The silent sexual assault
An alarming act called stealthing is now being recognised as a serious violation. Stay safe with this must-know info
It’s not going to be pleasant but picture this: you’re with a guy and the sex feels really good. But when you look down, you see him pumping away unprotected, after having secretly pulled off his condom.
This is ‘stealthing’, an abhorrent practice that’s been getting more and more attention after an article in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law described it as a form of sexual assault.
Stealthing quickly transforms consensual sex into nonconsensual sex by disregarding the terms – condom use – both partners agreed to, explains author, Alexandra Brodsky, a civil rights attorney. It happens most often in hookup or casual sex situations and can leave victims feeling duped, disrespected, angry and ashamed – and fearing STIs and pregnancies. ‘It’s an invisible form of violence that’s been going on for a while,’ says Brodsky. Now, it finally has a name.
While there are no concrete stats on its prevalence, a 2014 survey of 313 single, straight men between the ages of 21 and 30 found nearly 10 per cent admitted to engaging in ‘condom sabotage’: removing or breaking one middeed. Of those, some had done it at least 63 times in total – the maximum number they could choose in the survey, says lead author Kelly Cue Davis.
When it happened to Marie, 25, she was with a guy who’d pursued her for months. ‘There was lots of in and out [penetration] during a long night of sex,’ she says. ‘While behind me, he paused so he’d last longer, and that’s when he ripped off the condom.’
When she realised he had ejaculated inside of her, she was, understandably, furious.
So was Audrey, 39, who had sex with a guy she met on a dating app last year. ‘I was very clear that it was important to me to have protected sex,’ she recalls. They did it once using a condom, with a repeat performance in the morning. In the a.m session, though, ‘There was a moment when it felt a little different and I realised he had taken the condom off,’ she says. ‘I was really upset. He couldn’t believe that I thought it was a big deal.’
WHY MEN DO IT
Unsurprisingly, stealthing may be more likely to occur when there’s alcohol involved and a guy makes a very bad drunken decision (think: Seth Rogen’s character’s actions in the film Knocked Up).
But booze isn’t always a factor. The practice is more common among men who already have hostile attitudes toward women, says Davis. The proof is in online communities in which – brace yourself – guys encourage others to stealth. Some justify their actions as a man’s right to ‘spread his seed’. As one stealther wrote, ‘You can’t have one and not the other. If she wants the guy’s penis, she has to take the guy’s load.’ Others use stealthing as a power play to reclaim control in a world where women are increasingly saying, ‘no condom, no sex’, explains psychologist Perry Halkitis, dean and professor at the School of Public Health at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. ‘But it’s still a violation, pure and simple.’
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Before you get into bed with a new partner, come prepared with your own condoms, male or female (see ‘Reconsidering the Female Condom,’ left), and have a candid convo about expectations. If a guy whines about wrapping it up and you don’t know (or trust) him well, consider avoiding intercourse. ‘If it’s an orgasm you’re after, there are plenty of other ways to get it,’ says Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle and coauthor of 50 Great Myths of Human Sexuality.
If you opt for penetration, keep in mind it’s easier to see if a condom is in place when you’re facing each other (i.e. in missionary or girlontop). Whenever you switch it up, use your hand to guide him back inside you and feel for the condom, suggests obgyn Lauren Naliboff, a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. If you think you’ve been stealthed, go to a pharmacy for the morningafter pill and to your doctor or clinic for an STI test.
Finally, make your voice heard. Currently, there’s no legislation in Australia that says removing a condom without consent is against the law. That’s because nobody has taken a case to court yet. However, if your consent has been violated (what sexual assault is), always consider reporting it to the police.
Call 1800 RESPECT for confidential information and support on sexual assault.
STEALTHING: SEXUAL ASSAULT, PLAIN AND SIMPLE.