What is Stealthing?

To protect our KK members, as well as those who have not yet joined our KK community, we look into the dangerous and immoral act of stealthing.

This article comes with a content warning of stealthing, sexual assault and rape.

What Is Stealthing?

Stealthing is a term for the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex and/or the deliberate damaging of a condom in order to reduce its efficacy.

Stealthing is a form of sexual assault, and in some legal systems it is classified as a form of rape. We would like to put a content warning here to prepare our readers before they read on. 

Stealthing Has Recently Been Drawn Into The Public Eye Via The BBC’s I May Destroy You

If you spent your lockdown watching I May Destroy You, the brilliant BBC show written, co-directed by, and starring Michaela Coel, you’ve already encountered a depiction of stealthing.

The show follows our lead Arabella as she copes with the after-shocks of having her drink spiked and being sexually assaulted on a night out. In a later episode, she meets another man, Zain (played by Karan Gill). What initially begins as consensual sex between the two of them then takes a dark turn as Zain requests they switch positions before taking off the condom, leaving Arabella none the wiser until he finishes.

“I thought you could feel it” he responds when she confronts him.

Stealthing Is Sexual Assault, And A Violation Of Your Rights

Stealthing refers to the act of removing a condom without a partner’s consent or deliberately damaging it to reduce its efficacy, exposing them to physical risks of pregnancy and/or disease. Without consent, this is a violation of rights and is sexual assault.

If someone consents to a specific sexual act using contraception, and a partner then change the terms of that agreement mid-act (be it through removing or deliberately damaging the condom), then that is a sexual offence. Stealthing leaves the unconsenting partner at risk of pregnancy and exposes everyone (including the stealther) to harmful infections, including lifelong infections such as herpes and HIV.

Originating in the gay community as a word to describe the criminal transmission of HIV,  the term “stealthing” gained greater public attention in 2017 when Alexandra Brodsky published a piece in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. In this piece, Brodsky described victim’s experiences, the legal implications of stealthing and legal avenues to address this form of assault. She also wrote about the Internet forums that encourage this behaviour, with some going as far as offering “how-to” guides for people who wish to perpetrate this form of assault.

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Stealthing & The Law

As of 2020, stealthing is punishable by law as a form of sexual violence in the UK and Europe, with some parts of the US following suit in 2021.

Courts have convicted stealthers in the UK, Gemany, Switzerland, and Canada.

In New Zealand a man was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on rape charges due to non-consensually removing the condom during sex with a sex worker.

What Are The Consequences Of Stealthing?

Stealthing is a violation of bodily autonomy and dignity, with the potential to have life-long effects on both victim and perpetrator.

Stealthing Can:
* Increase the risk of STI transmission (for everyone, including the stealther)
* Increase the risk of unwanted pregnancy
* Cause or exacerbate depression and anxiety
* Create fundamental difficulties with trust in future relationships or sexual situations
* Trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Why Would Someone Carry Out Stealthing?

Typically, a perpetrator will claim that unprotected sex feels better than sex using a condom, or that they “didn’t realise” stealthing was bad. Popular terms that regularly reappear are unsubstantiated claims about “natural male instinctsand nebulous references to “male rights”. It is worth noting that neither of these would constitute any kind of legal defence, as the act of stealthing is in direct contravention not only of laws surround sexual assault and rape but more broadly human rights laws pertaining to the equality and dignity of individuals. 

As with most forms of assault, stealthing is often more about power than it is about pleasure. Those who choose to conceal the removal of a condom during sex are often driven by the thrill of degradation, rooted in misogyny, sexual supremacy, and ultimately a desire to force something on someone else without their consent. 

Stealthing doesn’t only happen during one-night stands or casual sexual encounters, either. Stealthing can occur between partners in long-term relationships too. Stealthing pregnancy is a common form of reproductive abuse, where the abuser desires to retain control over a pregnant partner.

Any form of stealthing is still a violation and an act of abuse when it happens without both partners’ permission, regardless of relationship status or longevity. 

What Do I Do If I Have Experienced Stealthing?

Firstly, it’s not and will never be your fault. It is also not something that you should have been able to feel or otherwise understand instinctively was happening. 

Speak To Someone

If this ever happens to you, we suggest the first thing you should do is to confide in a trusted friend or family member, and/or contact a specialist confidential and independent service like Rape Crisis.

An organisation like Rape Crisis will provide invaluable support, listening to you and helping you to consider all of your legal, practical, and medical options. If you plan to press charges against your attacker, then contacting a rape crisis or sex crimes unit is a must.

Keep The Evidence

Your instinct might well be to take a bath to wash the experience and the act away, but if you plan to press charges, you could be washing away vital evidence. Keep any clothing and condoms as you have found them and contact the police as soon as you feel able. Follow this link for more advice on how to report stealthing in the UK.

Get Tested

Get yourself checked for STIs and pregnancy (if that’s relevant to your situation). You may want to make contact with a local sexual health service as soon as possible, but be aware that some infections don’t show up for a couple of weeks. Get tested 14 days after exposure to be sure, and take a pregnancy test each month for a few months to rule out any possible pregnancy.

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Reporting Stealthing To KK

At KK we are committed to the wellbeing, safety and joy of all our members. Non-consensual behaviour of any kind will not be tolerated at our events or on our platform, and any reports will be taken extremely seriously.

The best way to report a member of KK is to go into the site and report them on their profile. Select the three dots in the bottom left corner and click “report”. This flags it on the system and makes it easier for the team to keep track of and take action.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, please email info@killingkittens.com.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

There are some actions you can take to reduce the risk of being exposed to stealthing, including carrying your own condoms to ensure they’re not damaged. You could look for condoms that you’re more likely to be able to feel during sex, such as ribbed and dotted styles. You may want to check during sex that the condom is still on, and make sure to have a very clear conversation with a partner beforehand. 

Whether you take some of these measures, all of them, or none of them, it is important to reiterate again that stealthing is not your fault. 

If you ever have a bad feeling about anyone you’re going to have sex with, or if you feel like you can’t relax and enjoy yourself because you don’t trust them to keep a condom on, you’re always within your rights to stop at any time.

Let’s stamp out stealthing.

Useful Links:

The KK Guide To STIs

Rape Crisis

NHS Help After Sexual Assault

UK Gov Reporting Sexual Assault

Terrence Higgins Trust Support (particularly good for LGBTQIA+ community)

NHS Mental Health Services

Mind Out (mental health charity with LGBTQIA+ focus)

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