Stealthing Statistics: Estimating how prevalent non-consensual condom removal actually is
By Bedbible Research Center / May 19, 2023
‘Stealthing’ refers to the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex, a practice posing health risks and violating trust. However, the prevalence of stealthing is not well-studied, making it a challenge to assess its true impact. This article provides a meta-study of research that has investigated the prevalence of stealthing. We aiming to shed light on its actual prevalence, thereby helping inform those who explore strategies for prevention and legislation.
In the below meta-study we have included data from 18 different scientific studies, published in journals such as Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Archives of Sexual Behavior, and the Journal of Sex Research. Studies were excluded from this review if the tactics of condom use resistance (CUR) were not clearly delineated in the paper. Collectively the studies included more than 16,640 participants, predominantly women.
- We estimate that 15% of women have experienced stealthing (partner removing a condom without consent).
- The prevalence of stealthing varies considerably across studies, with the reported rates among women ranging from 1.6% to 43.0%. The variation likely reflects differences in the populations studied and the methodologies used.
- Studies reporting the lowest prevalence rates tended to involve more general populations of women, often in higher educational settings, potentially suggesting less exposure to riskier sexual behaviors.
- The highest prevalence rates were typically found in studies focusing on more specific, potentially vulnerable populations, such as adolescent girls or women attending family planning clinics in low-income neighborhoods.
- The mid-level prevalence rates, falling between 10.2% and 21.0%, came from studies involving college-aged women and young adult women from diverse backgrounds.
- The data regarding women perpetrating stealthing was minimal, with only one study reporting that 3.0% of women disclosed perpetrating condom sabotage.
- 6.1% of males self-reported a history of stealthing perpetration.
- 5.0% of men reported a history of stealthing victimization.
- 19.71% of men who have sex with men (MSM) reported stealthing victimization.
How many women report experiencing stealthing
Most studies used a self-reported measures from women, indicating whether or not they had previously experienced stealthing. The studies exclusively looked at whether the women reported any experience with stealthing at any point in their life.
As most studies looked at very young demographics, the self-reported numbers will be skewed towards a lower prevalence rate than what could be expected throughout an entire life. In other words, just because a college student have not experienced stealthing before, does not mean, that at any point she would not. Therefore, if a certain percentage of this younger demographic report experiences with stealthing, it is very likely that more respondents in this group will later experience stealthing.
Lowest Prevalence Rates of Stealthing
The studies presenting the lowest rates of reported stealthing incidents include:
- Miller et al. (2014) found that only 1.6% of their sample of 3,539 participants reported a stealthing experience.
- McCauley et al. (2017) reported a 2.7% prevalence rate in their study with 4,674 participants.
- Phillips et al. (2016)‘s study of 97 participants found a prevalence rate of 6.0%.
While these rates are noticeably lower than others, it’s important to consider the differences in demographics, geographical location, and the specific context of each study.
Understanding the Lower Prevalence Rates
There are several potential factors contributing to the lower reported rates of stealthing in these studies:
- Demographic Variables: Different age ranges, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses may influence the rate of stealthing incidents. For example, McCauley et al. (2017) and Miller et al. (2014) focused on younger populations (ages 16-29), which could influence the rates due to fewer years of sexual activity or different sexual behaviors prevalent among these age groups.
- Contextual Factors: The context in which the study is conducted might also impact the prevalence rates. Phillips et al. (2016) collected data specifically from women who were able to get pregnant and had been sexually active with a man in the past year. This particular context could contribute to a lower prevalence rate.
- Recruitment Methods: The recruitment method and sample type can significantly affect the reported rates. For instance, studies that use convenience sampling (e.g., college students or users of specific clinics) may not be as representative of the broader population, potentially leading to underestimation of the true prevalence.
- Awareness and Understanding: The awareness and understanding of stealthing as a non-consensual act can vary among different populations. Some individuals might not recognize or identify the experience of stealthing, thus leading to underreporting.
It’s crucial to consider these factors when interpreting the results from these studies. Lower rates don’t necessarily imply that stealthing is less of a problem in these populations, but may indicate differences in reporting and recognition of the behavior.
