A man and a woman are about to have sex, and agree to do so while using a condom. But during the act, the man decides he’d rather not wear it and takes it off – without telling the woman.
It’s more common than you may think, according to a study by Alexandra Brodsky published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law on April 20. Brodsky calls the practice “stealthing,” and argues it’s a form of sexual violence that needs to be specifically outlawed.
Brodsky interviewed several victims of the practice, who said it “feels like a violation of trust and a denial of autonomy, not dissimilar to rape,” though they said they would not consider it equivalent to sexual assault. While not just limited to women, Brodsky focused on male-female sex partners in her research and found many women who said they feared sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. They described it as a “consent violation.”
One victim described an instance with a guy she was dating. She told him having sex with a condom was “not negotiable,” but when they started engaging in intercourse he took the condom off.
“Obviously the part that really freaked me out ... was that it was such a blatant violation of what we’d agreed to,” the woman told Brodsky. “I set a boundary. I was very explicit.”
Brodsky said while for many men who engage in stealthing, the practice might simply be for “increased physical pleasure,” there are also message boards online that offer specific advice on how to do so without the partner noticing. Some comments on those boards are more explicitly violent, saying it is men’s instinct to impregnate women, and therefore the practice is their right.
Brodsky doesn’t make a case that the practice has increased over the years, but she does say it is a “common practice.” She argues the way to combat the issue is creating specific laws against stealthing, possibly as a sexual misdemeanor rather than a felony. Some current laws could be used to combat the practice, she argues, but the challenge would be convincing courts that removing a condom changes the terms of consent.
“Remedy may be found under current law, but a new cause of action may promote the possibility of plaintiffs’ success while reducing negative unintended effects,” Brodsky concluded. “At its best, such a law would clearly respond to and affirm the harm victims report by making clear that ‘stealthing’ doesn’t just ‘feel violent’ — it is.”