The term stealthing refers to the act of non-consensual condom removal during sexual intercourse. This is considered sexual assault or rape.
A few weeks ago, I posted a reel on Instagram about this specific topic. The reaction I got was unpleasant; threats of rape and violence. A lot of people said I deserved to experience “real” violence, to understand that stealthing is not sexual violence. This made me realise that the idea of stealthing being rape is a difficult concept for some to accept.
We all grew up in a society where we are not taught the importance of consent and where the idea of rape is linked to a “bad” man (mostly a foreigner) that drags you into a dark alley.
In the UK, 85-90% of sexual assault victims are women. In England and Wales there are 1,070 rape convictions each year, with an astounding 90% of rape victims knowing the perpetrator. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted and an estimated 85,000 women are raped every year.
The CSEW (Crime Survey for England & Wales) estimated that 60% of victims of violence were male, with 40% being female in the year ending March 2020. Despite widely available statistics on domestic abuse in the UK, there are no official figures on the prevalence of domestic abuse and crime in those identifying themselves as LGBTQ. Abuse is underreported by this community, with only 2.5% accessing support despite 2 in 5 experiencing hate crime.
Many followers were surprised to discover that 97% of UK women endured some kind of violence in their lives, from verbal to physical. We need to acknowledge that violence can be experienced in many forms and that rape is not just an assault that involves forced, penetrative intercourse.
The most important word to focus on is: consent. This should be considered for each sexual act; if there is no consent, this is violence and punishable by law.
We should teach consent from a very young age - starting from the permission to touch someone’s body, that is not only related to sexual acts but also medical ones.
- Should be explicit: a “yes”, a sentence like “I’d like/love to…” or “it’s ok/fine”. Silence is not a form of consent. The “silent consent” is incredibly harmful, in any sector, because silence doesn’t express anything - not a yes, not a no. The idea that women say no but instead they mean yes is very dangerous. No means no - no ifs or buts. If you are asleep, if you are unconscious, if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, if you are getting blackmailed (including psychologically), if manipulative language is used like “if you really loved me…”, if you can’t see clear or if you asked to stop, if it hurts or you complain* - none of this is consensual.
- Should be informed: openly talk about contraceptive methods and the health status of anyone involved; make clear what your boundaries are or the actions you don’t want to do/receive; never lie about your age (especially if you are a minor).
- Can be withdrawn at any time and this applies to anyone involved - if one person wants to stop, this choice should be respected. Otherwise, you’ll be violating the law.
- Should be asked before any kind of action, sexual or not (for example, during a medical examination), online or in person. You shouldn’t take consent for granted because you are in a long-term relationship or because a specific action has been performed in the past. Medical examinations shouldn’t be something you have to accept as they are. You are not allowed to send intimate images or share intimate images/videos from another person without asking for consent.
- Should be free: no blackmail, no obligation, no coercion that can threaten your sexual freedom of choice.
If a person has agreed to sexual intercourse with a condom but then the protection is secretly removed, this is not a consensual act.
If people are not educated on consent and its implications, they may not realise what is violence and what is not. We need to start with compulsory sexual, emotional and relational education to really make a change.
Following our survey of 500 people in our community, 20% had been victims of stealthing, but only 2% of them were conscious of the fact that it was violence before reading our content. Among those 2%, half said that the answer from their partner when confronted was that they were “exaggerating and being too sensitive” or justifying themselves saying that they thought the partner “was realising it”.
Spoiler alert: sometimes you might not be able to realise it in that moment; if you realise it when the situation is already happening, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not consensual.
As of 2020, stealthing is punishable as a form of sexual violence in the UK. The journey of a victim can be complicated. They often feel they shouldn’t speak up about it, due to fear that nobody will believe them (which is not irrational), or feeling guilty for having sex with that person (negative thoughts like: "I’m stupid to have had sex with that person, I should have known better". Similar to the negative thoughts that people have after being raped). Often the victim will carry the trauma without processing it, and it may develop into sexual and relational problems: unable to trust others, pushing people away, sexual anxieties and depression, as well as post-trauma symptoms such as flashbacks and dissociation.
When talking about violence and rape, what most people think is limited and not at all representative of what happens in reality; there has been one TV series that really helped spread the awareness on stealthing (and rape culture) - I may destroy you, with Michaela Cohen, who has recently been awarded a Bafta.
Some content can have a positive impact on society, on raising difficult but necessary questions and creating awareness. We need to better understand consent and its implications and ask ourselves how we treat certain situations.
*BDSM practices have specific rules and dynamics where consent is regulated - therefore, they need to be considered separately.