Highest Reported Prevalence Rates
The highest reported rates of stealthing, experienced by women against their consent, were observed in the studies by Latimer et al. (2018) and Northridge et al. (2017).
In Latimer et al. (2018), among respondents who had used condoms before, the study reported that a staggering 32.62% of women have experienced stealthing. This prevalence rate climbed to 39.78% when including the category of women who continued willingly after the condom was removed without permission.
The study conducted by Northridge et al. (2017), which focused on a younger demographic of girls aged 14-17, found a high prevalence rate of 43.0%. These participants reported that a partner had taken off the condom during sex.
These figures reveal a concerning high prevalence of stealthing in some populations, emphasizing the urgency of addressing this issue.
Factors Potentially Elevating Stealthing Rates
When examining the studies with the highest reported prevalence of stealthing, specific demographic factors and sample characteristics could contribute to the observed elevated rates.
In the study by Latimer et al. (2018), the population sampled consisted of both women and men who have sex with men (MSM), which might lead to higher reporting rates. The LGBTQ+ community, including MSM, has been historically more open about discussing sexual health matters, which could result in more accurate reporting of non-consensual condom removal incidents.
Furthermore, the higher rates reported in the Northridge et al. (2017) study, involving girls aged 14-17, might be influenced by the age of the participants. Younger individuals may be more susceptible to such behaviors due to factors such as less sexual experience, increased vulnerability, or more difficulty in negotiating safe sex practices. In addition, the settings from which these participants were recruited—primary care/subspecialty clinics, a high school-based clinic, and an emergency room—might have higher concentrations of individuals exposed to risky situations or behaviors, thus influencing the higher reported rates of stealthing.
Both studies underline the importance of continued investigation into the impact of social, environmental, and individual factors on the prevalence of stealthing across different populations.
Mid-Level Prevalence Rates of Stealthing
Several studies reported mid-level prevalence rates of stealthing, representing instances where participants reported experiencing non-consensual condom removal during sexual intercourse.
Katz et al. (2017) reported a rate of 21.0% among undergraduate women who had previously had consensual vaginal sex. Similarly, PettyJohn et al. (2021) found that 16.2% of women and girls aged 16-24 seeking services from youth-serving agencies in Western Pennsylvania had experienced a partner removing the condom during intercourse.
Davis et al.’s study (2019) with a diverse group of women aged 21-30 with increased sexual risk characteristics discovered a stealthing prevalence of 12.2%. This was closely mirrored by Holliday et al. (2017), who found a 12.2% prevalence rate among women and girls from family planning clinics in low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco.
These mid-level rates present a clear indication that stealthing is a significant issue affecting a substantial proportion of sexually active individuals, with potential detrimental implications for sexual health and well-being.
Estimating the Prevalence of Stealthing
Given the wide range of reported prevalence rates and the varying demographics and methodologies of the respective studies, pinning down a single, precise estimate of the prevalence of stealthing is challenging. Nevertheless, based on the data and discussion presented, we can deduce a reasonable range within which the true rate likely falls.
The lower boundary of this estimate can be informed by the minimum reported prevalence rate, 1.6 as reported by Miller et al. (2014). This conservative figure, however, may underestimate the actual rate due to factors such as underreporting or the limited demographic and geographical scope of the study.
On the other end of the spectrum, the maximum reported prevalence, 43.0% by Northridge et al. (2017), might overstate the average prevalence as it represents a very specific demographic, young girls aged 14-17 seeking medical care, who may not be fully representative of the broader population.
Drawing from the middle range of rates, reported by studies such as Katz et al. (2017), PettyJohn et al. (2021), Bonar et al.’s (2021), and Davis et al. (2019), we can infer that a more accurate representation of the prevalence of stealthing likely falls within the range of 10-20%.
The most recent studies (three from 2021) found that 10.6% to 18.9% of women report having experienced stealthing.
