Another term that has been added to the list is “stealthing.” But catchy as the term may be, stealthing isn’t a silly-sounding word for a sex act.
Marked by the removal of a condom or other barrier mid-sex without the consent of the other person or people involved, stealthing is serious.
Ahead, everything you need to know about stealthing, including what to do if it’s happened to you.
Proceed with caution
Stealthing is a form of sexual assault. As such, this article explores topics of non-consent, rape, sexual assault, and their emotional and physical aftermath.
Stealthing refers to the non-consensual act of removing a condom during sexual activity without the awareness or consent of the other person or people involved.
The term can also be used to refer to a person damaging a condom before or during application without their sexual partner(s) knowledge or consent so that it becomes less effective at preventing pregnancy or STI transmission.
While the term was first coined to name the phenomenon of cisgender men removing a condom in the middle of penetrative anal or vaginal sex, stealthing can be used to refer to the non-consensual removal of any barrier in the middle of any sexual activity.
For example, a woman shifting a dental dam so that she’s tonguing her partner directly, without the consent of her partner, could be referred to as stealthing.
At first, stealthing may seem somewhat innocuous — after all, the word itself doesn’t typically deliver the gut punch that terms like “rape” and “sexual assault” often do. But don’t be deceived: Stealthing is a form of sexual assault.
To understand exactly why stealthing is assault, you need to understand consent. Consent is an informed, specific, and ongoing negotiation of enthusiastic desire.
So, while Person A may have consented to have sex with Person B with the use of a condom or other barrier method, they didn’t consent to sex with Person B without the use of a condom or barrier.
Bluntly, trying to explain why someone might sexually assault someone else is tricky territory. After all, this kind of reasoning runs the risk of victim blaming or shirking responsibility off of the assaulter.
But experts do offer several hypotheses around why stealthing is so common. (One study found that
First, the lack of sex education we receive — specifically, the lack of education around consent — has created multiple generations of people who do not understand the nuances of sexual consent.
Second, there’s a widespread cultural belief that condoms make sex worse, particularly for a person who has a penis.
This brings us to the final and main reason stealthing happens: Many people are taught from an early age that cis men’s pleasure and happiness are more important than, well, anything.
Given those teachings, if a cis man thinks their pleasure is being thwarted by a rubber, it makes sense that they’d think it’s A-OK for them to remove the condom.
In other words, deeply rooted cultural narratives and beliefs have led to the normalization of stealthing.
FYI, it isn’t true that condoms or other barrier methods make sex worse. There are several reasons why they make sex better, actually. Really!
When news that stealthing became illegal in California broke in 2021, many outlets used gendered terms to explain the phenomenon.
But stealthing isn’t just something done by a cis man to a cis woman. And it isn’t limited to penis-in-vagina sex between people of any gender, either.
Stealthing can happen a-n-y-t-i-m-e a barrier is being used during any kind of sex.
At the end of the day, why someone chooses to remove or damage the barrier they’re using doesn’t really matter. Because ultimately, the underlying reason doesn’t influence the impact stealthing has on the victim(s).
Still, it’s essential to understand that stealthing can be done as a form of emotional or physical abuse.
Some assaulters remove a barrier in order to intentionally transmit an STI to their partner or to try to impregnate them.
Why? Because in theory, this would “trap” the victim, making them feel like they can’t leave the relationship. Or, like nobody else would love them because they’re “with child” or STI-positive — neither of which are true!
Stealthing is also a violation of trust and bodily autonomy, which can have long lasting effects.
Someone stealthing you also suggests that they don’t respect you, which comes with its own set of emotional consequences.
If you’ve been stealthed or otherwise assaulted, it can be hard to know where to turn or what steps to take next.
Please, try to remember that you’re not alone and that what happened isn’t your fault.
How do you know if stealthing happened?
Sometimes stealthing becomes immediately apparent when all is said and done and there’s no condom or other barrier in sight. But a barrier that’s broken or punctured isn’t always discernible to the eye.
Scarily, that means that you may not know.
You are more than within your right to ask if anything happened to the barrier. For example:
- “Did you take the condom off mid-way through?”
- “Did the dental dam shift at all during play?”
- “I like to make sure that the condom doesn’t have a hole before throwing it out. Can you squeeze the sides?”
Regardless of what this person says, if something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts and proceed as if you have been stealthed.
Before reading on, take a breath. There are steps you can take to prevent the risks that come with a broken or MIA barrier.
Use emergency contraception
If you can become pregnant and had P-in-V sex where an internal or external condom was broken or removed, pregnancy may be a risk.
