A recent study and a criminal case in Europe have cast a spotlight on “stealthing,” the act of removing a condom during sex without your partner’s consent.
“’Stealthing’ is the newest dangerous sex trend.”
“‘Stealthing’: The Disturbing New Sex Trend You Need to Know About.”
Those are just two of the headlines from the past several weeks dealing with the act of nonconsensual condom removal during sex — colloquially known as “stealthing.”
The topic recently came to light in April due to a paper written by Alexandra Brodsky that was published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law.
Brodsky’s paper was on the study Rape-Adjacent: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal, which investigated the prevalence of stealthing, and how it fits into current legal definitions of rape and sexual assault in the United States.
In Europe, stealthing has also become a hot button issue because of a recent ongoing case in Switzerland where a man was convicted of rape after removing a condom without his partner’s consent.
In fact, Baptiste Viredaz, the prosecution lawyer, submitted Brodsky’s study to the court.
The rape conviction made the proceedings a landmark case. However, that conviction has since been changed to the lesser charge of defilement.
So, while the case did not establish stealthing within the legal definition of rape, it made it clear that it is punishable under law.
The most immediate dangers of stealthing are exposing an unwitting partner to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and in heterosexual encounters, potential pregnancy.
In her study, Brodsky also explains how the act is harmful beyond its physical implications by transforming a consensual act into a nonconsensual one.
“Apart from the fear of specific bad outcomes like pregnancy and STIs,” Brodsky writes, “all of the survivors experienced the condom removal as a disempowering, demeaning violation of a sexual agreement.”
However, stealthing currently doesn’t fit within any definitions of rape or sexual assault in the United States.
“I have, to date, been unable to find a single domestic legal case concerned with the removal of a condom during sex,” Brodsky wrote.
Mike Domitrz, president and founder of the Date Safe Project, an education and advocacy group, told Healthline that how stealthing is interpreted could even change from state to state.
“Every state has different laws concerning sexual violence and consent,” he said.
“Consequently, some states are likely to have better language in their laws to address this than other states,” Domitrz explained. “There is a good chance many states do need specific wording to address any behaviors that betray consent such as stealthing.”
As to why people engage in the practice, there seem to be a variety of reasons.
In her research, Brodsky investigates the practices in both heterosexual and homosexual contact through in-person and online interviews.
She points to certain groups online that instruct others on how to go about stealthing their partners, as well as explaining the rationale behind such a decision.
One such group, from where she draws several examples, is on the social media site The Experience Project, in which users swap stories about the act and, in some cases, provide advice.
“While one can imagine a range of motivations for ‘stealthers’ — increased physical pleasure, a thrill from degradation — online discussions suggest offenders and their defenders justify their actions as a natural male instinct — and natural male right,” Brodsky writes.
Stealthing has other sexual corollaries: breeding or “pregnancy risk” fetishism, in which sexual pleasure is derived from either the risk of a potentially unwanted pregnancy, or the knowledge that an act of unprotected sex will lead to fertilization.
Meanwhile, in gay communities, “barebacking” and stealthing often entail the risk of HIV transmission, which has had its own effect on sexual culture.
The prevalence of the disease has created its own subculture of men known as “bug chasers” — those actively seeking to become infected with HIV — and “gift givers” — men willing to intentionally infect others.
One man interviewed by Healthline talked about his motivations for stealthing a former partner.
His explanation: performance anxiety.
“My decision was probably, in a really stupid way, choosing the lesser of two evils: Do I fail in performance and humiliate myself, or do I just do this?” he said. “Unfortunately, I allowed myself to continue with a dangerous and hurtful decision in the moment.”
It was not a habitual practice for him, the man said, and he states he hasn’t done it again.
The seriousness of stealthing cannot be overstated.
However, whether this act is new or even a trend at all, is perhaps speculative at best.
The word “trend” never appears in Brodsky’s study.
What is clear is that it does happen, although how frequently is unclear.
The question posed by Brodsky and others is, “How will the legal system take on this issue now that it’s out in the open?”