We always talk about the complexities of gay male sex in real-world situations. For most of our community members, relevant sexual education instruction has been non-existent, if not outright deemed illegal by state law. Practical application of what many guys have learned through word of mouth, dirty writings on bathroom walls, and porn can lead to dangerous outcomes for everyone involved.
Condom usage has been borderline compulsory for gay males for almost forty years, but these social mores have become more relaxed over the last decade. Negative terms like barebacking have been converted into words of empowerment as a growing number have decided to avail themselves of newer options for safer sex like PrEP and UquealsU. New treatments for HIV have also contributed to this movement that claims to fight the fear of sex with a new acceptance of natural sex.
But none of those things have anything to do with stealthing. Sex, all sex, must be consensual with agreed-upon parameters by all of those involved. Stealthing is not putting on, removing, or tampering with, a condom during sex by a sexual partner when consent has been given for sex with a condom only.
The internet has seen a growing number of accounts about stealthing. Some go so far as to upload alleged videos and photos of guys stealthing unsuspecting victims with pride and glee. These sites promote the practice through visual evidence and comment sections that are nothing more than cheering areas. But, is this a fetish or a dangerous sexual assault that must be prosecuted?
Stealthing: A study in non-consent
Like most things related to gay male sex that isn’t about HIV, there is not much research or study into stealthing or its effects on the male victims. Straight and “LGBTQIA++ news media” have had a field day reporting on this “new and dangerous sexual trend” in the gay community, but none of them could produce hard data to support this statement. Does stealthing exist? Of course, it does. Is it a significant trend that should concern every gay male? We don’t think so.
We looked at one major study involving gay men (MSM) and the practice of stealthing, as reported by patients at a sexual health clinic in Melbourne, Australia.
“1063 of 3439 MSM (30.9%) attending the clinic during the study period completed the survey. 19% of MSM reported having ever experienced stealthing. MSM who had experienced stealthing were more likely to report anxiety or depression. Male participants who had experienced stealthing were three times less likely to consider it sexual assault than participants who had not experienced it.”
At GMJ, we are always suspicious of surveys, especially when we don’t have full access to the questions posed to the participants. How a question is phrased, who is asking the question, and even the incentives for “correct answers” can skew results. Luckily, we have the relevant questions from the Melbourne study. We believe they help to create not only a much-needed narrative around the practice of stealthing but also guidelines to decide what is and what is not stealthing.
The questionnaire asked whether the participant had ever had a condom removed during sex with or without permission and at what point the participant noticed. Participants could choose from a hierarchy of seven responses describing the circumstances. Multiple responses were allowed for those reporting multiple occurrences, and no time limit was applied to the reported event.
Participants were deemed not to have experienced stealthing if they responded either:
1) they had never had a condom removed during sex,
2) that a condom had been removed with permission, or
3) that a condom was removed without permission, but they willingly continued sex.
Participants were deemed to have experienced stealthing if they reported:
4) condom removal without permission and sex continued unwillingly,
5) condom removal without permission and sex was discontinued,
6) condom removal during sex, but they did not realize it until afterward, or
7) the condom was never put on despite being requested.
If a participant only selected options between 1 and 3, they were classified as never having been stealthed. If a participant selected any option between 4–7, regardless of whether they had also selected options between 1 and 3, they were classified as ever having been stealthed.
Of the 1063 MSM who consented to the survey and answered the first question: 64 men (6%) declined to answer whether they had experienced stealthing, 37 (3%) men deemed the question to do not apply to them i.e. they never used condoms or did not engage in penetrative sex with men and 90 (8%) men were removed from the analysis, as they had only reported insertive anal sex and not reported receptive anal sex in CASI.
Breaking it all down!
Because we only have the Melbourne study and alleged accounts from the internet, it is difficult to say how widespread stealthing is and how much of it is fantasy. But, sometimes, the best way to define something is to state what it is not. We do this to ensure that our community clearly understands this practice and does not classify other actions as stealthing for any reason. If we are to learn more about this act, work on ways to protect potential victims, and even decide if legal action should be taken, we need to begin on the same page regarding what is and what is not stealthing.
Stealthing is not
All sex must be consensual. If it is not, it is rape or sexual assault. Pure and simple. Gay male rape is a real issue that does not get the attention, reporting, and prosecution level it should. The reasons are complex, but none of them are related to stealthing. We must be cautious with our terms so that others, inside and outside our community, understand the issue and not conflate it with others.
Rape is sex without consent. Stealthing is the act of not putting on, taking off, and/or damaging a condom when the parties agreed upon its use as a condition for sexual intercourse. In other words, stealthing is breaking a verbal contract between the men involved. But this contract is based on the agreeance of sex, with the condom being a stipulation of this act. The top, who breaks this contract, is stealthing. It does not matter if ejaculation is achieved or not.
