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Stealthing: What You Need to Know

A new form of sexual assault.

“Stealthing” is a form of sexual violation that sounds as deceptive and dangerous as it actually is. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when a man who is having consensual sex and has agreed to wear a condom takes the condom off, without his partner’s consent, immediately before or during intercourse. From a physical perspective, this action risks pregnancy for a woman and, for both genders, it risks sexually transmitted diseases. Psychologically, stealthing disregards the pair’s sexual agreement, breaks trust, and violates the victim’s consent.

Bringing national attention to this practice, Alexandra Brodsky published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law about the trend, citing websites that offer dark articles on “how-to stealth” and assertions about hostile men feeling this is their right.

Who is at risk? The practice is being reported in straight and gay communities, and even among married couples.

Is it a widespread phenomenon? While Brodsky’s article relates personal testimony from victims, it does not assert any quantitative data on the frequency of stealthing.

Why would someone do this? While the most frequently claimed excuse seems to be a desire to experience the pleasure of “raw,” “bareback,” or condomless sex, the perpetrator’s real desire is the pleasure created by the assertion of power combined with risking a violation. Unfortunately, people who twist sex in this way have a poor, internal plumb line of what is morally wrong. Boundary-breaking creates a slight thrill for the perpetrator as he exercises his domination over the autonomy of another.

How is it classified legally? Currently, there is little consensus from legal quarters about how stealthing should be defined. Some argue that it is not quite a crime against consent so much as a violation of informed consent thus causing harm but not on the same scale as rape. Other legislature is being developed to call stealthing rape or at least to clarify it as sexual assault, making it criminal.

How to protect yourself? Though the length or depth of your acquaintance with someone is no guarantee against stealthing (as evidenced by the cases that happen within a marriage), taking time to get to know someone before you have sex can decrease the risk.

If you do experience stealthing, know that the perpetrator is morally compromised and that what happened is not your fault. Seek medical attention immediately. And see a therapist or talk with friends to deal with the potential psychological trauma of the assault.

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