Stealthing: what you need to know about this form of sexual violence

The dangers of non-consensual condom removal

If your partner consents to having sex with a condom, it must stay on the whole time.
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This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Centre's online chat feature can be reached here.

‘Stealthing’—the non-consensual removal of a condom before or during intercourse—isn’t a sex trend. It’s a form of sexual violence that can pose serious health risks. 
 
Not only does stealthing increase the risk of pregnancy for people with vaginas and potentially expose the perpetrator’s partner to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), it also breaches trust and violates consent. 
 
When someone consents to sex, it doesn’t mean they automatically consent to having sex without a condom. If you want to know if your partner would like to have sex without a condom, an explicit, direct conversation needs to happen. If your partner only consents to having protected sex with a condom, their consent to have sex with you doesn’t grant you the authority to make that decision for them and take off the condom. 
 
Men may decide to commit stealthing because they claim sex feels better for them without a condom, but it can also bring with it an enticing sense of power and thrill. Nonconsensual condom removal is rooted in misogyny—it allows the perpetrator to feel like they have authority or dominance over their sexual partner. 
 
Perpetrators may remove the condom if they are in a dark room and think their partner cannot see. Certain positions also make it easier for someone to take off a condom without their partner knowing. Some men even purposely damage the condom before it’s put on. 
 
Every person’s story is different. Some people may not know they have been violated until their partner has ejaculated. Others may not know until the next day once the perpetrator decides to notify them. 
 
People who commit stealthing are putting their sexual desires over their partner’s health and comfort. 
 
Not only is there an increased risk for contracting an STI for both parties, but there’s a higher risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Stealthing also violates someone’s sense of trust that they had put in their partner beforehand, and it can make someone feel violated and disrespected. Consensual sex is something both parties have agreed to engage in, and one person not respecting the other’s boundaries is extremely demeaning. 
 
Personally, I’ve experienced stealthing myself. At the time, I didn’t realize it was sexual assault because no one ever talks about it. It took me close to a year to really come to terms with it. When I began talking about it, I was surprised by the number of people I knew who had experienced something similar. Like me, they felt violated and wronged at the moment but weren’t sure where to go from there. 
 
I had explicitly said to the person I was only going to have sex with a condom, but he had asked prior to go condom-less. I remember the room was dark, and I couldn’t see that he had taken off the condom. When I noticed, it was too late. I was in shock, and I froze. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I felt helpless. 
 
Looking back now, I realise what had happened was not okay—not just the fact that he did it against my consent, but because he didn’t care about any of it at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t thought twice about it afterwards. He didn’t care about potential pregnancy or STIs—the only thing he cared about was himself. 
 
Some countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany, are classifying non-consensual condom removal as a form of rape or sexual violence. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a conviction which sentenced a man to 18 months in prison after he deliberately pierced holes in the condom without his partner’s knowledge. 
 
Canada and some European countries have brought action against men in court who were found guilty of non-consensual condom removal, as it violates the concept of conditional consent. This means that even though someone has consented to one thing, this does not mean you consented to something else, including the removal of a condom. Additionally, in many countries, knowingly transmitting an STI without telling the other person is punishable by law
 
In hookup culture, like that at Queen’s, perpetrators may believe they are more likely to get away with stealthing because they never plan on seeing the person they’re having sex with again. In this context, it’s dangerously easy for someone to use their power over another and see it as unproblematic. 
 
If you are a victim of stealthing, it’s not your fault. Your partner chose to break your trust and your consent, and they are fully responsible. 
 
You may find it helpful to talk to your friends or a counsellor who can support you and help you through any emotions that you may have from the experience. Additionally, you can also get tested for STIs and take a ‘morning after’ contraceptive if needed. 
 
Sex is meant to be enjoyable for both parties, not just one. It’s also meant to be safe and consensual, not something that breaks your trust. Stealthing isn’t an acceptable part of hooking up. It’s sexual violence—and you should never, ever choose to commit it against your partner.

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