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What Is Stealthing?

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 21, 2021

Stealthing is when a man purposely removes or damages a condom during sexual contact without telling his partner. Though there are some differences in how people define stealthing, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) says it doesn’t matter whether the partner sees the act or not. The key issue is whether they consent to removal or damage of the condom.

Why Do Men Stealth?

Men often report that they stealth because they find sex more pleasurable without a condom. But there may also be a psychological thrill in dominating, or taking advantage of a partner, or wanting to pass on their genetic material through semen.

Some research shows that men who feel and behave in a more hostile and sexually aggressive way toward women are more likely to stealth. And, not surprisingly, men who stealth are more likely to have an STI or cause an unplanned pregnancy.

What Are the Health Risks of Stealthing?

Sex without a condom can expose a woman to possible pregnancy. It also makes it easier for both partners, no matter what gender, to get or pass on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Plus, there is a risk to the mental health of the partner who has been tricked or deceived or coerced. Women often report a sense of having been treated with disrespect, along with feelings of confusion, anger, and betrayal. The AAFP says it could even cause lasting physical, emotional, and psychological trauma.

Some scholars view stealthing as a form of sexual violence, especially where partners agree ahead of time to use a condom.

What Are the Legal Ramifications of Stealthing?

Laws aren’t clear or consistent about stealthing in the U.S. Currently no federal law exists, but it is an area of the law that is starting to evolve. Several other countries have laws in place. And while a few states have introduced legislation that specifically bans stealthing, only California has passed anything. Some legal scholars suggest stealthing could be addressed through the civil legal system as a new type of tort, which means the remedy to the tricked party would be money rather than criminal punishment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Stealthing.”

Columbia Journal of Gender and Law: “'Rape-Adjacent': Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal.”

Health Psychology: “Stealthing: Factors associated with young men's nonconsensual condom removal.”

SAGE Open: “I’m Not Sure This Is Rape, But: An Exposition of the Stealthing Trend.”

Women’s Health Issues: “Young Women's Experiences with Coercive and Noncoercive Condom Use Resistance: Examination of an Understudied Sexual Risk Behavior.”

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