Bug chasing/Gift giving
Whatever your opinions about those who, for whatever reasons, desire to either contract HIV or infect another willing adult participant, it is not stealthing. Bug Chasers are seeking out condomless sex with the alleged intention of contracting HIV. They are fully aware of how this virus is acquired as well as the science behind condoms being a helpful barrier against it. With full knowledge and consent, they seek out like-minded individuals who agree to expose them to the virus.
Stealthing is almost the exact opposite of bug chasing because only one party is seeking to have condomless sex. Through a myriad of actions, he has decided to lie to and deceive his sexual partner(s) to achieve his goal.
A mutual fetish
Everybody has at least one fetish; most have several. The internet is filled with hundreds of fetishes catering to gay males, and some believe that stealthing is just one of the bunch. But others question how this could be.
Those with a particular fetish almost exclusively seek out others who share their kink. This mutual attraction is even considered a necessity for any sexual contact. Forcing another to participate in your fetish will fall into the crime category. But even if both parties agree, a crime could still be committed. This hard lesson was learned by German cannibal Armin Meiwes.
In March 2001, Meiwes advertised on the internet for a “young, well-built man, who wanted to be eaten”. 43-year-old Berlin engineer Bernd Brandes answered the advert. On the evening of March 9, the two men went up to the bedroom in Meiwes’ rambling timbered farmhouse. Mr. Brandes swallowed 20 sleeping tablets and half a bottle of schnapps before Meiwes cut off Brandes’ penis, with his agreement, and fried it for both of them to eat. In January 2004, Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years and six months in prison. In a retrial in May 2006, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Because of his acts, Meiwes is also known as the Rotenburg Cannibal or Der Metzgermeister (The Master Butcher).
By definition, someone can’t consent to stealthing because to be effective, the victim cannot have any knowledge of the condom not being worn, damaged, or taken off during sex.
The topic of stealthing gained national and international attention in 2017 when Alexandra Brodsky published Rape-Adjacent: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal (Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2017). The paper, which states that all of those who experienced stealthing interviewed for the article were women, still brought many gay male stories to the forefront.
At this point, every gay male has heard, read stories, and/or seen social media accounts about stealthing. The desire to have condomless sex is not new to our community; from this, we can guess the same about stealthing. But men who choose to have sex without a condom with other men who have made the same decision are not the same as taking that choice away from a partner who expressly stated his want and even need to have a condom for intercourse to take place.
Unlike Miz Cracker, who wrote an article for Slate magazine back in 2017, we don’t believe stealthing is a complex issue that needs to be looked at from both sides.
“Some tops can’t maintain an erection while wearing them. And perhaps some gay men are simply fatigued by the vigilance they are expected to maintain during sex, after years of being stigmatized as a group at risk for HIV infection—for these guys, removing a condom can feel like removing a yoke of fear and shame. And yet, due to that same shame, many gay men feel unable to talk openly about their desire for condomless sex (which, of course, can be perfectly safe if negotiated maturely and rationally). And so, during a sexual encounter, the sexually savvy gay man is aware that certain parties might tacitly push or scheme to throw condoms out of the picture, using the heat of the moment as cover.”
Even though taking off a condom can feel like removing a” yoke of fear and shame,” within the realm of stealthing, the freedom experienced is only one way. The bottom, who is the victim of this action, will be the recipient of fear, concern, and more anxiety as he wonders what STI he has possibly contracted. Condom fatigue is real, but a sizable community of gay males eschew condoms by mutual agreement.
Miz Craker’s example from a friend more closely resembles mutual consent through action, as stated in the Melbourne study, question number 3, where a condom was removed without permission, but they willingly continued sex.
“When I think back about a decade ago, I remember what I called the courtesy condom,” my friend Kevin told me. “The condom you put on so you can both act like you’re being responsible before it magically finds its way off, and you both realize that neither of you objects. For Kevin, and for many of the people I know, stealthing back then was rarely described as a truly malicious act. Tops often bragged about sneaking bareback sex, and bottoms often bragged about allowing tops to sneak bareback sex—albeit only among close friends. It had the air of being covert, but both parties often gently encouraged the end result.”
This is not stealthing!
Coercion or Seduction
Before the #metoo movement, we had been addressing the genuine issue of gay male sexual assault. Still, we were cautious about giving our readers clear and definitive legal definitions to not muddy the already murky waters. We have the same concern with the term stealthing, and Romy Keuwo in his article for Medium magazine, proves our fears are warranted.
In his” letter to his stealthers”, he accidentally elucidates the need for our community to create the appropriate language around this act and make clear distinctions between it and other issues. As Miz Cracker states, “we must be careful not to emphasize predators vs. victims”, but we at GMJ believe individuals have a personal responsibility to do everything in our capability to protect ourselves from stealthing.
