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What is stealthing?

the scary reality of gay men
purposefully infecting others with HIV

James Kearslake
James Kearslake

Small business owner,
writer, trans, mental
health advocate

Table of Contents

Stealthing is when the top removes his condom during sex without the unknowing bottom’s consent.

The aim of stealthing is for the top to experience bareback sex and ejaculate inside the bottom without the bottom having consented to it.

In a more disturbing sub-section of the community, some HIV positive men actively enact stealthing with the aim of infecting HIV negative men with the virus.

It should be known stealthing is sexual assault under UK law, and anyone found to intentionally infect others with HIV will be tried under grievous bodily harm.

However, as we have seen in the case with Daryll Rowe, a 27-year-old hairdresser from Brighton, no prison sentence can undo the untold harm and misery that intentional HIV infection can cause victims.

Intentional HIV infection to others is severely damaging to the physical and mental health of the victims, and is usually driven by the assailant’s desire to project their own suffering onto others. It is a heart-breaking reality of the pain and trauma that perpetuates throughout our community.

Stealthing is common

Any bottom who cares about their sexual health has probably experienced moments when tops have pushed them for bareback sex. Some of you may have also experienced those moments where you don’t feel your sexual safety is in the top’s interest. 

I certainly have.

What is stealthing | LGBTQ gay sex | LGBTQ sexual health | LGBTQ Wellness

And while I’m not saying you shouldn’t have bareback sex, I do encourage everyone to consider who they have bareback sex with. It is a deeply private experience and will always carry an element of risk, therefore you should reserve it for men you feel comfortable and safe around.

Stealthing is more common than people realise, and tops will attempt methods of stealthing by claiming they didn’t know the condom had come off during sex. Rather painfully, the three men who have done it to me have been people I’ve known.

My experience of stealthing

I have had three men attempt stealthing on me during sex, and painfully it was people I was seeing so had considered them more than a one night stand. Because I was young, I was unaware what stealthing was and that it was sexual assault.

Doing doggy, he pulled out a few times playing with himself. I put my hand back and felt for the roll of the condom, and unsurprisingly was unable to do so.

With each person they had been pushing me for bareback sex with them. These experiences were before PrEP and I did not trust the men enough to have bareback sex with them. Each of them at different moments have tried stealthing, and I recall most vividly where I could sense he was going to try removing the condom before it happened. My intuition told me something was off before from the way he was pushing for bareback sex, and then during sex he was moving himself in weird ways; I could tell he was planning a next move instead of losing himself in the moment. 

Doing doggy, he pulled out a few times playing with himself before putting it back in, assuming to normalise the action, then on the final go removed his condom without my consent. Even though I couldn’t see behind me, my intuition sensed it.

As he was inside me, I put my hand back and felt his penis for the roll of the condom at the bottom, and unsurprisingly was unable to do so.

The man claims he hadn’t realised it had come off and must have happened because he was enjoying himself so much.

It leaves you feeling bitterly let down when someone does this to to you – sex is such an important human experience, but it has to be built on trust between two people.

I never saw him again.

Why gay men enact stealthing

There is no one reason that a human would do this to another, but with most causes of enforced suffering and pain it’s usually resulting from the assailant’s own suffering.

A quick scan of the Google search stealthing gay sex forums and you will read countless men’s reasons for stealthing. Some talk of it being sexually arousing, while for others it’s about asserting control.

It’s heart wrenching to read of one man proud that he’s stealthing an 18 year old boy. That young man with his whole life ahead of him being failed by the people who should be helping him on his complex journey through gay life. It reinforces the message we recently shared in the article #gaystoo about the older tops who use their dominance to abuse the naivety of young gay men.

Irrespective of a man’s reason for stealthing, their actions are never justified, and you should report them to the police for rape as soon as you’re safe to do so.

Stealthing is sexual assault

Stealthing is rape under English and Welsh law. It goes against the consent that has been granted to someone during sexual activity and is therefore unconsent sex, or rape.

The below extract has been taken directly from Rape Crisis England & Wales explaining how stealthing is considered rape under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 | Rape Crisis England & Wales (1)

Conditional consent

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that someone did not consent to sex if the other person tricked them about the ‘nature’ of the sex – in other words, what exactly it was going to involve. This is what’s known in law as ‘conditional consent’.

Although the Sexual Offences Act does not specifically mention lying about putting on a condom or non-consensual condom removal, a man who carried out stealthing was convicted of rape in 2019. This case confirmed that conditional consent applied in cases of stealthing and that it was therefore rape under English and Welsh law.

Reporting stealthing as sexual assault

Stealthing is rape so can be reported to the police in England and Wales.

If you are not ready to report it to the police, are scared, or need additional support you should contact Rape Crisis England & Wales who can talk you through options for your situation.

If you live in Scotland you can take support from Rape Crisis Scotland.

For support in other jurisdictions including Ireland, Jersey, Europe, USA, or Australia, Rape Crisis England & Wales provide a list of key support partners.

How stealthing and gift-giving differ

Gift-giving is the act of purposefully infecting someone with HIV who was HIV negative.

Gift-giving is considered a consented act. It is not always clear why someone wants to be infected with HIV but it can be because gay men feel they will get the virus anyway, and so expediting the process allows them to have unprotected and high risk sex without the need to use PrEP or condoms.

With PrEP being such an effective way to prevent HIV transmission, it seems unexplainable that someone actively targets being transmitted with HIV than continue using PrEP. The lifestyle that comes with chemsex parties, drug abuse, and gift-giving is very complex and can cause long-term, damaging affects to the mental health of our community. Men sometimes make decisions for their lives while in very emotionally vulnerable places and should not be judged for these decisions.

People looking to be infected with HIV are sometimes called bug chasers or they’re bug chasing.

Stealthing however is unconsented and is an act of rape to another.

HIV parties

Some parties are promoted as HIV parties where people can attend to have unprotected or high risk sex if they’re already HIV positive, or where HIV negative people can try get infected with HIV.

HIV parties are very common, often promoted on Grindr, and happen all around the world.

Sex-roulette parties

In 2016, the major outlets The Mirror and The Daily Mail reported a Doctor in Barcelona had sounded the alarm on the rise of sex-roulette parties. Sex parties where one person attending is HIV positive, but no guests know who is HIV positive and everybody sleeps together without condoms. The idea being that the heightened sense of risk contributes to a heightened sexual experience.

The reported was rebuffed by Pop Trigger in this YouTube video shared here.

And Queerty called out the inaccuracies at the time with their article too.

Reporting rape in the UK

You can use these resources if you’re considering reporting a rape that has happened to you, whether recently or in the past.

Rape Crisis England & Wales – a charity supporting rape survivors – the national website for policing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Metropolitan Police – London’s police force and largest police force in the UK

Scotland Police – Scotland’s own National Rape Task Force and Rape Investigation Units

GOV.UK – central government’s advice on reporting rape, as well as support resources available in Scotland

Have you been raped by a police officer?

If you’ve been raped by a police officer in any force, you can use the Metropolitan Police’s new reporting hotline to report it. Although it was set up for reporting crimes by Metropolitan police officers, the force has said it will pass on all crimes by police officers to relevant forces across the country. 

Telephone number: 0800 085 000

Information can also be provided through Crimestoppers online.

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