A recent paper published in The Columbia Journal of Gender and Law has brought critical attention to "stealthing," the term for when someone removes a condom during sex without their partner's knowledge or consent. Finally having a name for the act has started countless conversations about people's experiences, as well as brought to light the fact that this nonconsensual and invasive act is assault, full-stop. Here are three women on when they realized they had just been stealthed, how they dealt with the aftermath, and how reclaiming the term helps victims of stealthing in the long run.
"I was on the verge of a breakup with a man I had been with for three years. We were in his bedroom on his bed. There was never a discussion about using protection because it was always used. If we didn't have protection, we didn't have sexual intercourse, period. I'd known for a while that he was interested in trying to have sex without a condom, and I had also expressed some interest, but I was adamant about not even going there unless I was on birth control and that we'd both been tested. Neither of those conditions were met.
"I knew as soon as I heard the snap [that the condom was off]...I didn't want to believe what I'd heard so I kept going. It wasn't until we changed positions that I let it register what had just happened. Panic, dismay, and fury set in all at once, and I actually remember crying and shouting at him. I asked him why, repeatedly, even after he answered me trying to rationalize it.
"He said he thought he'd never know what it was like to truly feel me and that if this was our last time having sex, he had to know. He knew I wouldn't give him permission and that's why he did it. When I told him that was rape, he begged me not to say something so terrible and broke down crying knowing that's how I viewed what he'd done.
"What he did to me was irreversible, wrong, and not at all out of love. I made sure he knew that. But when he cried, I held him and cried right along with him. Breaking up is tragic enough to begin with, but with the added turmoil of sexual assault, everything got so confusing and messed up in my mind and heart.
"I might never truly be [over this], but I know that when someone takes advantage of me, even someone I love, I will fight them on it. Until now, I hadn't realized so many women were assaulted in this way. And it sickens me to know that some men teach others how to do this effectively. Even though there's a new term to describe this act, this isn't some new trend that's going around. Stealthing is a serious issue that needs to be brought to attention and stopped." —Joanna, 26, San Diego, California
"[It happened with] my boyfriend from senior year of high school. He mentioned that he was down to one condom and so we would stop after one round of sex. About midway through, the condom got dry. We stopped and he engaged in some oral sex before [reinserting his penis], and I felt like there was less friction and pain than before. For a few moments I thought that he had maybe thrown on some lube, which he had kept beside the bed, or that maybe the oral sex had helped. But then I realized that he removed the condom, and all the changed sensations made sense. It became really clear that the condom was gone when he pulled out as he orgasmed, and his ejaculate was on my abdomen.
"I was stunned but also not surprised. Mainly, I was stunned he didn't even bother to ask before removing the condom because I was not on any backup contraception. I was not surprised because I had an inkling he wanted more than what I was offering, since he mentioned earlier in the week that he would enjoy sex more without the condom in the way. I offered to purchase thinner condoms but he said that he should be responsible for stocking up.
"[He said] the condom had gotten dry and uncomfortable for the both of us. He also rationalized that he at least implemented the pull-out method of birth control. As a scientist, I know that is a ludicrous excuse. This explanation frustrated me, but ultimately I wanted to know if he cared about me at all or if I was just an object for him to use as he pleased. I got tested for STIs, since I wanted to be sure nothing was contracted during this experience. He also got tested because I implored that he find out.
"I think [the term 'stealthing'] brings attention to this disrespectful act and emphasizes how frequently it occurs. If stealthing has happened to you, know that you are not alone. Just because you accepted the original terms of the sexual act does not mean you necessarily have to accept any changes that are made to these terms while the sexual act is taking place. What your partner did was wrong, and I hope that they at least acknowledged this wrongdoing and righted their ways, rather than victimizing you further with their arm-twisting, belittling tactics." —Raquel, 25, New Haven, Connecticut
"I still vividly remember the night it happened. I had recently graduated from college a year or so ago, and I was at a house party with my friends, which some of our old classmates also attended. I saw a guy across the room who I always had a huge crush on back at school but who never really noticed me before.
"At this party, though, he was flirting with me and making me feel so confident and attractive. As my friends trickled out of the apartment at the end of the night, he and I both stayed and eventually left to go back to his place together. We had been drinking, but I still felt in control of myself. When we started to have sex, I told him I was on the pill, but I also saw him take out and put on a condom. I thought, Oh good, and told him I wanted to use that too. We had sex and afterward went out into the living room of his apartment to have another drink.
"We had sex again that night, but when it was over, I realized he hadn't used a condom the second time. I was so confused because we used one the first time. I asked him about it, and he said he assumed I felt the difference and I would have said something if it wasn't okay. He pointed out that because I was on the pill, he figured it would be fine. I didn't know how to feel. I felt mad and violated, but this didn't feel like assault in the moment. I never got tested afterward but I should have. Why should I have trusted him when he said he didn't have any STIs if I couldn't trust him to wear a condom? That's the reason I'm glad people are talking about stealthing now, because women deserve to feel entitled to their outrage if this happens to them. Having this type of assault have a name now doesn't make what happened to me any better, but I'm glad it helps more people recognize that what happened to them isn't okay." —Shawna, 28, New York, New York
Names have been changed, and interviews have been lightly edited.
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