*Update: California becomes the first state to approve a bill that would outlaw stealthing. Read more here.
I’m writing this from my bed, at 3 a.m., because the anger and the frustration are so great that I simply can’t sleep.
A few days ago, I had an in-depth conversation with my best friend about contraception. Despite being an incredibly intelligent young man, his knowledge of contraception and the plight of women in modern dating culture were a little lax at first.
This conversation came hot on the heels of a number of prior conversations regarding our culture surrounding heterosexual women’s sexual experiences, and my discovery of the new dating fad: stealthing. Though my friend shared a number of sexual horror stories and urban legends from the gay male community, my mind and our conversation continued to return to the violation of women’s sexual rights that seems to have become so pervasive that I’m at a loss as to how to win this fight.
For those who aren’t aware—and I personally hope that number is quite high, though I’ll be far from shocked when that hope is shattered—stealthing is the act of removing a condom mid-way through a sexual encounter, without a partner’s knowledge. Though this is also present within the gay community, the most common victims are women.
Currently, this behavior is not classified as sexual assault in most countries, though lawmakers are working hard to change that. However, a much darker revelation made itself apparent as I read the comments section of the latest article describing this new “cult”: many men believe this to be not only acceptable behavior, but expected behavior. What?!
I fumed as I trawled through comment after comment from these men, claiming that women should be exercising their own contraceptive responsibility, in which case the act of stealthing would become apparently innocuous. This illogical approach, of course, ignores issues of sexually transmitted illness, contraceptive failure, and the right to an autonomous and protected sexual experience free from the fear of violation.
The usual victim blaming came thick and fast, but the motivations behind this behavior were both thinly veiled and terrifyingly insidious—an empire of power and enslavement is feeling the bitter sting of its final days, and its response of hatred is putrid.
Not only are women now charged with the responsibility of educating men regarding issues of sexual safety, but we also apparently carry the burden of repeatedly ensuring that our partners are continuing to uphold the agreed paradigm of the sexual encounter.
Women have, for time immemorial, been the bearers of sexual burden, while men have continued their little-challenged reign as the keepers of freedom in the arena of sexual expression. Still, a woman’s sexuality and inherent sexiness are used as weapons to control, belittle, shame, guilt, or reduce them. Every issue of women’s sexual freedom and sexual autonomy has been and continues to be decided predominantly by men, who continue to work toward upholding their historical cultural narrative that women are simultaneously the saint and the whore—the Eve Paradox.
A number of commenters suggested that if a woman couldn’t feel the difference between a man wearing a condom, and a man not wearing a condom, then she is ultimately to blame and “needs to do some pelvic floor exercises.”
Many months ago, I contributed an article to elephant journal entitled Yesterday I Had an Abortion, and although I received some extremely heartwarming messages of support from women all over the globe, who shared with me their experiences with abortion, I also received a number of messages and comments that took to calling me a murderer. A killer. A jezebel.
One message, written by a man, even went so far to say that I should have been denied an abortion procedure, cast out by my family and friends out of shame, and made to birth and raise my child “as punishment for (my) stupidity.”
I can’t help but notice the irony when comparing the responses of many men to both of these opposing views of women’s bodily autonomy. It seems that women are expected to be responsible for both their own and their partner’s actions, and forced to be “punished” by the prospect of motherhood…yet we are also expected to be willing participants in sexual activities which we find neither pleasing nor safe.
“Lighten up!” they say. “Why are you feminists always so uptight?” they ask, apparently genuinely perplexed.
“Oh, come on. Don’t be like that.”
As I read through the comments on both my article on abortion, and the Reddit threads dedicated to providing stealthing tips to men looking to assert their “natural authority” over women, my mind flashed back to every sexual encounter I’ve had in which I have been made to feel uncooperative, uncool, un-fun, undesirable, or straight-up annoying for asserting my right to a safe and an enjoyable sexual experience.
I remembered all of the nights I had pre-warned my partner that if there was no condom, there would be no sex, only to have him arrive at my door, and in my bed, with no condom, and a distinct whining rise in his voice. I remembered all of the times that I explicitly said that I needed foreplay and genuine connection for my experience to be enjoyable, only to find myself a few minutes later with my face being shoved into a pillow and my body dragged and pushed into whichever position best suited him, like a rag doll.
I remembered fighting back the tears welling in my eyes when he slapped me mid-thrust, because that’s what he liked, and I felt that if I didn’t pretend that I enjoyed it, he would leave me or feel that I was more trouble than I was worth.
Is it any wonder, then, that women regularly fail to ensure that their safety is paramount when sexually engaging with their partners?
Can it really be that surprising that many women do not feel comfortable enough to resist the constant cries of “but it feels better” and “relax, I’ll pull out…”?
I think this might surprise many men. I think it may be surprising for them to learn that, in too many cases, women consent to sexual behavior that they do not truly enjoy or agree with simply to put an end to the pestering and coercion—much of which employs shaming to guilt a partner into submission.
Stealthing is definitely dangerous, but it is by no means new. While the trick isn’t usually spoken about, many online forums such a Reddit and Experience Project feature long threads of comments in defense of stealthing, many decreeing that it is an inherent right for a man to be able to inseminate his sexual partners, and that this reflects his natural state of superiority. Others go further, offering any would-be-stealther extensive tips and tricks of the trade, including how to break a condom mid-way through intercourse, and how to convincingly lie about pulling-out on time when utilizing the pull-out method:
“Of course, 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…it’s a perfectly normal and natural desire for a man to want to drop his load in a woman…Don’t hesitate to do what you’re intended to do.”
A study by Alexandra Brodsky concludes that although the practice of stealthing is also rampant within the gay community, the behavior appears to be a specific act of gender violence, with supporters of stealthing drawing their ideology from a desire for male superiority and female subjectivity.
Issues of sexual safety are already of the upmost importance for women, and it’s unfortunate that many feel they must give what amounts to a basic sexual health class in the comments section of a Facebook post in order to justify their reasonable expectation not to be raped. In the interim, the most helpful advice to sexually active women remains to maintain as much of an active responsibility over your safety and autonomy as possible.
Get informed. Get active. Get angry.
As for me? I find myself increasingly unable and unwilling to participate in romantic or sexual relationships with men, and upon speaking with many of my female friends, this feeling doesn’t appear to be unique. I can feel myself shutting down as a sexual being, going into survival mode, and I wonder if this is a sliver of what it must be like for survivors of sexual abuse.
I wonder if, by proxy—and borne of a culture which seems hell-bent on morphing us into victims—all women are, in some way, sexual abuse survivors.
I wonder how long it will take for the sensitive and awe-inspiring creature of female sexuality to close in on itself altogether, taking to cowering in the corner of her cage, simply hoping to withstand another day; another mauling.