What stealthing is and why it’s so bad. There’s advice for you if your partner does this to you. Also expert advice on what to do instead of stealthing.
Stealthing is removing a condom without the other person knowing. It’s wrong and illegal. If you don’t like using condoms there are better things you can do rather than just take them off.
What is stealthing?
It seems to be a new term which describes a person who removes, or deliberately damage, a condom during sex without their partner knowing.
It’s a deliberate and non-consensual act – so, you know, wrong.
It’s hard to be sure about how common it is as research is still coming out and it’s based on pretty low numbers – but this study reckons that nearly 10% of inconsistent condom users have tried it and this study suggests that 32% of women and 19% of men who attended a particular sexual health clinic in Australia had experienced stealthing. You can also read more about it in this report (pdf).
Some people on the internet (men, it has to be said) have written advice pieces on how to do it. I’m not going to repeat their advice here directly but mostly it involves doing the opposite of how you are supposed to look after and put condoms on.f
Why is it bad?
It’s non-consensual. Remember that consent is an on-going thing. If someone has agreed to have sex with someone with a condom, when they take the condom off, it changes what kind of sex they are having. From condom on skin to skin on skin. It’s a big deal because it crosses the boundary of the other person – it’s a different kind of sex to what they actually agreed to. This means that it is against the law and it could result in a conviction for rape or sexual assault. It’s also a big deal because it puts the other person at risk of pregnancy and STIs.
Deliberately removing or damaging a condom during sex is assault.
So, please don’t do this. If you are tempted, because you really don’t like the feel of condoms, there’s some advice below. We don’t really know why else people might do it. Maybe like with other forms of sexual assault it’s to do with power and just wanting to hurt someone. And some of the studies coming out about this do suggest that. Maybe it’s to do with gender, sexuality and power. But whatever, please don’t do this.
This happened in the TV show I May Destroy You
Are you a stealther?
‘But I don’t like using condoms, Justin.’ I hear you – not everyone likes wearing or likes the feel of condoms. However, that is no excuse for doing something non-consensual with someone. Of course, if you remove or damage the condom you are also putting yourself at risk too. Remember the key fact: condoms only work if you’ve got them on. But here’s some advice if you don’t like using condoms.
Find better condoms (for you)
First of all, make sure that you are using the right condom for you – there is a huge variation of penis size and shape. Some dicks are wider, some are longer, some have wide bell ends, some have narrow bell ends. So get the right shape and size for you – do your research.
Also different condoms do different things: some are thicker which if you don’t like using condoms you may not like. But also some condoms are much thinner, so you feel more. Some condoms are made from non-latex material – which is good if you have an allergy to latex but also good because they might feel more comfortable. There’s loads more here on different condom types.
Try some condom pro-tips
There are a load of tips here for you to try to help you get more used to condoms. These actually work – I’m not just making stuff up. They have totally worked with many condom dodgers I have worked with over the (many) years I’ve been a sex educator. They work because they make condoms feel nicer and more comfortable but also easier to get on and stay on. They take time and practice but the more you do them, the more you’ll use condoms and the more ‘normal’ or natural they will feel for you. For a lot of people, condoms just feel normal.
You could agree to not wear condoms
If you don’t like wearing condoms you could ask before sex. “Heyyyyy how do you feel about not using condoms?” You could all agree that your risks of unplanned pregnancy might be low (for example that you are using another form of contraception, or you are having oral or anal sex, or that there is no-one with a womb nearby).
Or you could both have had recent check-ups for infections and have had the all clear, for example. But if you’ve lied about whether you have got a check up, that’s also wrong and non-consensual and against the law.
How to talk about safer sex
You could have sex that doesn’t need condoms
Remember that most sex does not involve penetration. Also remember (as I keep saying over and over and over again) that a lot of people, maybe even most people, don’t enjoy penetrative sex a lot of the time. It either just doesn’t give them the kind of stimulation they need, or it doesn’t stimulate the right bits or it creates too much pressure that you can’t perform.
People with penises are taught that to have sex the penis has to get hard, you should put a condom on it, it has to go inside someone else (at the right time for the other person), it has to stay hard all the way through, and it has to ejaculate at the right time (not too quickly, not too long). That’s a lot of pressure on a penis right there – how’s it meant to do all of that successfully every time? The issue is though, a lot of people blame the condom for making the ‘staying hard and ejaculating’ bit difficult. Actually the problem isn’t the condom, it’s the pressure to have penetrative sex.
So, would be stealther, take the pressure off the penis and do something else instead.
How to deal with a stealther
Some of the things that a stealther may do to remove or damage a condom might be really hard for you to spot. Also, if you are constantly having to wonder whether the other person is a stealther then it’s going to make it really difficult for you to enjoy sex very much. So firstly it’s a trust issue:
- Do you trust them to do the right thing about safer sex?
- How do you know when you can trust someone?
- Think of other people you have trusted, do you have that with this person?
If you need a bit of help thinking about your relationship with this person you could try the relationship graph.
Not being able to control your own sexual health is a sign of an abusive relationship – it’s called reproductive coercion. Read more about your partner putting you at risk.
If you don’t feel like you can trust them but you want to have sex with them anyway, you could try:
- Using your own condom, on them, or on, or in, you (remember that you can get internal or ‘female’ condoms – just don’t use them at the same time as other condoms).
- Checking now and again before during and after that the condom is still on. You could check by feeling with your hands or looking.
- Having a different kind of sex where you don’t need to use condoms.
If you need support about this or are thinking about reporting it you could contact your local sexual assault referral centre (SARC) or find your nearest Rape Crisis centre. You could also get help from a local sexual health service who could give you some support but also help with emergency contraception, if you need it, or a check up and treatment for STIs. Remember all these services are free and confidential
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© Justin Hancock, 2023
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.
One thought on “What is Stealthing?”
I don’t think we should call them ‘stealthers’. People who do this are perpetrators of abuse and sexual violence. People who do this are r*pists. Just because its a common and culturally accepted practice doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it for what it is. This article does a great job of being sensitive with the issue, and I realise that there are reasons the author may have avoided using words like ‘r*pe’, as it might make perpetrators more likely to reflect on their actions if they don’t feel that they are being accused of doing a great wrong. But they are doing a great wrong, and however gently we are going to let them know that, they need to know. Ultimately what I think this piece fails to address is the deeply traumatic impact of having somebody assault you by tricking/coercing/forcing you into having unprotected sex. Regardless of the language used, the serious impact on a victim of this crime needs to be platformed in discussions around it, not just ‘advice’ for ‘stealthers’.