In his own words, Mr. Keuwo claims to “verbally communicate to a male partner that I will have sex with him if and only if we use a condom, the male partner agrees, and we engage in sexual activity. In all cases, during a sexual encounter, my partners had led me to believe that they were using a condom when they were not.”
But a thorough reading of his article shows that:
An “ex acted supportively and coerced me into barebacking for what lasted less than 50 seconds.” Coercion is not stealthing because it gives consent.
“The next time I saw my ex, we engaged in sexual activity, and between a break, I reached back to feel a condom and found no such thing on his genitalia. I became instantly frantic and asked my partner, “Did you not use a condom just now?” He stated no. I asked him why and he stated that he thought that is what I had wanted.“ This is not an example of stealthing but rather a further lack of communication and agreement on condom usage by both men.
With his next sexual partner, he states, “I was seduced and in his bedroom. My first sexual encounter with this partner felt genuine and fun”. But just before their second sexual encounter, he asked him, “Do you usually bareback?” What he responded, with little to no hesitation, shocked me. He stated, “Yeah… actually the first time we hooked up, we barebacked.” Once again, this is not stealthing because there was no mutual agreement on condom usage.
Finally, one month later, with a third man, he retells the experience. “Before engaging in further sexual activity, this dude asked for a condom — and I saw him put it on. I thought my worries had been put to rest — finally, a man who respects my decision to practice safe sex! But I was sadly mistaken. As we got into the mix of things, I told him to stop because I began hurting. He respected my wishes, and in the midst of trying to get comfortable again, I discovered that he had taken off his condom.” This might be considered stealthing but it depends on what was said before sex or if Mr. Keuwo assumed that once a condom was placed on, it would stay on without both sides verbally agreeing to this.
A lack of communication about condom usage
We went into great detail with Mr. Keuwo’s article because it mirrors real-world situations many gay males will encounter. But it also displays many issues regarding communication and agreement on using condoms.
Not everyone has the same gut reaction towards condoms, and this assumption leads to issues. Stealthing is not about a lack of communication about condom usage, but rather someone agreeing to the terms and breaking them for his pleasure.
Stealthing is about control and power
Among those within the criminal justice field and sex crimes advocates, it is said that rape is not about sex but about power; we believe the same is valid with stealthing.
Let’s look at this logically for a moment. We all know that there are large amounts of gay men that don’t like condoms and refuse to use them with their partners. There are websites devoted to “barebackers,” as well as numerous sex parties and clubs that cater to this demographic. So, any man who does not want to use condoms has more than enough outlets and guys to have sex with, where force or deception is unnecessary.
Social media sites that attract so-called stealthers share stories about how they practice their craft and even congratulate each other on their successes. We have seen videos of stealthing that are brutal in their effect but saddening to the victim. There seems to be two types of stealthers:
Tops that want the bottom to know they have not used a condom or tampered with it. Sometimes they make sure their victim knows after the fact, but others are much crueler and inform him during sex. These events can be very violent as the victim pleads with his abuser and tries to break free.
Tops that take the term stealthing very seriously. For them, it is all about secrecy. It defeats his purpose to tell his victim about what he did and is his personal dirty secret.
But, Is it a fetish?
As we have repeatedly stated on our site, anything can be fetishized. From shoes to worn undies, bodily fluids to stuffed animals. What dictates if something is a fetish for someone is if it gets their cock hard. It is well established that causing violence and physical harm can be sexually arousing to some. Because stealthing is an action against the victim’s will, it can and often does involve some level of violence. So, factoring all of this in, it is easy to call it a fetish. But remember, just like the German cannibal, Armen Meiws, not all fetishes are healthy or advised.
When discussing fetishes, things can get a bit hinky because so many guys have them but never act on them. They might jerk off to stories about them, visit Twitter feeds that depict them, and even have many wanking sessions to videos on Xtube but still never engage in their fetish. This seems to be very accurate about stealthing. Because of the internet, where lies outnumber truths, it is difficult to tell how much of what we see and read is true or just someone’s fantasies.
Role-playing is a large part of sexual and fetish fantasy play. When this takes place on video, without the viewer knowing the truth of the activity, he may believe that what he is seeing and hearing must be true. The viewer does not know if the alleged stealther is honestly acting against the will of the alleged victim or if this is simply another angle of their fetish. This feeds into the cries that stealthing is a new and popular trend when in reality, it could simply be that more guys are putting their fantasy play on the internet. The true extent of stealthing in our community is unknown, but stating it is high or common would be speculative at best.
So, is it a crime?
Like so many legal questions, the answer is “it depends.” If we break stealthing down into a few individual parts, it might help explain this act’s complexities.
Stealthing begins with communication between the parties involved to use a condom as a condition of sexual intercourse. This “meeting of the minds” is necessary for a stealthing categorization and any sort of criminal prosecution. If the parties do not agree to condom usage, it can not be stealthing.
