Stealthing: A Dangerous Sexual Practice

Stealthing is the dangerous sexual practice of removing a condom without prior consent. Let's see how common it is and some thoughts.
Stealthing: A Dangerous Sexual Practice

Last update: 12 June, 2023

Stealthing, sometimes referred to as stealth-breeding, is the popular expression used to refer to the practice known as non-consensual condom withdrawal (NCCR). It refers to a dangerous sexual practice where a sexual partner covertly and without prior consent chooses to remove a condom before or during sexual intercourse.

A study published in PLOS ONE in 2018 found that 32% of women and 19% of men who had sex with men have ever experienced the phenomenon. It’s a practice that violates the consent of the sexual partner, so it can lead to legal implications. In addition to this, it increases the risk of contracting infections and sexually transmitted diseases and of conceiving an unwanted pregnancy.

The characteristics of stealthing

Stealthing favors STDs.
Stopping condom use without the partner’s consent is a characteristic of stealthing.

The act of removing condoms without consent is as old as the invention and massive use of condoms as part of safe sex or as a method of birth control.

Despite this, it has gained popularity since Alexandra Brodsky analyzed it in 2017, classifying it as “a serious violation of dignity and autonomy”. In addition, he approached it from the point of view of the violation of civil rights, its consequences, and possible legal considerations.

Until then, the word stealthing was used in the context in which an HIV-positive partner infected the other without the latter’s knowledge by removing the condom. The experts classified it as one of the manifestations of gift-giving, one that shared a place with generationing. The current use of the term is more general, so it doesn’t refer exclusively to these scenarios.

In recent years, the practice has been openly discussed on social networks and internet forums, thus creating the massive use that led to its being talked about in the media. Some experts frame the practice within what’s known as condom use resistance (CUR). That is, the rejection of the use of condoms during the sexual act; either by one or both members.

There are many reasons why CUR is widely accepted among sexually active people. Among many other things, the supposed reduction in physical sensation, the smell associated with them, the inconvenience and interruptions generated during the act, and financial expenses are some of the reasons given.

The practice can be coercive (using aggression or manipulation to implement it) or non-coercive (both express the request).

Stealthing can be considered sexual assault.
In some countries or regions, stealthing can be considered a type of sexual assault.

In September 2021, the California State Legislature passed a bill that made the act of removing a condom without consent punishable as sexual assault. That is, victims who have been subjected to it will be able to sue the perpetrators for the practice. At the time that this article was written, it is the only US state to have passed an anti-stealthing law.

There’s a long history of convictions associated with non-consensual condom removal. In 2014, a man in Canada was convicted of poking holes in his condom, a case that later became known as R v. Hutchinson. Similar cases have occurred in Germany, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, and many others, with rulings in favor of the victims.

Despite this, most laws have problems when considering stealthing as a type of rape or sexual assault, due to existing gaps. In recent years, there have been requests for reforms in this regard.

Associated dangers and consequences of practicing stealthing

The practice is associated with an increased risk of infections and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a margin of probability for an unwanted pregnancy in the case of women. But this isn’t all, the evidence links the act with acute and sustained psychosexual damage for the victims; which can interpret the practice as an affront to trust and even an act of rape.

As a consequence, people can develop episodes of trauma, anxiety, stress, and depression; even more so when there are infections, diseases, and unwanted pregnancies involved. It’s by no means a harmless activity, so educating the sexually active population about its impact is an imperative need.

  • Brodsky, A. Rape-adjacent: Imagining legal responses to nonconsensual condom removal. Colum. J. Gender & L. 2016; 32: 183.
  • Boadle, A., Gierer, C., & Buzwell, S. Young women subjected to nonconsensual condom removal: Prevalence, risk factors, and sexual self-perceptions. Violence against women. 2021; 27(10): 1696-1715.
  • Davis KC, Gulati NK, Neilson EC, Stappenbeck CA. Men’s Coercive Condom Use Resistance: The Roles of Sexual Aggression History, Alcohol Intoxication, and Partner Condom Negotiation. Violence Against Women. 2018 Sep;24(11):1349-1368.
  • Klein H. Generationing, Stealthing, and Gift Giving: The Intentional Transmission of HIV by HIV-Positive Men to their HIV-Negative Sex Partners. Health Psychol Res. 2014 Oct 22;2(3):1582.
  • Latimer RL, Vodstrcil LA, Fairley CK, Cornelisse VJ, Chow EPF, Read TRH, Bradshaw CS. Non-consensual condom removal, reported by patients at a sexual health clinic in Melbourne, Australia. PLoS One. 2018 Dec 26;13(12):e0209779.

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