pregnancy test. Remember, if the test does come back positive and you don’t want to become a parent, there are options available. 
Test for STI's: If you’re unsure about the STI status of your sexual partner, it’s important to get tested.  Depending on the STI, it can take a while to show up in an STI test. Therefore, whether you have been stealthed or not, it’s important to take regular STI tests to safeguard your sexual health. 
Consider pressing charges: Even though different jurisdictions have varying approaches to the act of stealthing, it’s important to consider how you want to deal with this violation of your consent.  If you feel you may want to report it in the future, it’s important to contact a rape crisis center, which will give you information about any steps which should be taken in terms of biological evidence.  Or if you want to press charges and are unsure how to do so, consider contacting the National Sexual Assault Hotline or National Domestic Violence Hotline. 
Get support from professionals: Due to the psychological effects of sexual abuse, it’s important to seek help from health professionals to ensure you receive the right kind of advice and help.  Even though some people are quick to undermine the effects of these coercive measures during sexual activity, it can be traumatizing for victims. If you don’t feel comfortable seeking professional help, it may be helpful to seek care from trusted family members and loved ones. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some other names for stealthing?

    There are several other names for the act of non-consensually removing or tampering with a condom during sexual intercourse. These names include condom sabotage, sexual deception, non-consensual condom removal, or non-consensual unprotected sex.
  • Is stealthing illegal?

    The legality of stealthing depends on the jurisdiction, as some regions consider it as a form of sexual assault or rape, whilst in others it’s not explicitly addressed by the law. If you or someone you know has experienced stealthing and wish to pursue legal action, it is advisable to seek legal advice from a professional.
  • Why do guys do stealthing?

    Motivations behind why some individuals engage in stealthing vary. One of the most common reasons is that men desire heightened pleasure or sensation without a barrier, therefore prioritizing their own sexual satisfaction over the health and consent of their partner. Other reasons include a lack of sexual education or a desire for power.
  • How to know if stealthing has happened to you?

    In most cases, stealthing is immediately apparent. However, if your partner intentionally breaks or punctures the condom, it’s more difficult to tell if your consent has been violated. If you’re worried, communicate your concerns to your partner and ask them if anything happened to the barrier. However, it’s important to trust your instincts and proceed with caution as if you’ve been stealthed. Remember that victim blaming is not acceptable and you should not feel responsible to prevent stealthing. The only person to blame is the one who used these coercive means to access unprotected sex — no one else.
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