You can use emergency contraception to help reduce the risk of pregnancy. But time is of the essence — most EC methods need to be used within 72–120 hours, or 3–5 days, of sex to be effective.
The EC pill Plan B, for example, is most effective when taken within 72 hours (3 days) of the incident. The EC pill ella and the copper IUD have a slightly longer lead time and can be taken or inserted up to 120 hours (5 days) following sex.
Remember: Stealthing can affect everyone, regardless of their anatomy, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
If you’re a person who can impregnate a sexual partner and had P-in-V sex with a person who has a vagina, pregnancy may be a risk if the other person removes an internal condom mid-way through.
To get clarity on what happened, you might ask:
- “Can you talk to me about what other birth control you’re on, if any? I see that the condom was removed mid-way through and I want to understand what our pregnancy risk is.”
- “Would you be open to taking an emergency contraceptive if I bought it? I see that the internal condom went missing while we were having sex and I’d like to be on the safe side.”
Take the antiretroviral PEP
If you haven’t already talked with a partner about sexually transmitted infection (STI) status, now is a good time to do so.
Here’s what that might look like:
- “When was the last time you were tested for STIs?”
- “I see that the barrier was removed midway through. Do you mind if I ask when the last time you got STI screened was?”
- “I see that the condom went missing. So I want to affirm that I was last tested for STIs last month and was negative for all. Do you know your current STI status?”
If the person has HIV, you were likely exposed to the virus when the barrier was removed. In this instance, you should talk with a clinician ASAP about postexposure prophylaxis (PEP).
PEP can help reduce the likelihood of transmission if you were exposed to the virus.
If the person doesn’t know their current STI status, you don’t completely trust their answer, or you don’t feel comfortable asking about their STI status, you could still be a good candidate for PEP.
PEP must be taken within 72 hours (3 days) of potential HIV exposure to be effective.
Consider whether you want to file a report or press charges
If you want to file a report — or think you might at some point in the future — there are steps you should take.
First, think about whether you want to talk with a healthcare professional about a “rape kit.” You’ll need to see a clinician ASAP so that they can collect “biological proof” of the incident.
Getting a kit done doesn’t mean that you have to press charges. You can decide against pressing charges or decide at a later time (within the statute of limitations) to press charges.
If you do decide to press charges, call or visit your local police station and ask to file a report.
Take a pregnancy test
You cannot take a pregnancy test immediately after being stealthed. Doing so will result in a false negative, which could lead to false hope and give you a false sense of security.
You need to wait.
If you track your period and it’s regular, wait until your period is late before taking a pregnancy test.
If you don’t know when your period is supposed to be, wait at least 9 to 12 days after the incident. If the test result is negative, plan to take another test one week later.
Remember: If the test comes back positive and you aren’t ready to become a parent, you have options.
Test for STIs
Unless you know the person who stealthed you was STI-negative, you should plan to get tested for STIs.
All STIs have a different incubation period (aka the amount of time they need to be in your body before they can be detected by an STI test).
But as a general rule, you should plan to get tested 2 weeks after the incident, and then again after 2 to 3 months.
Having someone trash or tamper with a barrier mid-sex can feel dehumanizing. Not to mention disorienting, angering, and trust-ruining.
For many, it’s downright traumatizing.
You might find it helpful to seek out a combination of professional guidance and care from trusted loved ones. This includes, but isn’t limited to:
Repeat after us: In this house, we do not victim-blame… EVER.
The only person to blame for stealthing is the person who made the active choice to damage or remove a condom or other barrier unbeknownst to their partner(s).
Similarly, the only way to prevent stealthing is to… not remove a barrier mid-sex.
If you don’t want to use a barrier method during sex, that’s your prerogative! But it needs to be pre-negotiated and enthusiastically agreed upon by all involved before play begins.
What’s more, everyone involved needs to freely agree to forgo barriers with a *full and complete* understanding of the potential risks of fluid bonding.
If you would prefer not to use a barrier, here are some ways you might choose to bring it up:
- “Would you be open to forgoing barriers during sex if we got STI tested together?”
- “Before we have sex, I’d love to talk about what safer practices we want to use if any.”
- “Let’s get tested before we have sex. I’d love to have the option to have sex without condoms.”
To be clear, there is nothing you can do to protect yourself from stealthing. Saying there is suggests that the victim is to blame, and the victim is never to blame.
No matter what you call it, damaging or removing a barrier method without the informed consent of all people involved is sexual assault.
If you’ve ever stealthed, know that you committed an act of non-consent. Course correct by honoring your partner’s barrier preferences in the future.
And if you’ve ever been stealthed, know that whether it’s been one day, one week, one month, or longer, you have options for mitigating risks and regaining trust in other people.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.