- by Katrina Mitchell
Stealthing and Consent around Condom Use
Imagine two people who have decided they want to have sex. Partner 1 asks Partner 2 to put on a condom, and Partner 2 agrees to do so. A few minutes in, however, Partner 1 discovers that the condom has been taken off, but the sex has not stopped. So Partner 1 pauses, and asks the Partner 2 to put on another condom. Partner 2 does, but takes it off again as soon as Partner 1's attention is diverted. Does that count as rape?
Yes. Yes it does.
The act of removing a condom during sexual intercourse without the partner’s knowledge or explicit consent is called stealthing and is a form of rape. Tatiana Shams of LoveIsRespect.org writes:
“We know stealthing is not new—in fact, it’s probably as old as condoms themselves (think 300 A.D. according to some studies), but we do know that the reasons why someone may want to stealth a partner can be rooted in the desire to exert power and control over another human being. At the end of the day, stealthing is disrespecting someone’s trust for the other person’s sexual gain—and that is never OK.”
Why would someone remove the condom without the other person’s knowledge? The common understanding is that sex may “feel better” without it. It can also be about exerting power or control over another person’s body, like forcing an unwanted pregnancy or spreading an STD on purpose. Whatever the reason, the risks are the same-- feelings of shame and betrayal as well as the major risks listed above.
Legally, stealthing has fallen into a gray area in the United States. Efforts have been made by Congressional representatives to make stealthing a crime, but as of right now, no laws against it exist. Alexandra Brodsky wrote an article entitled ““Rape-Adjacent”: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal” for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, which does a great job in outlining the phenomenon and the ongoing legal arguments around it.
Ultimately, consent needs to be given before the condom comes off, and a legal recourse needs to be created for instances when it doesn’t.