In California, “stealthing” during sex is now illegal thanks to a newly signed law. This legislation makes California the first state in the U.S. to ban stealthing, an act that involves secretly (and, therefore, nonconsensually) removing a condom during sex.
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB-453 into law on October 7, 2021. The bill, sponsored by state assembly member Cristina Garcia, amends the state’s legal code to define stealthing as a form of sexual battery. Specifically, the definition of sexual battery in the state now includes a situation in which someone removes a condom during sex without the verbal consent of their sexual partner and then goes on to cause contact between sexual organs or between a sexual organ and any “intimate part” of their sexual partner.
Considering that condoms can help prevent some sexually transmitted infections as well as pregnancy, it’s completely understandable that someone wouldn’t want to have sex without the use of a condom. But whatever someone’s reasons for wanting to use a condom, that preference should be respected unless that person gives specific consent otherwise. Now, thanks to this new California law, removing a condom during sex without that verbal agreement can be considered a crime.
“We have stepped up in a major way in California & I hope other state legislatures follow suit,” Garcia wrote on Twitter. “But more importantly, I hope people will build on this & continue engaging in discussion around the continuum of consent.”
The term stealthing became more widely known in 2017 after the publication of a landmark report in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. (In fact, Garcia specifically cited this report in a press release as the catalyst for this legislative action.) That report, which refers to stealthing as “rape-adjacent,” calls for a new legal approach that treats stealthing as the type of violation that it is in an effort to “provide victims with a more viable cause of action and to reflect better the harms wrought by nonconsensual condom removal.”
From there, the conversation around stealthing gained an increasing amount of attention in recent years, especially after a portrayal of the act and its repercussions appeared in the TV series I May Destroy You. The cultural discussions around stealthing have also been a crucial reminder that consent is not a binary yes or no decision to simply have sex, SELF explained previously. When you give (or don’t give) consent, you are also stating your specific boundaries around sex and the particular activities that you are and aren’t comfortable with at that time—including, potentially, the use of condoms.
And the new California stealthing law makes it clear that removing a condom without the consent of a sexual partner is a deviation from the type of sex that partner has agreed to have. So, in that state at least (as well as in countries such as Germany and New Zealand), doing so is now legally considered a type of sexual assault. As Garcia notes, cultural and legal understandings of consent are continually evolving, and other states may soon implement similar or related laws.
- ‘Stealthing’ Isn’t Just a ‘Dangerous Sex Trend.’ It’s Sexual Assault.
- What Is Sexual Assault (and What Isn’t), According to the Law
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