Stealthing is a highly sensitive and concerning issue that involves the act of removing a condom during sex without one’s partner’s knowledge or consent. This violation of trust and personal autonomy of the partner can lead to serious physical and emotional health consequences. Parents of teenagers and young adults should be especially sensitive to this topic, as young adults just beginning to experience sexual relationships are among the populations most at risk for experiencing stealthing issues.
Prevalence and Impact
Studies have shown that stealthing is not uncommon among sexual partners. A 2019 study found that 10% of a sample of 626 male inconsistent condom users aged 21-30 had engaged in “stealthing.” Another study published in 2019 found that 12% of the women surveyed had experienced stealthing by a romantic partner.
In addition to potential legal ramifications, colleges and universities’ Title IX policies often have specific provisions prohibiting stealthing and providing supportive measures to students who have been victims of stealthing by sexual partners. With regard to stealthing, knowledge is power, and young adults who are aware of these issues are much more likely to set clear and explicit sexual boundaries with partners to avoid the devastating consequences of stealthing.
Consent is the voluntary agreement between two people to engage in sexual activity. Effective consent should always encompass the terms and scope of sexual activity. In an ideal world, partners should always be open and honest about STI status, birth control status, and the related risks involved in any particular sexual encounter. Stealthing is a non-consensual act that violates the trust between partners. It can lead to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and emotional trauma.
The term “stealthing” was coined in a 2017 study of nonconsensual condom removal. The study opens with a description of “Rebecca” a rape crisis line operator who was herself the victim of stealthing. In “Rebecca’s” case, a partner removed a condom during intercourse without her consent while she was a college freshman. While working as a rape crisis hotline operator, she heard stories that often opened the same way, “I’m not sure this is rape, but…” and then the caller would describe a stealthing scenario. For many years, there was no term for this behavior. Those who had experienced stealthing were without a term to describe what had happened to them. The stealthing conversation has grown, and some states are considering or have passed specific legislation to address the issue.
Is Stealthing Illegal?
The legal ramifications of stealthing are less than clear. Consent is an essential aspect of all sexual encounters. Consent should be enthusiastic, ongoing, and informed. It should be given freely without coercion, pressure, or deception.
The legal framework surrounding stealthing varies across jurisdictions, with laws differing from state to state and country to country. Recently, a notable case in the Netherlands resulted in a man being sentenced to prison after being convicted of removing a condom during sex without his partner’s consent. Similarly, in California, it is illegal to remove a condom without verbal consent during sexual activity.
Other U.S. states may have different laws or no laws specifically addressing stealthing. In many jurisdictions, stealthing may be considered “sexual battery,” generally defined as engaging in sexual conduct with another person when the other party does not have the ability to properly assess the situation or understand the implications of their actions. Sexual battery encompasses many behaviors, including sexual activity with a person who is intoxicated or too impaired to consent, but it may also apply to stealthing. In addition to potential legal consequences, stealthing has significant ethical implications. Stealthing is a cruel and malicious act that can have serious consequences for the victim, including a higher risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Victims may suffer significant emotional trauma and suffering as a result of stealthing.
Promoting Consent Culture
Sexual boundaries and sexual autonomy are incredibly important concepts for parents to communicate to their children. It is essential to promote a culture of consent that encourages open discussions on sexual boundaries and empowers teenagers and young adults to assert their boundaries and communicate their needs. Parents also play a crucial role in educating and protecting their teen and young adult children by fostering open and honest conversations about sexual consent and providing resources for additional support.
When discussing consent with their children, parents should keep the following tips in mind:
- Start Early: Initiate conversations about consent from an early age, using age-appropriate language and examples.
- Define Consent: Explain what consent means and emphasize that it should be voluntary, ongoing, and based on open communication.
- Discuss Boundaries: Teach your child the importance of setting and respecting personal boundaries and recognizing the boundaries of others.
- Communication Skills: Encourage your child to develop strong communication skills, emphasizing the importance of clear and explicit communication in sexual relationships.
- Resources and Support: Provide your child with resources such as books, websites, and educational materials that promote healthy relationships and consent education.
- Be Available: Let your child know that they can come to you with any questions or concerns about consent or any related issues.
Stealthing is a serious violation of trust and personal autonomy that can have severe health consequences, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Colleges and universities also address stealthing with Title IX policies that sanction perpetrators of stealthing and support victims with counselling and accommodations. It is essential to promote a culture of consent that encourages open discussions on sexual boundaries and empowers teenagers to assert their boundaries and communicate their needs. Parents also play a crucial role in educating and protecting their teenagers by fostering open and honest conversations about sexual consent and providing resources for additional support.