Stealthing, or non-consensual removal of a condom or barrier-method during sex in secret, is becoming more of a topic in sexual health and awareness. With stealthing being ruled illegal in California in October 2021, it has sparked more conversation about protection and management. 21Ninety spoke with Shamaree Brissett, Intimacy Coach and Relationship Expert to better understand what stealthing is and how to spot red flags. Read on to find out what stealthing is and what to do if it happens.

What Is Stealthing?

To answer questions about what counts as stealthing, Brissett outlines what it is and how to detect it.

“Stealthing most commonly refers to someone removing a condom or barrier method during sex without the other person’s consent – this can occur prior to or during intercourse. Stealthing can also refer to someone tampering with the condom or barrier method (i.e. poking holes) prior to use or lying about using a condom or barrier method when they did not,” Brissett explained.

Ways to Protect Against Stealthing

Brissett recommends talking beforehand to ensure full agreement and clarity.

“This talk should involve all parties laying out their expectations and boundaries. The conversation will help you to establish trust and understanding,” Brissett advised. “If you do not trust the person or if they cannot demonstrate a clear understanding of your boundaries, you may want to reconsider engaging in any sort of sexual experience with them.”

Otherwise, it is a good idea to provide your own condoms or barrier methods.

“Providing your own form of protection guarantees that it has not been tampered with. Be sure to store condoms and other barrier methods properly to maintain effectiveness,” said Brissett. 

Being vigilant may also provide peace of mind against stealthing. According to Brissett, “watching them putting the condom on or the barrier method in place ensures not only that they are using one, but also that they are using it correctly.”

Additionally, make sure that you see them take the condom off afterward. The rule is: if you do not see it, ask questions.

“Do not be afraid to ask what you want and need to know,” Brissett added.

How to Know If Stealthing Happened

There are several ways to determine if stealthing happened. While it may seem daunting and even a little unnerving to have to ask, there are some reliable methods to choose from.

“The most obvious way to find out if stealthing has happened is if you do not see the condom or barrier method. Sometimes when a condom or barrier method breaks or becomes compromised, we may hear or see it happen, however there may be times when you do not know. In those instances when you are unsure, it is best to ask.

Ask questions such as:

  • “Where’s the condom?” (or alternative barrier method)
  • “Did you experience any issues with using the condom?” (or alternative barrier method)
  • “Do you mind if I dispose of the condom?” (or alternative barrier method)

Brissett says that the last question will give you the opportunity to verify its existence. It also provides you with the chance to confirm that the condom or barrier method was not damaged.

“Unfortunately asking will not always yield the truth. So, regardless of the answers you receive to the previous questions, if you feel that you may have been a victim of stealthing, take the necessary steps to reduce risks associated with missing or broken barrier methods. There are several ways to minimize risks after the encounter such as seeking support, emergency contraception, PEP, rape kits, STI testing and pregnancy testing.”

Seeking Necessary Support

If you’ve been stealthed, it is important to seek the necessary support afterwards. Many find emotional support through professional guidance and trusted loved ones. Some of these emotional support systems include: therapists, sex therapists, mental health professionals and trusted loved ones. Dealing with the aftermath or post-traumatic shock of being stealthed can be complicated or overwhelming. Be sure to seek out spaces that feel safe to move through this assault.

Medical support in the form of testing for STIs and taking a pregnancy test (after an adequate period of time) are also options to follow up after being stealthed. The most important thing is to trust yourself and find whatever support is necessary in the moment.

Related: Sexual Aftercare Looks Different For Everyone, Here Are Some Ideas