Every week there is a new trend in the bedroom that we haven't encountered before, and with the growing prevalence of the digital world entering our sex lives, things are evolving ever faster.
But every now and then we encounter a 'trend' which isn't just about having fun for both parties, but is a worrying insight to the ongoing problem of assault and non-consensual intercourse, such as the newest phenomenon: 'stealthing'.
What is stealthing?
To put it bluntly, stealthing is the practice of a man removing a condom during sexual intercourse, without explicitly requesting permission from his sexual partner to do so.
Durex 'Sex & Relationships expert' Alix Fox told HuffPost UK: "In addition to the word being used to describe a man surreptitiously removing a condom during vaginal intercourse, when a woman has explicitly consented only to having protected sex, I have interviewed gay guys who've been 'stealthed' whilst receiving anal sex."
Why are people talking about stealthing now?
Last week HuffPost reported that a new study in the USA, written by Alexandra Brodsky for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, has shone a light on the growing trend of this disturbing practice, both in the homosexual and heterosexual communities.
Brodsky told HuffPost that she wanted to study the concerning phenomenon back in 2013, as she realised how many of her female friends were being violated in this way, she said they were: "Struggling with forms of mistreatment by sexual partners that weren't considered part of the recognised repertoire of gender based violence ― but that seemed rooted in the same misogyny and lack of respect."
Why are people engaging in stealthing?
Brodsky's study spoke extensively about online communities that exist to defend stealthing as a male "right," particularly a right of every man to "spread his seed" ― regardless of if said man is engaging in straight or gay penetrative sex.
The study even quotes from comment threads and forums, in which men 'train' other men about stealthing best practices, and offer support and advice in their pursuit of nonconsensual condom removal during sex.
Is stealthing happening in the UK?
The new study was looking at sexual practices in the USA, and Alix Fox says she has encountered this in the UK too, saying: "I've encountered the term 'stealthing' used in a number of contexts, some of them potentially punishable by law – and all of them nauseatingly abhorrent and utterly reprehensible."
Although sex expert Tracey Cox told HuffPost UK that she had not yet come across this in her work, indicating it is perhaps in its infancy, or under the radar, here: "The fact that men are doing this as an exercise in male supremacy makes it even more sickening. I would like to think it's a select group of disturbed individuals rather than a trend that's moving into the UK. Surely the average British teen and/or man is more intelligent and evolved that these neanderthals?"
Is stealthing illegal in the UK?
Yes it is illegal.
The Criminal Prosecution Service in the UK, defines consent - which is the marker of whether sex is rape or consensual - under section 74 of the 'Sexual Offences Act 2003', as requiring the participants to be "in a position to make that choice freely" and moreover "the crucial question is whether the complainant agrees to the activity by choice".
By choosing to remove the condom without asking permission this invalidates this legal defence as the partner had no choice in the matter.
Tracey Cox said: "I agree that it violates conditional consent: there is an enormous difference between agreeing to have sex with a condom and agreeing to do it without one. The first is protected sex (as much protection as a condom can offer which, although not perfect, is the best we have), the second exposes you to any STIs the other person has, including life-threatening HIV and stuck-with-for-life herpes."
Is this just a male problem?
Alix Fox explained that she has heard of women also undertaking this practice, despite the study focusing solely on men, she said: "I've heard of women 'stealthing' too: compromising the effectiveness of condoms by piercing hard-to-notice holes through them with needles or otherwise secretly tampering with them, in an effort to trick a man into getting them pregnant."
Are there any cases of conviction for stealthing so far?
In January this year in Switzerland, a man, 47, was convicted of rape because he took off a condom during sex with a woman he met on Tinder.
According to the news agency RTS, a criminal court in the country ruled that if a condom was expected but not used, having intercourse without one legally constitutes sexual assault. The man received a 12-month suspended sentence after his conviction.
Useful helplines and websites:
- Victim Support - Visit victimsupport.org.uk or call 0808 168 9111 Sexual Abuse Referral Centres - Find a SARC
- Rape Crisis - Visit rapecrisis.org.uk or call 0808 802 9999 The Rape and Abuse Line - Visit rapeandabuseline.co.uk or call 0808 800 0123 (answered by women) or 0808 800 0122 (answered by men).