Stealthing: The Reprehensible Practice of Tossing Consent out of the Window

Last December, after a somewhat unremarkable date involving a Liverpool vs. Arsenal match screening, and copious amounts of beer and fries, I found myself in bed with this fairly obscure sports presenter I had met on Hinge. 

In hindsight, not a great decision. But I didn’t know he was gonna turn out to be a douchebag. Unfortunately, people don’t come with 30-second trailers – and, no, those cutesy bios on dating apps don’t count; they’re fundamentally fictitious, and basically quite pointless.

So, how was I supposed to know that this veganism-preaching, dog-loving pseudo-celebrity was, in fact, a certified degenerate?

Following his failure to persuade me to have unprotected sex with him because “it feels so much better with no condom on”, he grudgingly, and rather resentfully, put on a condom, entered me, pulled out within a few minutes, very very sneakily took the condom off, and attempted to get back inside. Aakhir, ghee seedhi ungli se na nikle, toh ungli tedhi toh karni padti hai – so, why not trump consent with covertness?

Perhaps he thought I was too drunk to notice – reprehensible, but valid.

Or, he thought I trusted him – nyet, that would be a rookie mistake. 

Or, maybe, he believed that no one would be paranoid enough to imagine somebody stooping down to this sickening level of craftiness and callousness that could, quite literally, put one at the risk of STIs, or pregnancy, or if one is disastrously doomed, both —  again, reasonable assumption, I’ll give him that.

However, unfortunately for this low-life, I had read enough essays and case studies on sexual assault and gendered violence to be acquainted (albeit only theoretically, until then) with this distinctively despicable phenomenon, and could catch him red-handed. Basically, Alexandra Brodsky’s 2017-article in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law saved my ass.

“Ugh, what a sick freak! Good riddance! There’s plenty of fish in the sea, don’t ya worry,” you’d say. Except, you may be blissfully unaware that these fish are reading articles like Top 10 Stealthing Tips on the internet, where Mark Bentson says, and I quote, “Stealthing is controversial. Yes, I know that. But it’s also a reality. If you want to do it, you need to know how.” Gee, thanks! How kind of you, Sir! That’s exactly the kind of education society needed.

Also read: No Means No

Well, that’s what this phenomenon is called: stealthing, i.e., non-consensual condom removal, or NCCR. And, it is more common than you think. Sigh. 

Still confused about what it entails exactly? Or, wondering why on earth would anyone, in their right mind, do this? Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, then, shall we? 

In this article on ABC, Brendan, who thinks that the brouhaha about stealthing is ridiculous, defines the phenomenon as: Pull it out, take it off, put it back in. Everyone’s happy.

Umm… firstly, no, Brendan, sorry to break this to you, but they’re not happy. And, secondly, if you’re so confident that they wouldn’t mind, why switch to stealth mode, bro? 

By his own admission, he stealths women “most of the time”, has been busted in the past (and still, surprisingly, believes “everyone’s happy”), and when asked, “Shouldn’t you negotiate that before sex?”, said, “I should, but if I have no reason to wear a condom, then I don’t really see the problem.” Someone please educate our dudebro about consent, please!

Stealthing nullifies our right, as women, or as gay men, to determine what happens to our very own bodies. 

In 2017, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court also found a man guilty of raping a woman he had met on Tinder, after this fine gentleman got sneaky during an otherwise consensual intercourse. In 2018, Germany followed suit too. And, recently, a stealthing-enthusiast in Australia was charged with rape and sexual assault. 

However, despite the fact that courts around the world have begun to recognise this extremely problematic trend, and prosecute men found guilty of stealthing under the concept of conditional consent, the battle is far from won.

As Sophie Maullin describes in her article in The Guardian, not only was the onus placed on her, as the victim, to protect herself from rape, but also, the charges against the perpetrator were dropped after he shrugged off the stealthing-allegation saying that the condom fell off without his knowledge.

Also read: On Hooking Up, Freedom and Consent

Sure! I believe that. If the wind blows my umbrella away while I am taking a walk in the torrential Bombay-rains, would I be able to figure out that I’m umbrella-less despite getting drenched? Perhaps, not. Makes complete sense.

Furthermore, even though the Canadian Supreme Court put a man behind bars for piercing holes in condoms – leading his oblivious girlfriend to conceive – the conviction was based on the risk of unwanted pregnancy, or bodily harm. This makes it difficult to secure convictions in cases of homosexual intercourse, or cases where the defendant can successfully prove that he isn’t suffering from any STI’s — leave alone the emotional and psychological distress stealthing, per se, causes .

Stealthing is male-entitlement. Stealthing is deception. Stealthing is non-consensual. Stealthing is an abuse of boundaries. Stealthing is wrong. Stealthing is rape. Period.

Nonetheless, being a realist, I don’t expect any man to wake up to this article, turn over a new leaf, and start respecting, or, at the very least, acknowledging, the bodily autonomy of their sexual partners. Men, who are capable of comprehending that stealthing is wrong, already know that it is wrong, and don’t do it anyway. 

On the other hand, as women, we are acclimatised to looking over our shoulders constantly and unceasingly. So, ladies, since the era of parthenogenesis in humans is unlikely to dawn anytime soon, let’s just remember to take our vigilance to bed too? 

Devrupa Rakshit is a Bombay-based corporate lawyer in her mid-20s, who aspires to bake a cake made out of rainbows and smiles and feed it to the misogynists, racists and homophobes of the world so that they can all eat it, be happy and stop judging and meddling in the affairs of everybody around them. She tweets @DevrupaRakshit and posts pretentious pictures on Instagram @devruparakshit

Featured image credit: Unsplash