Consent seems like it should be fairly cut and dried. But research shows that college students, especially, are unclear about what constitutes consent to and during sex.
The latest and perhaps most sinister assault on consent is “stealthing.” Stealthing occurs when a man removes a condom mid-sex without his partner’s consent, according to a new paper published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. It is, essentially, what got Katherine Heigl’s character pregnant in Knocked Up.
The research, conducted by Yale Law student Alexandra Brodsky, contains interviews with victims of stealthing as well as a few discomfiting investigations into the internet’s seedier parts where men encourage others to commit the act, believing it’s their “right” to spread their seed.
Some go as far as to offer tips on how one can commit the act without a man or woman noticing. For obvious reasons, that’s a violation of “conditional consent.” Just because someone has consented to sex, doesn’t mean they’re consenting to sex without a condom. That’s doubly true if you start having sex with a condom on.
Brodsky argues that stealthing is an act of gender-based violence that violates a number of civil and criminal laws; her paper’s title describes the practice as “rape-adjacent.” Her interest in studying the little-known trend came to light when numerous friends of hers were “struggling with forms of mistreatment by sexual partners that weren’t considered part of the recognized repertoire of gender based violence.” The problem at hand was that victims of the act knew that they were being violated but weren’t equipped with the proper vocabulary to elucidate and process it.
Aside from the seriousness of the physical repercussions of bareback sex – pregnancy, STIs, HIV, AIDS – the act can affect victims emotionally, similar to the feelings of confusion and shame that victims of rape and other acts of sexual violence experience.
Because women who are stealthed have been forced into a sexual act to which they’ve not consented, one of its victims consider the act “rape-adjacent.” In fact, earlier this year, a man was convicted of rape for stealthing.
“Survivors [of stealthing] describe non-consensual condom removal as a threat to their bodily agency and as a dignitary harm,“ Brodsky writes in the study. "‘You have no right to make your own sexual decisions,’ they are told. ‘You are not worthy of my consideration.’”
Brodsky believes there is reason for victims to prosecute men who stealth but acknowledges that systems currently in place for sexual survivors are far from effective.
“We know that the law doesn’t work for gender violence survivors,” she told HuffPost. “Many of the myths and assumptions and forms of skepticism that we see from judges approaching rape victims and other kinds of sexual assault victims are likely to be present in stealthing cases.”
Brodsky argues that a new statute may be the best way to approach the legalities associated with stealthing. She explains that, by having a new statute in place to press charges against those who stealth, women will not only have the grounds to persecute, but will also possess the effective language to discuss more forms of gender violence, which could also prove useful in a victim’s recovery.
“The law isn’t the answer for everyone, and it can’t fix every problem every time,” Brodsky said. “One of my goals with the article, and in proposing a new statute, is to provide a vocabulary and create ways for people to talk about what is a really common experience that just is too often dismissed as just ‘bad sex’ instead of ‘violence.’”
Basically, keep your condom on. Come on. This is an easy one.