Often driven by the misogynistic concept of ‘natural male right,’ stealthing refers to the act of a man removing a condom during sex without the consent of his partner.
By Payton Ramey, University of Central Florida
It appears that society does not get better with age.
I recently came across an article published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law on a dangerous new sexual assault trend known as “stealthing,” a term that refers to the act of a man removing a condom during sex without the consent (or even knowledge) of his partner. This sexual assault trend is just beginning to be explored, so it’s unknown just how long such an atrocious practice has been active, but regardless, it appears that society seems to be having trouble with categorizing the act for what it is and thus implementing legal repercussions. So, let me help. Stealthing is rape. It is gender violence. It is assault. It is disgusting.
Alexandra Brodsky, who wrote the article, shines the light on an experience that too many women have fallen victim to, and makes a point to recognize that a lack of adequate language exacerbates the difficulty of describing the situations. In attempting to learn more about this sexual assault trend, Brodsky interviewed victims of stealthing and explored the online world of the men who dedicate themselves to its practice. Every interview includes a wide range of experiences, from subjects who noticed immediately to those who said that they had no idea what occurred until their partner ejaculated inside them.
Reading Brodsky’s article in its entirety was a harrowing experience. It opened my eyes to a world I didn’t even think existed. The thoughts of Rebecca, one of the survivors interviewed, are particularly cemented in my mind. “None of it worried him. It didn’t perturb him. My potential pregnancy, my potential STI. That was my burden,” she said.
Every interview that was conducted revealed a common theme. Not only was each woman fearful of the possible physical consequences of what had transpired without their consent, but they were deeply upset by the violation of their bodily autonomy. The women that are forced to deal with the effects of sexual assault are essentially given the middle finger by these men; they are being told that they have no right to make their own sexual decisions, that their lives are not worthy of consideration.
Perhaps one of the most revealing parts of Brodsky’s study was her investigation into the online communities of the men who participate in stealthing. These internet forums provide encouragement and advice from perpetrators, along with explicit descriptions on how to successfully trick your partner and remove a condom during sex.
And while there are apparently a variety of reasons as to why these online writers practice and promote nonconsensual actions during sex, one of the most prominent motivations is rooted in the idea of “natural male right.”
TW: Explicit, misogynistic language
One commenter on an article about stealthing wrote, “It’s a man’s instinct to shoot his load into a woman’s *****. He should never be denied that right. As a woman, it’s my duty to spread my legs and let a man shoot his load into my wet ***** whenever he wants.”
Another, commenting on a post discussing “strategy,” explained, “Oh I completely agree with this. To me you can’t have one and not the other, if she wants the guy’s **** then she also has to take the guy’s load!!!”
Another contributor on the thread asked if the sexual partners of “stealthers” (as they call themselves) “deserve to be impregnated.” The unanimous response? Yes. “That’s how god created this universe, we are born to do it.”
It appears that at the root of this sexual assault trend is the notion that a woman’s body is never truly her own. It’s a symptom of the same toxic masculinity that allow men to believe that they have the right to catcall, yell and verbally abuse women on the street, or touch female bodies without explicit consent.
Stealthing, in its entirety, is another battle in the fight against gender violence and sexual assault. It brings to the forefront the idea that it’s no longer as simple and clear as “no means no.” There is a difference between consenting to be touched with a condom and consenting to be touched without one. As Brodsky says, “A woman can consent to protected sex without consenting to unprotected sex.”
The act of stealthing is disturbing. But perhaps what is even more disturbing is the fact that these victims rarely receive justice. In fact, none of the women interviewed by Brodsky pursued legal action. In the United States, proving that sexual consent changes with the removal of a condom is fundamentally more difficult to prove than if one is never introduced in the first place. This is despite the fact that many laws, already in place in some states, hold that lack of consent results from circumstances in which “the victim does not expressly or impliedly acquiesce in the actor’s conduct.” In other words, removing a condom without the consent of your partner constitutes non-consensual sex, which is rape.
While the rate of sexual assault and rape in the United States has fallen over 60 percent since 1993, the rise of trends such as stealthing introduce a new fear into society. With statistics saying that out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free, it’s no wonder that the victims of stealthing believe that no good will come from pursuing legal action. Unfortunately, in the reality that we live in today, there isn’t much to say other than what has already been said. You must simply stay alert, get tested and speak up.
If you, or someone you know, has experienced any kind of sexual assault, you can talk with someone (free and confidential) using the numbers below:
Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 1-866-863-0511
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673