Recently, a former Facebook friend of mine made a post stating unequivocally, that "stealthing" is rape. You should already have three questions: 1) Why is this person no longer your Facebook friend, 2) what the hell "stealthing?" and 3) is it really rape? For the answer to the first question, you will need to wait a bit for the story to develop. As to what "stealthing" is, it is when a man removes the condom during sex, without the knowledge or permission of his partner. Clearly an unethical, immoral, deceitful, and possibly harmful act. But is it "rape?" Not according to any current state or federal laws, although California is looking to amend its state laws on rape to include stealthing. But just because it is not currently considered rape under the law, doesn't mean that it shouldn't be. This article is not about whether stealthing is (or should be) rape or not; it is about the reasoning process we use to arrive at our decision. If we use a flawed reasoning process, even if we arrive at the "right" conclusion, it is problematic because poor reasoning will ultimately result in overwhelmingly poor decisions and the holding of incorrect or unreasonable beliefs. Let's start with why someone might insist that stealthing is "rape," rather than just a despicable act that deserves punishment.
If you use social media, you have undoubtedly been introduced to what is know as virtue signaling, which is defined as the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue. Virtue signaling is often the result of the Freudian defense mechanism known as reaction formation or converting of unwanted or dangerous thoughts, feelings or impulses into their opposites. So let's say that John is secretly a misogynistic ass who would do or say just about anything to have sexual relations with a woman. John might hate this about himself, so he overcompensates by frequently and publicly announcing support of often radical positions dealing with gender such as all sex is rape, all men oppress women, etc. By something I call virtue signaling overextension, one broadens the definition of a term in an attempt to strengthen an ideological position. In our example, Tom might, through a mostly unconscious process, want stealthing to be seen as rape because rape is already widely understood as a hideous crime (that warrants the death penalty in 11 countries). This indicates to others that a) Tom would never engage in stealthing, b) Tom believes the immorality of the act is equal to rape, and c) Tom is a good guy. Motivations are often unconscious and not understood, so through rationalization, Tom would come up with a public reason for his conclusion. Tom came to the conclusion first, then looked for reasons to support his conclusion—which is the opposite good reasoning.
Whether through the rationalization process or legitimately attempting to determine if stealthing is rape or not, we need to ask the question, "if stealthing is rape, how is it rape?" Without getting too much into the difference between the legal/technical and practical definitions, be aware that the two don't have to be the same. Legal definitions often change as a result of strong moral arguments. "Marriage" is a good example. With this in mind, the legal definition of "rape," according to a 2013 FBI addendum, is
Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.
We need to then look at the subjective or ambiguous words in the definition. The big one here as related to stealthing is "consent." Here are some of the arguments made for why stealthing is rape:
Clearly it changes the terms of the sexual encounter, massively increasing the risks involved. That needs clear consent because it's no longer the encounter that has been previously consented to.
It's a breach of the agreement made when consent was given.
If one party surreptitiously alters the circumstances in a substantial way from what they agreed on with their partner, consent evaporates.
The defendant induced sexual intercourse by making a fraudulent representation
Changing the rules without telling the partner makes it sex that the partner was unable to consent to.
The premise of consent was protection, so the stealthing violates the very foundation upon which consent was given.
These are all good points. But they don't answer the question how stealthing is rape, or more specifically, where does this fit within the definition of "rape"? If we grant that consent is withdrawn based on the misrepresenting or changing the terms of the agreement, we also need to consider how that provision will affect other situations. One way to do this is by the reductio ad absurdum technique, which basically is a way to attempt to reduce the argument to absurdity, thus invalidating the argument or at least pointing out significant flaws in the argument. So we can ask if a woman lies about being on the pill to her male partner, then has sex with the man, did she rape the man? Here we are using the same "rule" or provision for why we are saying stealthing is rape. In this case, the woman deliberately misrepresented the circumstances of the sexual encounter (i.e., made a fraudulent misrepresentation) and "changed the rules without telling the partner." If we accept "deliberately misrepresenting the circumstances of the sexual encounter" as rape, by logical extension, we need to say that women who lie about being on the pill to the men they have sex with are rapists—and this is absurd (in the loose definition of the word).
Another good argument for stealthing to be considered rape was as follows (I will paraphrase the argument): Based on the legal definition of rape, semen (which would have to be argued is an "object") is penetrating a sex organ when the victim did not consent to the penetration (and might have expressly forbidden it by insisting on the condom). Although a stretch of what is generally understood as "rape," arguing such a position would not be totally unreasonable.
If we can't find a way for stealthing to reasonably fit in the current definition of rape, we can always just propose the definition be amended to include stealthing. This is what California is doing.
By calling stealthing "rape," we (as a society) would clearly be condemning the act, making it as morally reprehensible as rape. This would, in theory, lead to fewer acts of stealthing, especially if the punishment for stealthing was equivalent to that of rape. From an ethical and social perspective, this would be an insult to victims of what is traditionally known as rape. There is a distinct and clear difference in terms of physical and psychological trauma between a woman who is violently raped and a woman whose partner or husband slips off the condom without her knowing during passionate love making. I would imagine that there would be legal implications as well, but as a non-lawyer, I won't speculate beyond that.
At the start of this article, I referred to a "former" Facebook friend of mine who initially posted his assertion that stealthing was rape. I was unfriended for asking the question "if the woman lies about being on the pill, did she rape the man?" after consensus has been reached by other commenters that it is "definitely rape" because consent is withdrawn based on the misrepresenting or changing the terms of the agreement. Besides being unfriended, my penalty for asking that question included accusations of me supporting the act of stealthing (which I absolutely don't), failing to be an "advocate for women," being a "troll", and being an "asswart" (that one was my favorite). And as a parting gift, by my former Facebook friend who started the post, I was told that I embodied every cliché of the "mediocre white male" (whatever that means).
Often as it is with highly-emotional political issues, people give their allegiance to ideologies. With identity politics, people swear their allegiance to identities. This is the equivalent of accepting the conclusion first, then finding reasons that support the conclusion. As tough as it may be, especially when the conclusion may have a negative impact on you, personally, or a group to which you belong, one's allegiance should be to reason, critical thought, and truth. Taking a page from the book of scientific inquiry, you start with your hypothesis, and you try your best to falsify it. If such falsification fails, you accept the hypothesis, provisionally, and keep the conversation going.
Do you think stealthing is rape? For the purpose of this article, it doesn't matter. What does matter is how you arrived at your conclusion, if you are open to entertaining information that goes against your conclusion, and you realize that those who question your conclusion aren't necessarily trolling asswarts who support stealthing.
Reason: Book I - A Critical Thinking-, Reason-, and Science-based Approach to Issues That Matter is based on the first two years of The Dr. Bo Show, where Bo takes a critical thinking-, reason-, and science-based approach to issues that matter with the goal of educating and entertaining. Every chapter in the book explores a different aspect of reason by using a real-world issue or example.
Get the book, Reason: Book I - A Critical Thinking-, Reason-, and Science-based Approach to Issues That Matter by Bo Bennett, PhD by selecting one of the following options:
Enroll in the Daily Doses of Reason Online Course. This is passive course where you are sent one lesson per day by e-mail. There is no required interactivity. Each lesson averages just a few minutes.
Enroll in the Psychology of Woo Online Course. This is a crash course, designed to help you understand why your brain favors magical explanations over rational ones.
Have a podcast or know someone who does? Putting on a conference? Dr. Bennett is available for interviews and public speaking events. Contact him directly here.