Overview of meta-review:
|Davis et al. (2014)||Community sample of 313 moderate drinking men participated ages 21 to 30||9% of high-risk men self-reported perpetrating condom sabotage since age 14, but this measure did not separate stealthing from other items such as intentionally breaking a condom|
|Miller et al. (2014)||3,539 women and girls aged 16–29, surveyed at family planning clinics in Western Pennsylvania||1.6% women and girls said that a partner had previously taken off the condom during sex.|
|Grace & Anderson (2016)||482 women and girls. 90.9% not U.S.-born. Average aged 30.5. Age span from 15 to 45. Identified as Latina, Hispanic or Spanish, and had a partner in the past year||6.5% of women had taken condom off while having sex and 38.2% of women had experienced a partner do it to them.|
|Phillips et al. (2016)||97 women aged 18–45 (avg. Age 27), who were able to get pregnant and had been sexually active with a man in the past year||6.0% of women said that a partner removed the condom (specifically to get the respondent pregnant)|
|Holliday et al. (2017)||1,234 women and girls.|
76.0% ages 16–24. 84.5% U.S.-born. From family planning clinics in low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco
|12.2% of women had removed a condom during sex to facilitate pregnancy.|
|Katz et al. (2017)||223 undergraduate women who reported past consensual vaginal sex with at least 1 male partner, average age 19.||21.0% of women reported experiencing a partner taking off the condom during sex.|
|Katz & Sutherland (2017)||146 undergraduate women who reported past consensual vaginal sex with at least 1 male partner, average age 19.||11.6% of women reported being the victim of stealthing.|
|McCauley et al. (2017)||4,674 women and girls aged 16–29 seeking care at participating clinics, from CA and PA.||2.7% of women and girls reported experiencing a partner take off the condom while having sex.|
|Northridge et al. (2017)||149 girls aged 14–17 from primary care/subspecialty clinics, a high school based clinic, and an emergency room||43.0% of girls reported a partner took off the condom during sex.|
|Latimer et al. (2018)||1,189 women and 1,063 MSM (Men who have sex with men).||Of respondents who have used condoms before, 32.62% of women have experienced stealthing before, however, I would personally not classify the following category as having not experienced stealthing: “Condom removed w/o permission but continued willingly” – which adds another +7.16% making it 39.78% of women who have experienced stealthing. 19.71% of men who have sex with men have experienced some form of stealthing against them, and that number increases to 26.67% if we include “Condom removed w/o permission but continued willingly”.|
|Wegner et al. (2018)||235 sexually active heterosexual women (ages 18 to 21)||3.0% of women reported perpetrating condom sabotage since age 14, which included an item assessing stealthing as “Agreeing to use a condom but removing it before or during sex without telling him”, but did not report on the frequency of stealthing perpetration specifically – other items included “Agreeing to use a condom but intentionally damaging it (e.g., poking a hole in it) before using it” and|
|Devis et al. (2019)||503 women aged 21-30 years with increased sexual risk characteristics recruited from 2013 to 2017||58% reported having engaged in noncoercive CUR and 86.6% have experienced it against them|
19% reported having engaged in coercive CUR, and 48.9% have experienced it against them.
12.2% of women had a partner engage in stealthing (type of coercive CUR)
2.6% of women having experienced condom sabotage
|Katz & LaRose (2019)||223 undergraduate women who reported past consensual vaginal sex with at least 1 male partner, average age 19.||10.2% of women reported a partner taking of the condom without consent.|
|Orchowski et al. (2020)||US Women ages of 18–24 year (N = 212) attending community college were recruited. Only the women with a history of sexual intercourse (N = 178; 84% of the sample) were included in analyses.||7.9% of women reported that a partner had “Agreeing to use a condom, but removing it before/during sex without telling you”, they also found that 3.9% had experienced a partner intentionally breaking a condom before or during intercourse. Totalling stealthing-like behaviour to 11.8% of women ages 18-24 in college have experienced this.|
|Fleury-Steiner & Miller (2020)||172 women on average age 35||7.0% reported that a partner had removed or poked holes in condoms without consent.|
|Bonar et al. (2021)||2,550 18- to 25-year-olds (M age = 20.8, SD = 2.3), recruited via social media (48% female; 53.9% non-Hispanic White; 46.0% had another racial/ethnic identity; 67.4% heterosexual; 85.3% had some college education)||– Among men, 5.0% reported a history of stealthing victimization (2.6% once, 1.1% twice, 0.7% 3–5 times, and 0.8% 6 or more times). For males, 6.1% reported a history of stealthing perpetration (2.8% once, 1.2% twice, 1.5% 3–5 times, and 0.6% 6 or more times)|
– Among women, 18.9% reported a history of stealthing victimization (10.3% once, 5.2% twice, 2.5% 3–5 times, and 0.9% 6 or more times)
– Few men (1.7%) reported both stealthing victimization and perpetration.
