What is stealthing? The guide from Bish

What is Stealthing?

Here’s the Bish guide to what is stealthing, why it’s bad, and advice for you if you are a would be stealther.

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.

I don’t know how common it is, but it certainly does happen (you can read about it in this report (pdf)) and 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.

What is stealthing?

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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 could be against the law – potentially 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. Maybe it’s to do with gender, sexuality and power. But whatever, please don’t do this.

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.

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 Bish relationship graph

Bish how's my relationship graph

Click to read more

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

Please feel free to comment below.

© Justin Hancock, 2017

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Justin Hancock

Justin Hancock, writer/editor of BISH. I've been a sex and relationships educator since 1999. I'm a trained sexual health trainer and a qualified youth worker. I've worked with thousands of young people in person: in sexual health clinics, schools, and youth projects. My advice has also featured in leading newspapers in the UK and my work has been written about and referred to by several academics, journalists and writers.

Comments (1)

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    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’.


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