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Article • What is Stealthing and Reproductive Coercion? Concerning Practices That Deserve to be Documented

23 May 2017
Catherine Rousseau, Sylvie Lévesque | PhD; Sarah Beauchemin-Roy - collaboration - | B.A. Sexologie, M.A. Sexologie (en cours)

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Translated by Zoe Yarymowich

A quick round-up of social media (and Google) confirms our doubts: removing a condom during sexual relations, without the knowledge of the partner who is being penetrated, commonly called stealthing, is neither an urban legend nor an isolated phenomenon (HuffPost, May 2017; Journal de Montréal, May 2017; Journal de Québec, May 2017). Occurring to both women and men who have sex with men, non-consensual condom removal during sexual relations can have significant negative consequences, both in terms of physical health (for example, sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections [STBBI], unwanted pregnancy, increased use of abortion) and psychological health (i.e., feelings of having been cheated, abused, fear, shame, etc.) (Brodsky, 2017).

What characterizes stealthing, is the absence of consent to sex without a condom.

Indeed, while the sexual relation was consented for, this understanding of sex was based on the presence of a latex barrier between the penis and the mucous membrane(s) which was being penetrated.

But it is precisely because it is part of an activity agreed upon by both partners that stealthing generates so much confusion amongst the people who experience it (what do I call what has just happened to me?), the feeling of having been deceived, but also, sometimes, partly guilty. As if they were responsible, in part, for this violence because they said yes to sex.

It is a worrying phenomenon that must be denounced. Especially when one reads the advice, comments, and encouragement on blogs offered by certain men (see experience project) to promote this practice.

In our current research, we view the stealthing that occurs between heterosexual partners as the tip of the iceberg of a larger phenomenon: reproductive coercion (RC).

At the intersection of the domains of violence against women and reproductive health, RC refers to behaviour that interferes with contraception and family planning and reduces female reproductive autonomy (Silverman & Raj, 2014).

Derived from the Latin constringere, the term coercion refers to the action of coercing, that is to say forcing someone to act in a certain way or to lead them to a certain action or state, despite their will and desire. This is an emerging concept that is still poorly documented and little used in investigations of violence, particularly in Quebec. However, the studies in the United States, support the idea that this is not an isolated phenomenon: rates of RC vary between 8% and 26,9% in women of childbearing age (Black et al., 2011; Clark et al., 2014; Katz et al., 2015; Miller et al., 2010a; Silverman et al., 2011; Sutherland et al., 2015). More specifically, the data obtained from a sample of young women aged 16 to 29 years old report that 19,1% had been victims of coercion regarding the outcome of their pregnancy, while 15% had been victims of contraceptive sabotage (Miller et al., 2010a). For now, empirical data is very limited for stealthing and RC experienced by men, both internationally and in Quebec.

Other than Stealthing, How Does RC Manifest Itself?

Although the setting in which it occurs and the meaning attributed to it vary according to the studies selected, it is recognized that RC results in behaviours of control and force inflicted with the aim of interfering or guiding the contraceptive and reproductive trajectory of the other partner (American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, 2013; Francis et al., 2015; E. Miller et al., 2010b). It manifests itself in three main forms:

The first form is referred to as contraceptive sabotage, where one partner seeks to interfere with the other partner’s contraception (e.g., by removing the condom during sex, by piercing holes in the condom, or destroying their contraceptive pills).

The second form refers to pressures relating to pregnancy, where one partner threatens to end the relationship if the other partner does not become pregnant (e.g., threatening infidelity), or to physically harm her if she uses (or does not use) contraception to control the occurrence of pregnancy.

The third form of RC is coercion during pregnancy, which refers to the control that one partner will exert over the other, in order to decide the outcome of pregnancy alone (e.g., by preventing the partner from resorting to voluntary termination of pregnancy) (Chamberlain & Levenson, 2012; Clark et al., 2014; Miller et al., 2010a; Miller & Silverman, 2010; Moore et al., 2010; Silverman et al., 2010).

RC usually occurs in the context of intimate relationships between two partners, where there is a presence of sexual intercourse. As Logan (2015) points out on the subject of sexual coercion, there is a presumption of continuous consent in sexual relations within an intimate relationship; more specifically “there is an assumption that prior consensual sex sets a precedence of consent that is particularly difficult to parse apart from sexual coercion or lack of autonomy in consent” (p. 112). However, as the Supreme Court of Canada (2014)1, consent must be given concerning the parameters within which the sexual relationship takes place.

Thus, an act of cheating, such as lying about the condom, invalidates the notion of consent. RC is not freely consented to, even though sex can be.

An Essential Research Project* to Document This Problem

While the figures presented above reflect the extent of this phenomenon, little empirical and theoretical information is documented to understand the issue of RC (Lévesque & Rousseau, 2016). With this intention, we are currently meeting with young women between the ages of 18 and 29 so that they may share with us their personal experiences with stealthing and RC. Through their testimonies, we hope to be able to improve knowledge about RC and deepen the links that associate it or distinguish it from other forms of violence that can manifest in intimate relationships.

This project* will also promote the identification of intervention and information needs for young women who have experienced RC to guide the development of adapted interventions and will, in the long term, make it possible to raise the awareness of health professionals and social workers to this problem.

This project*, funded by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC), obtained ethical approval from the Institutional Ethics Committee of Research with Humans of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Each interview lasts from one hour to one hour and a half. This interview can be carried out on UQAM’s premises, at a location of your choice, or by video call (Skype). Compensation is offered to participants. Procedures are in place to ensure the anonymity and confidentiality of data.

*This research project is now complete.

1An important decision was rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2014, which concluded that contraceptive sabotage constitutes sexual assault (Supreme Court of Canada, 2014). A man was arrested in 2012 after he poked holes in the condoms he used with his partner, unbeknownst to her. The man purposely wanted her to bear his child and acted to achieve his ends, even though he knew his partner did not consent. The consent granted by the woman concerned sexual intercourse, but under certain conditions, that is to say with protection (the wearing of a condom), to avoid pregnancy. The woman’s consent was recognized as no longer valid since she had given her consent for safe sex (Trawick, 2012). This decision, upheld by the highest court in Canada following an appeal by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, highlighted one of the numerous manifestations of RC.

2020 update: The results of the research project initiated during the publication of the article in 2017 are now accessible. Reproductive coercion: A Qualitative Exploration of Experiences of Young Adult Women in Quebec (French only).


To cite this article:

Lévesque, S., Rousseau, C., & Beauchemin-Roy, S. (2017, May 23). What is Stealthing and Reproductive Coercion? Concerning Practices That Deserve to be Documented. Les 3 sex*https://les3sex.com/en/news/31/chronique-le-stealthing-et-la-coercition-reproductive-c-est-quoi-des-pratiques-inquietantes-qui-meritent-d-etre-documentees 

stealting, reproductive coercion, women, violence, withdrawal, condom, contraception, pregnancy


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