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Sexual Abuse

What Is Stealthing?

What you need to know about non-consensual condom removal.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay
Source: Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Key Points: "Stealthing," or nonconsensually and surreptitiously removing a condom during sex, appears to be a growing concern; 14 percent of sexually active female undergraduates report being victims of the practice. Now, advocates in several states are urging legislatures to declare that the act is a form of criminal sexual assault.

The relatively new term “stealthing” refers to the practice of non-consensual condom removal during intercourse and can happen to both men and women.

The term stealthing first came to light when Alexandra Brodsky published an article about the practice in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law in 2017, although the term had been used in the gay community since 2014. The consequences of stealthing can be severe, including unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and negative psychological outcomes. Many have argued that stealthing is a form of sexual assault or rape because it violates consent.

While the term may be new, the behavior is not uncommon. While little research exists on the topic, some preliminary data from our research lab suggests that 14% of female undergraduate respondents who were sexually active (27 out of 189 participants) reported that they had experienced stealthing on at least one occasion. Those who experienced stealthing reported that when they found out that their partner had removed the condom without their consent, they felt angry, disrespected, fearful, violated, disgusted, shocked, upset, betrayed, and used, and they experienced worry about STIs and pregnancy.

There is a movement to make stealthing illegal. In her article Brodsky refers to stealthing as “rape-adjacent." While it is technically a sex crime as it violates consent laws, there has yet to be a successful prosecution of stealthing in the United States. In our study, 90% of respondents felt that stealthing should be considered a crime, and 89% felt that it should be considered sexual assault. Legislation has been proposed to make stealthing illegal in Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, and California, although no law has yet been passed. Lawmakers have been pressuring the Department of Justice to clarify its stance on stealthing. California's legislature has just passed a bill to make stealthing an act of sexual battery under California’s Civil Code; making the perpetrator liable for damages.

Given the negative consequences of stealthing, both women and men must protect themselves. First and foremost, it involves a discussion of condom use throughout intercourse as part of consent. Other practices that can be helpful in preventing stealthing include having a partner use ribbed condoms that can be more easily felt, and checking with your hand and eyes that the condom is still in place throughout intercourse. It is also suggested that women carry their own condoms and ask their partner to ejaculate outside their body.

While the ultimate success of criminal and/or civil prosecution of stealthing is still in doubt in most states, if you experience stealthing, you should report it to law enforcement/rape crisis so that physical samples can be taken and documented, and you should seek medical attention immediately to prevent pregnancy and STIs.


For more information, see: Jeglic, E.L., & Calkins, C.A. (2018). Protecting Your Child from Sexual Abuse: What you Need to Know to Keep your Kids Safe. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.

More from Elizabeth L. Jeglic Ph.D.
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