The second factor of stealthing involves the top either not putting on a condom at all, tampering with it to make it ineffective, or taking the condom off at some point during sexual intercourse without the permission of the alleged victim. This act breaks the verbal contract of the parties involved, and an agreement was made and then unilaterally broken by the top. This creates the state of mind (malicious intent) needed to classify it as a crime and the harm experienced by the alleged victim.
Currently, the laws in most western jurisdictions have not created specific statutes to address stealthing. There have only been three cases prosecuted in the world.
A German police officer has been found guilty of sexual assault for removing a condom during sexual intercourse without his partner’s consent, an act known as “stealthing,” in what is believed to be the first case of its kind prosecuted in Germany. The defendant, 36, was found guilty at a local court in Berlin on December 11, after carrying out the offense at his apartment in the German capital on November 18, 2017
In 2017, a man was convicted of rape in the criminal court of Lausanne, Switzerland, after taking off a condom during sexual intercourse without informing his partner.
A 2014 Supreme Court of Canada ruling also upheld a sexual assault conviction of a man who pierced holes in a condom without his sexual partner’s knowledge.
- In Australia, as of this writing, there is an open and ongoing case of a surgeon charged with raping another male doctor when he removed the condom, without his consent, during anal intercourse.
In the State of California, 2021, Gavin Newsom, the governor, signed a law banning stealthing and solidifying the action as a civil offense under state law for someone to remove a condom without their partner’s consent.
“Stealthing won’t be a crime under California law, but it will be a civil offense, allowing people who experience it to sue the perpetrators directly in civil court if they choose to.”
Those living with HIV
Even though there are many questions involving whether stealthing should be criminalized, and if the answer is yes, should it be considered rape or sexual assault, those living with HIV already have a set of laws working against them.
Many American jurisdictions have so-called HIV criminalization laws. These laws usually affect any sort of sexual activity when the guy living with HIV does not disclose his status to his partner. The wearing of condoms, uequalsu, and even PrEP are rarely if ever, considered by the court. Because of this, we can safely assume that an allegation of stealthing against a gay man living with HIV would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
What to look out for
Unfortunately, because of our world, every receptive anal sex partner is at risk of being stealthed. This does not mean you are powerless or destined to be a perpetual victim. But you will have to put in a bit more work and be much more diligent in picking your sexual partners and how you communicate your necessity to use condoms.
How you can protect yourself
- communicate your desire to use condoms clearly and consistently
- never change your mind
- trust your instincts
- no means no
- no glove, no love needs to be your mantra
- get to know your body, so you know the difference between condoms and bare cocks
- periodically check his dick for the condom
What to do if you think you have been stealthed
Sorry, but once again, the answer is “it depends.” Gay guys meet and have sex with partners in different ways than straights, which means our levels of communication about sex and condom usage will be different. Where you meet the guy, you believe stealthed you will most likely impact what you do about it, if anything.
Stealthing is all about breaking trust. Do you really trust the guys you have sex with at a sex party as much as a long-time boyfriend? Are your expectations the same about the outcomes? Of course not. If we like it or not, there is a bit of an assumption of risk when we have sex with strangers in places known to be populated by alcohol and drug users. This is not to say that anyone who has been a victim of stealthing is at total fault, but that in the real world, things are not as black and white as we may like. Our first responsibility is to protect ourselves from harm.
If you believe you have been stealthed here are a few of our suggestions:
Get tested for all sexually transmitted diseases
If you feel it necessary, reach out to a close friend with whom you can discuss your feelings. Avoid those who desire to gas you up, upset you, or encourage you to take actions you are not comfortable with.
Due to the sexual nature of stealthing and the genuine risk of STD infection, you may wish to seek out professional counseling for stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Before you go…
At GMJ, we consider stealthing a sexual assault, but many gay male victims do not. Furthermore, most sex crimes go unreported to the police, and this is even more so for gay male victims.
“Victims of stealthing may also not yet view themselves as sexual assault victims as stealthing is a relatively new topic. Sexual assault is a term with many connotations. There are cultural myths about who is a ‘real’ sexual victim, with the type of violence experienced influencing society’s view of whether a man is a victim. Our current language around sexual assault (and in this case, stealthing) may require expansion- until an act is named assault, it cannot be viewed as such and cannot be reported or legislated against.”
It is time for us to address the issue of stealthing, which might include speaking with the police and possibly legislators. No one should be forced to have a type of sex that they expressly stated they do not want to have. Consent to having sex is not consenting to having anything and everything done to you at the will of another.
If you are a stealther, STOP THIS VIOLENT SHIT RIGHT NOW! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO DO THIS TO ANYONE, FOR ANY REASON, EVER!