Chances are if you dream up a mental image of sexual assault, you would think about a heinous rape — something terrible, revolting, and clearly wrong where consent was clearly not given. While this is true, sexual assault includes violent rape, there exists a spectrum of types of sexual assaults where consent is much harder to prove, both publicly and before the law. A growing type of reported sexual assault is known as “stealthing” or “stealth sex.”
Stealth sex occurs when a consenting pair, usually who meet through online sites like Tinder, agree to have sex with each other, and begin to have consensual sex with a condom. However, midway through sex, the penetrating partner removes the condom without the other partner’s consent. The perpetrator either does this “stealthily” without the partner’s knowledge or removes it and forces the partner to continue having sex. Imagine finishing up, and seeing an empty condom on the floor.
Argentine law already recognizes any form of non-consensual sex as sexual assault, but prosecuting stealth sex is incredibly difficult, especially since the sex started off consensually. If physical consequences arise after the assault, like a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or pregnancy, proving the perpetrator as the offender is also difficult.
María Soledad Dawson, a psychologist and coordinator for the “Sexual Violence Mobile Team” of Argentina’s Department of Justice and Human Rights, reports only three of the 400 cases of sexual violence reported this year are stealth sex cases. Although a small percentage of the reported offenses, many victims do not report because “they [were] occasional relationships, many feel ashamed [and] they have the feeling that they are responsible,” notes Dawson.
The victims, all women, reported their male partners took off the condom and forced them to have sex until they ejaculated. Often, the male partner would insist he would “pull-out” before finishing, but often that was not the case, risking pregnancy (and inherently risking the transmission of STIs). Regardless of this promise, the act is non-consensual because the women agreed to sex with a condom. When the terms change, the women did not give consent to sex without the condom (or were not informed at all).
One would think that the risk of pregnancy and STI transmission for the penetrating partner would also warrant keeping the condom on, but the growing incidences of stealth sex report otherwise. Irene Meler, a doctor of psychology and coordinator of the Forum of Psychoanalysis and Gender of the Association of Psychologist of Buenos Aires, sheds light on the psychology of the phenomenon:
“Besides protection and providing, on of the traditional symbols of masculinity… has been fertilization. Many men today feel disqualified and insecure in their masculinity resort to the old symbol of ‘fertilization’ as one of the ways… to reaffirm their masculinity. They feel masculine [when] forcing a women into an undesired conception… a pregnancy is an imaginary manifestation of power.”
According to investigation from Infobae, there are online forums available that actually help perpetrators commit this type of act with how-to information and tips on how to have stealth sex. Forum headers read like the following: “Spreading the seeds in fertile vaginas” and “Emptying all the load [so] the women do not suspect.” Apparently perpetrators make use of position changes, lots of lubrication and feigned innocence acts when the woman sees the empty condom on the ground.
Besides the potential physical consequences of stealth sex on the victim, the mental and emotional impact is similar to other forms of sexual assault. Yale researcher Alexandra Brodsky has held many interviews with stealthing victims, many of which start off with “I am not sure if this is a violation but…” and then the victims report feeling violated, betrayed in their confidence, that their decisions in the sexual act were not important and that they had felt serious harm to their dignity.
Shame and stigma are huge barriers to reporting, and the consensual-turned-non-consensual nature of the act is hard to prove in courts. It is not, however, impossible. In January this year, a 47 year old Swiss man was the first person to be sentenced for committing sexual assault via stealth sex when he did not inform his partner he had removed the condom. The pair had met online, and had agreed to sex with a condom. The Swiss courts determined that the act become non-consensual because the women would have stopped having sexual contact had she known the condom had been removed.
Consent is a “Yes” made freely without pressure — not the absence of a “No.” For more information on protection from STIs and pregnancy, sexual assault resources and support networks in Buenos Aires, please read the following article.