– Did not examine stealthing perpetration by women.
– this is greater than the 12% of higher risk women reported by Wegner and colleagues (2018), but less than the 32% from an Australian sexual health clinic which encompassed a broader age range (Latimer et al., 2018).
|Kraft et al. (2021)||735 Black women aged 14–19 who had sex in the previous 6 months||10.6% of women experienced some form of condom sabotage from a partner, including stealthing, poking holes in it, or breaking the condom during sex.|
|PettyJohn et al. (2021)||136 women and girls aged 16–24 seeking services from youth-serving agencies in Western Pennsylvania||16.2% of women said that a partner took condom off during sex.|
Women perpetrating stealthing
Given the information available from the presented studies, the reported instances of women perpetrating stealthing appear to be considerably less frequent. Wegner et al. (2018) noted that 3.0% of their surveyed sexually active heterosexual women (aged 18 to 21) reported perpetrating some form of condom sabotage, which includes stealthing, since the age of 14.
One study, Bonar et al. (2021), even stated that they did not examine stealthing perpetration by women, as the frequency was so low.
Men self-reporting to remove condom without consent
In the studies presented, limited data was available on men reporting to perpetrate stealthing. However, in the study conducted by Bonar et al. (2021), they found that among the surveyed men, 6.1% reported a history of stealthing perpetration. Additionally, Davis et al. (2014) noted that in a community sample of 313 moderate drinking men, 9% self-reported perpetrating some form of condom sabotage (which includes stealthing) since age 14.
It’s important to highlight the need for caution in interpreting these numbers, as they depend on self-reporting, which can be influenced by various factors, including social desirability bias. Furthermore, these figures may not represent the broader population, as the samples were specific in their characteristics (e.g., moderate drinkers in the study by Davis et al.).
Stealthing against men
Data regarding men experiencing stealthing is relatively limited in the reviewed studies. Nonetheless, a few studies did report on this demographic.
In the study by Bonar et al. (2021), which included a broad age range of individuals, it was found that 5.0% of male respondents reported a history of stealthing victimization. Meanwhile, Latimer et al. (2018) focused on men who have sex with men (MSM), reporting that 19.71% of this group have experienced some form of stealthing against them.
These percentages indicate that stealthing is an issue that affects men as well, albeit with seemingly lower prevalence rates compared to those reported for women in these studies. It is important to note, however, that the actual prevalence of stealthing among men might be underreported due to factors such as social stigma, which might discourage men from disclosing such experiences.
Furthermore, it should be stressed that stealthing is a breach of consent and trust, with potential harmful consequences, regardless of the gender of the victim. More comprehensive research is needed to fully understand the scope of this issue among different demographic groups, including men.
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- Miller, E., McCauley, H. L., Tancredi, D. J., Decker, M. R., Anderson, H., & Silverman, J. G. (2014). Recent reproductive coercion and unintended pregnancy among female family planning clients. Contraception, 89(2), 122–128.
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- Bonar, E. E., Ngo, Q. M., Philyaw-Kotov, M. L., Walton, M. A., & Kusunoki, Y. (2021). Stealthing perpetration and victimization: prevalence and correlates among emerging adults. Journal of interpersonal violence, 36(21-22), NP11577-NP11592.
- Kraft, J. M., Snead, M. C., Brown, J. L., Sales, J. M., Kottke, M. J., Hatfield-Timajchy, K., & Goedken, P. (2021). Reproductive coercion among African American female adolescents: Associations with contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. Journal of Women’s Health, 30(3), 429–437.
- PettyJohn, M. E., Reid, T. A., Miller, E., Bogen, K. W., & McCauley, H. L. (2021). Reproductive coercion, intimate partner violence, and pregnancy risk among adolescent women with a history of foster care involvement. Children & Youth Services Review, 120, N.PAG–N.PAG.