Metro Weekly

California could become first state to outlaw “stealthing,” or removing a condom during sex

If signed into law, the bill would classify stealthing as sexual battery

condom, stealthing
Photo by Deon Black on Unsplash

Earlier this month, California’s state legislature unanimously passed a bill making it illegal to remove a condom during sex without consent.

While New York and Wisconsin lawmakers previously introduced similar legislation, California would become the first state to make “stealthing” illegal if Governor Gavin Newsom signs the bill into law by Oct. 10.

Many countries, including Switzerland, Germany and the U.K., already prosecute stealthing as a form of sexual assault. According to a 2018 study, one in five men and one in three women have experienced it.

“‘Stealthing’ or removing a condom w/out permission isn’t just immoral, but it’s illegal,” tweeted assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who has been pushing for related legislation for years.

In 2017, Garcia proposed making stealthing a criminal violation, but her bill did not pass. The current bill would recognize stealthing as sexual battery in the state’s civil code, allowing survivors to sue perpetrators for damages.

Garcia has attributed her interest in outlawing stealthing to a 2017 article titled “‘Rape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal.” The paper, which combines interviews and legal analysis, went viral despite being published in a Columbia law review. 

“I wrote a term paper in law school, a bunch of people read it, and now there’s maybe going to be an actual law???” tweeted Alexandra Brodsky, who wrote the paper as a third-year student at Yale Law School.

Brodsky, now a civil rights attorney, hopes that the legislation will help the public better understand sexual violence.

She told The New Yorker that the TV show I May Destroy You helped introduce the issue of nonconsensual condom removal into the public consciousness.

However, stealthing has long been known in the LGBTQ community, where it can also refer to an HIV-positive man actively trying to pass the virus to an HIV-negative man without the latter’s knowledge or consent.

“If stealthing is prevalent in the heterosexual community, then I’m telling you it’s rampant in the homosexual community,” a gay man told the Mirror in 2017.

That same year, RuPaul’s Drag Race star Miz Cracker argued in a Slate article that Brody’s paper, and media coverage of it, heteronormatively neglected to explore stealthing among gay men. 

The study is admirable for drawing parallels between heterosexual and gay experiences of stealthing,” she wrote, “but it’s remiss in failing to place gay stealthing in the context of gay sexuality and the psychic fallout of the AIDS epidemic more broadly.”

Cracker opined that stealthing is too nuanced to be discussed solely in terms of victims and perpetrators.

“It is a widely practiced act that stems from and rehearses the deepest anxieties of the wounded gay psyche—pleasure, disease, machismo, masochism, thrill-seeking,” she wrote after Garcia’s first bill was introduced.

Four years later, Brodsky hopes that Garcia’s second bill will help clarify why stealthing is harmful.

“For people for whom it is not intuitive why it is bad to remove a condom without your partner’s consent,” she told The New Yorker, “they’ll now have to ask themselves why that law exists.”

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