Removing the condom changes the context in which you consented to sexual intercourse. If that context changes, it is imperative that consent is reaffirmed.
By Roslyn Talusan
Content Warning/Trigger Warning: This article outlines details of my own sexual assault and may be disturbing to some readers.
Last month, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law published a study on “stealthing.” This is when one’s sexual partner removes the condom without their knowledge, and continues the sexual encounter without re-confirming consent.
The study discusses perspectives from victims of “stealthing.” Alexandra Brodsky, the author of the study, identified two common issues across the victims’ stories – the risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, and that having the condom removed was clearly a violation of their autonomy. Despite that they clearly did not consent to penetration without a condom, the survivors were reluctant and hesitant to outright call this rape, instead labelling it “rape-adjacent.”
A couple of years ago, I was raped by an acquaintance who wasn’t wearing a condom. When we moved to the back of his car to have sex, I asked if he had a condom – he didn’t seem to want to wear one, so I told him that I wasn’t comfortable having sex without it. I’ve always been conscious of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, so I was not okay with having unprotected sex with someone I had only known for a few weeks. He found a condom, put it on, and we fucked.
Halfway through, he took the condom off because he had lost his erection. He asked me if I would go down on him, and he didn’t understand why I asked him to get another condom. He didn’t have another one. I explained STIs and unwanted pregnancy again. “Well you can’t just tease me like that,” he said, “just a little kiss.” He picked me up, put me on my back, and got on top of me.
“No,” I said, making sure I heard myself say it, “No, no, no.” I felt him slip his tip in, and he laughed at how tense my thighs were. “You’re so scared,” he said, “If I wanted to do it, I would have done it already.”
Of course I was scared. This guy was already making genital contact even though I said no multiple times, and I could barely breathe with him on top of me. I was terrified, and I panicked – “you’re fucking lucky I’m on birth control,” I said, “if you cum in me, I will fucking kill you.” And then he raped me.
The Dictionary.com definition of rape is: “unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.”
This was rape, and I knew it. I made it crystal clear that I did not consent to sexual intercourse without a condom. I said no multiple times, and I explained why I didn’t consent to unprotected sex. Despite all this, he put me in a submissive position, and was already making contact with my body with his penis. Despite threatening his life, despite not having consent, he sexually penetrated me. And that’s not okay.
In the aftermath of the rape, I developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Seeing him at work made me freeze up, and my chest would get tight to the point of being unable to breathe. Hearing his voice sent my mind back to the assault – his panting in my ear, his creepy smile above me as he gloated. Since he didn’t use a condom, I went to my local sexual assault care centre to get tested for STIs, which involved swabbing my vagina with a Q-tip. I sobbed uncontrollably in the washroom after the test, images of the assault flashing before my mind’s eye.
This was all made worse by the fact that one of my best friends at the time told me that what happened wasn’t rape in her so-called objective opinion. She accused me of sensationalizing, exaggerating my story and that “rape” was a strong word (no shit). Her gaslighting made my trauma even worse. We didn’t speak for two months, and later that year, I cut her out of my life for good. I realized how deeply wrong she was, and I couldn’t overcome the pure disgust I felt whenever I had to see her.
Two weeks after the assault, I reported him to the managers at my office, and against my wishes, they called the cops. I filed a police report, and my co-worker was arrested and charged with one count of sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, 8 months later, the state prosecutor withdrew the charge as there wasn’t a strong prospect in criminal conviction.
My trauma was made worse by having to get tested, reporting the rape to my managers, and going through the legal system. I’ve been seeing a counsellor for the past 2 years, and taking anti-anxiety medication to help myself cope with the symptoms of my PTSD. Sometimes I think about how different my life would have been if I hadn’t been raped. If this guy had just listened to me, respected my bodily autonomy, and backed off, none of this would have happened.
And that’s what this comes down to – consent. Sexual intercourse with a condom is different from sex without, and there are different risks inherent in both of them. Removing the condom changes the context in which you consented to sexual intercourse. If that context changes, it is imperative that consent is reaffirmed. If you consent to sex with a condom, and your partner removes that condom and doesn’t tell you, and even if they tell you and force intercourse on you anyway, we must label it precisely for what it is.
It is sexual assault. It is rape. And it is not okay.