By now, you’ve likely seen the term “stealthing” floating around on the internet. The term, covered in a study published by earlier this week in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, refers to an act in which men remove condoms during sex without the knowledge and/or consent of their partner.
Unsurprisingly, this study has been making the rounds online because it sheds light on a disturbing sexual act that many people might not been familiar with until now.
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
The act itself is, unfortunately, probably not a new one (as the author of the study, Alexandra Brodsky, wrote on Twitter, “Men have always been terrible”). The term “stealthing,” however, appears to be relatively recent, since it has become the main name for the act in various online communities in which men discuss how to remove condoms during sex. (It also seems to bear an uncomfortable similarity to other trendy, modern dating terms like ghosting and benching.) But, of course, just because “stealthing” has a cutesy name, this doesn’t mean it should be treated as such–removing a condom without consent is sexual assault. Period.
If you aren’t sure why, think of it this way: If you consent to sex, this consent means that you are saying “yes” to sex under certain terms–which, most likely, includes the term that your partner will wear a condom. Removing the condom without consent or knowledge of the victim alters the terms of that agreement, which, in addition to being a violation of bodily autonomy and potentially exposing the victim to pregnancy and STIs, effectively voids the original consent. And sex without consent? That’s rape.
Fortunately, most people seem to agree:
I see men arguing that saying stealthing (secretly removing the condom) is rape dilutes actual rape. Oh fuck you.
— Mooseplaining Max (@Mooseplainer) April 26, 2017
Can we not legitimise this by calling it "stealthing" and just call it sexual assault please. Thanks. pic.twitter.com/yDjsVI8avr
— Calum McSwiggan (@CalumMcSwiggan) April 26, 2017
Seeing a lot of articles about “stealthing” and all I can think is we are raising men who do not understand the fundamentals of consent.
— Hanna Brooks Olsen (@mshannabrooks) April 26, 2017
If consent is established on condoms, and you remove/sabotage them, you invalidate consent. Non-consensual sex is rape. Simple. #stealthing
— Siobhán Stewart (@vonny_bravo) April 26, 2017
The terminology of stealthing still doesn’t feel quite right, as the nickname serves to trivialize something that is so harmful, emotionally damaging, and legally considered to be rape (a Swiss court convicted a French man for rape earlier this year for removing his condom without consent from his partner).
But one good thing about the prevalence of the term is that it helps spread awareness about a thing that has happened to lots of girls who may not have been sure how to define it or think about it before–in an interview with The Huffington Post, Brodsky mentioned that many women who have been stealthed and decide to call in to a rape crisis hotline open up their calls with a disclaimer that they aren’t sure that what happened to them actually is rape.
So, if this ever happens to you or a friend, please don’t feel afraid or ashamed to report it (which you can do by calling the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). Consent matters at every point of a sexual encounter, so if you ever feel like that consent is violated, it is your right to speak out about it.
Have you heard about stealthing? How do you feel about it? Let us know in the comments!