Stealthing is the pop culture name to describe a “new sex trend” reported to be on the rise. It refers to the act of deliberately removing a condom during sex without your partner’s knowledge or consent. The dangerous sexual trend made headlines around the globe last year, with females urged to exercise caution. The craze sees men remove condoms halfway through sexual intercourse – without partners being aware they are doing so. Stealthing is an alarming trend that sees rape crisis organizations very worried by what is a practice that can transform consensual sex into non-consensual.

Since the lawyer Alexandra Brodsky published an article in 2017 calling for a legal avenue for women to seek restitution for stealthing, the media and lawmakers have been all over it. Stealthing, announced the New York Post, is “the newest dangerous sex trend.” Stealthing, according to USA Today, is “on the rise.” Britain’s Birmingham Mail claims that stealthing “is sweeping the globe, with females urged to exercise caution.”

Is stealthing a sex crime?


History of the term

In an article about stealthing published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Alexandra Brodsky described victims’ experiences, legal implications, and legal avenues to address stealthing. The term stealthing has been in use in the gay community to describe the criminal transmission of HIV since at least 2014. Brodsky described how the practice of stealthing is discussed, described, and advocated for on various websites and forums. These forums are sometimes used to brag about committing stealthing and to share tips on how to do it.

How-to guides have been posted to social media platforms like The Experience Project. The practice has also been described as “a threat to a victim’s bodily agency and as a dignitary harm”, and men who do this “justify their actions as a natural male instinct”. Like other expressions of male supremacy, the proponents of stealthing justify their prerogative with appeals to Nature. “It’s a perfectly natural and normal instinct for a man to desire to drop his load in a woman just as it’s a woman’s natural instinct to receive and welcome that load into her body.

Don’t hesitate to do what you’re intended to do,” reads an online Comprehensive Guide to condomless intercourse against a woman’s wishes. Columbia Law School professor Suzanne Goldberg says that the practice of stealthing is likely not new, but its promotion on the internet among men is new. Belgian journalist Heleen Debruyne emphasised in 2017 that the media should not refer to stealthing as a ‘new sex trend’ as if it were a harmless fad, but make clear that it is a ‘form of abuse’.

The many meanings of stealthing

Stealthing can also refer to tampering with the condom to render it ineffective. Some researchers advocate for the use of the acronym NCCR for “non-consensual condom removal” instead of “stealthing” to be more descriptive about what is happening in the act and inclusive of the wide range of experiences. For instance, stealthing can sometimes mean condom removal without the partner’s knowledge, but not necessarily without consent. The problematic component here is the lack of consent. That consent piece is really the important part, and what makes it problematic, and the reason why it’s starting to garner so much attention.

A form of sex assault

Stealthing is indeed a form of sexual assault and should be treated as such. Many countries all over the world have now banned stealthing, punishing it as an act of rape. Stealthing is a very serious offence and people should know that if they think it’s just a bit rude but that it’s innocuous, they’re wrong – it’s actually a crime. It can also be a part of the abuse, where the partner goes ‘no, I’m not wearing that’ – that overt refusal to wear a condom.

What underlines all of this is the denial of the woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, and if there’s a cultural casualness around this, we need to raise awareness. Situating nonconsensual condom removal within the broad category of gender violence reveals that the practice is an ethical wrong with practical, psychic, and politically salient repercussions for its victims

Anti-stealthing laws in the world

California lawmakers moved to make the state the first to outlaw stealthing. The new law makes it illegal to remove the condom without obtaining verbal consent, but it doesn’t change the criminal code. Instead, it amends the civil code so that a victim could sue the perpetrator for damages, including punitive damages.

In October, Australia’s Capital Territory (ACT) became the first state in Australia to make stealthing a criminal offense. In the United Kingdom, stealthing is punishable as rape. Case laws in Canada and Germany recognize stealthing as a crime under certain conditions, while stealthing has been punished as “defilement” in Switzerland.