The Netherlands just convicted a man for “stealthing”- the act of removing a condom during sex without the partner’s consent. To many, mostly men, it seems not so much a big deal. Apart from the obvious risk of STDs and pregnancies, though, there’s a more nuanced conversation about consent here that we often ignore. Stealthing is a vile form of sexual assault, and some also say it’s rape. The Dordrecht District Court, however, acquitted the aforementioned man of a rape charge because it ruled that the sex was consensual. But was it, really?
Michaela Coel’s brilliant 2020 HBO series “I May Destroy You”, was one of the first to bring this topic to mainstream attention. In the show’s fourth episode, Coel’s character, Arabella – who is already dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault – sleeps with a fellow author, Zain, who without her knowledge takes off the condom partway through sex. “I thought you could feel it,” he tells her after the fact — a common script for men who stealth. It is a pretty simple concept: Arabella agreed and consented only to protected sex, and Zain violated that agreement. But many don’t agree that this is rape, including some bodies of justice across the world.
And this isn’t an uncommon practice. There are full-blown online communities dedicated to teaching men how to secretly remove a condom during sex, as well as praising those who do. Though some countries have started acknowledging the crime legally, the conversations around it haven’t changed much over the years. Most legal bodies still uphold that stealthing is not rape. A 2018 study at a sexual health clinic in Melbourne found that 32 per cent of women responders, and 19 per cent of men who engaged in sexual intercourse with other men, reported being ‘stealthed’. Yet, most of them don’t know there’s a term for it.
As with other forms of sexual assault, most men see stealthing as a show of dominance, being in control. According to a 2017 article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), a caller to their radio program who claimed to stealth said while he knew about the risks, “there’s a risk crossing the road and we all do that”. It seems to be a thrill for them, like an adventure sport. The ABC then also interviewed a self-confessed stealther, who said: “I’ve only just heard about stealthing now and I think it’s a ridiculous claim. I don’t think I really make an agreement. I don’t think it’s breaking the law.” When simply asked why he does it, he bluntly said that it felt better.
And stealthing has many forms, which we don’t talk about. Like this man, who openly admitted on Reddit that he faked his vasectomy and has been having sex with his wife for two years, who was under the impression that he had had the surgery.
Reproductive coercion. pic.twitter.com/0vbYE1NQ07
— AskAubry 🦝 (@ask_aubry) March 10, 2023
Some countries have begun the discourse around ‘stealthing’, but India is still not quite there yet. Since there are no precedents or even statistical research, the illegality of stealthing in India remains unclear. But, the corrupt legal system and its cruel upholders are honestly a secondary issue when it comes to this.
Here, it’s taboo to even talk about our bodies, let alone the violation of them. The conversation around consent here is much deeper. There are layers of misconceptions we are yet to unfold and habits we are yet to unlearn, which are embedded in our society. As Flavia Agnes, a well-known Indian women’s rights lawyer told Mid-Day back in 2017, “The law in India deals only with consent, and non-consent; it’s very black and white. It doesn’t have the finesse that can make such an act punishable, and we aren’t there yet. We are a long way off,”.