Jenny Constable: Make no mistake, 'stealthing' is rape

CommonSpace columnist Jenny Constable says the practice known as 'stealthing' overrides sexual consent and should be treated as rape

STEALTHING, the act of a man removing a condom during sex, unbeknown to his partner, is a term, which is by no means a new phenomenon, but right now holds the media’s attention captive. 

A report recently published in the Columbian Journal of Gender and Law, assessed that this dangerous "sex trend" is one that’s on the rise, with the perpetrator of the act championing the man’s right to "spread one’s seed", showing no consideration for the rights of his partner, or even acknowledging the violation which has taken place.

To clarify, first of all, stealthing, IS rape. It’s not a gimmick, a kink, a trend, or any other softening, fuzzy banner you want to throw it under. If you remove a condom during sex, unbeknown to your partner, you are committing rape.

It’s not a gimmick, a kink, a trend, or any other softening, fuzzy banner you want to throw it under. If you remove a condom during sex, unbeknown to your partner, you are committing rape.

However, the most worrying part of this for me is how stealthing isn’t automatically recognised as rape, by either the perpetrator or the recipient.

Upon hearing the word 'rape', uncomfortable images of dark alleys, muffled screams and suspicious strangers in slow driving cars springs to mind. Rape, we assume, is synonymous with violence, and with the unknown.

This assumption, regrettably, is misleading. Rape can manifest in a whole multitude of dynamics and scenarios; from assaulting a drunken stranger in a nightclub, to forcibly coercing your long-term partner into bed when they’re really not in the mood.

When we consider what stealthing is, the physical act, in itself, is not violent, or outwardly aggressive in its nature. Compared with the graphic sexual abuse cases that we normally see covered in the media, the two strains of rape do not illicit the same 'shock factor' in the public eye, but each share the fundamental core of a lack of respect and need to exert control over the victim.

If your partner consented to having sex with you while using a condom, that barrier method of protection was a specification of your agreement. Removing the condom immediately changes the act of intercourse, in that a term upon which consent was given has been unknowingly broken. 

If your partner consented to having sex with you while using a condom, that barrier method of protection was a specification of your agreement.

In that moment, the trust, respect and assurance have all been removed. No longer are you protected, but you’re automatically at risk of contracting STIs, and if you’re a woman, at risk of unwanted pregnancies.

It maybe doesn’t have the traditional aggressive components of a 'classic' rape case, but the implications are exactly the same.

There’s a contested statement which is often parroted with regards to sexual abuse, that we should 'teach men not to rape', a phrase which is often met with the incredulously echoed arguments that men should already know how to not to be rapists. 

This view, I feel, is too simplistic. While I already have the lowest possible view of people who partake in stealthing, I do believe that the majority of those who do slyly remove their condoms, don’t do so in the knowledge that this is illegal, or immoral, and this is the frame of mind we need to change.

My first Google search of "stealthing" brought up suggested tabs of "how to do it", step-by-step guides, bringing to my attention a plethora of online communities that offer guidance to men on how best to get away with stealthing, and other such dangerous and demeaning acts. 

Removing the condom immediately changes the act of intercourse, in that a term upon which consent was given has been unknowingly broken. 

In an age where this kind of content is readily available and accessible to young men and young women, the lines of what constitutes as 'rape' are not as black or white, and are arguably easy to forgo in favour of what feels good in the moment.

As this 'stealthing' revelation has once again underlined that we need to be champions of consent, and teach generations that consent is not simply a 'one time' trade-off, but depends on the given situation and individual, and rests entirely upon the terms laid out by each partner involved.

Picture courtesy of Jenny Constable

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