In 2014, a 19-year-old Florida teen posted a call for advice in the subreddit askgaybros. In the post, he said he met a guy on Grindr and went back to his place to hook up. When the guy asked to have sex without a condom, the teenager explicitly said no. But during the encounter, he discovered his partner had removed the condom. Panicking and unsure of what to do, the poster said he endured the experience, "already fucking crying in my head."
It was only his sixth sexual encounter, he wrote, and he felt "ruined."
The reddit post sheds light on a common, although rarely discussed, form of gender-based violence: the practice of a man removing a condom during sex without his partner's knowledge or consent. A 2017 study published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law goes more in-depth on this phenomenon, also known as "stealthing."
Alexandra Brodsky, a legal fellow at the National Women's Law Center and author of the study, spoke with a number of people, mostly women, who have experienced nonconsensual condom removal. While every survivor's experience is different, Brodsky pointed to two common themes that appeared in her conversations: "The first is that, unsurprisingly, survivors fear unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections," she writes. "The second is that, apart from these specific outcomes, survivors experienced nonconsensual condom removal as a clear violation of their bodily autonomy and the trust they had mistakenly placed in their sexual partner."
One woman told Brodsky: "Obviously the part that really freaked me out . . . was that it was such a blatant violation of what we'd agreed to. I set a boundary. I was very explicit." Another, recognizing how similarly violating "stealthing" felt to other forms of sexual assault, called the practice "rape-adjacent."
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Brodsky says she became aware of the phenomenon during law school four years ago, when many of her friends were "struggling with forms of mistreatment by sexual partners that weren't considered part of the recognized repertoire of gender based violence ― but that seemed rooted in the same misogyny and lack of respect."
Those are some dark corners of the Internet that I would like to never visit again
For her study, she sought to find testimonies from victims online; instead, she came across the term "stealthing" and discovered narratives from actual perpetrators teaching others how to exercise their "natural male right."
"Those are some dark corners of the Internet that I would like to never visit again," she tells Broadly.
One instance she points to in her article was penned by someone who went by the username onesickmind. He documented "a comprehensive guide" to stealth sex on the website Experience Project, including suggestions on how to get away with condom removal, which he noted "should be reserved as a last resort or for the experienced pros at stealth sex."
"Of course," he writes, "you can always try the, 'what's wrong? I thought you knew it was off? You mean you didn't feel it? I thought you knew!!' approach which for me has had a surprisingly high success rate."
The study suggests the practice may violate a number of criminal and civil laws, but also admits many existing statutes may prove "insufficient for victims" who want to take legal recourse against a perpetrator for nonconsensual condom removal. (None of the survivors Brodksy interviewed took legal action, but it's worth noting that a man in Switzerland was convicted of rape earlier this year for secretly removing a condom during sex.) In order to really address victims' needs and help redefine sexual norms, the study states, a new law specific to condom removal might be the best path forward.
Brodsky says one of her goals with this research was to give language to a common experience. In the conversations she had with survivors, she found that "their struggle to name the practice felt really intertwined with the struggle to feel confident that it was a form of gender violence."
"Everyone knew that it felt like a serious violation," Brodsky says. "Everyone knew it was a betrayal of trust. A number of the people I talked to felt like because it wasn't something they'd heard discussed, because it wasn't something they had a name for, they struggled to know how to think about it in the context of other disrespectful and violent sexual experiences they'd had."
Putting a name to a horrific act is the first step to condemning it, she says. "We can't have the conversations we need to have and we can't push back against something if we don't know what to call it."
Additionally, she says, she didn't want to give promoters of this practice control over how we understand it. "I think that term ["stealthing"] really trivializes the harm; it obscures the violence and makes it sound sneaky and maybe regrettable but ultimately an inevitable part of sex, and that's not true. We deserve better than that."