Stealthing: Surveys won’t reveal it, trash might

A recent article in a law journal has drawn considerable attention to ‘stealthing‘: when a man secretly removes his condom and continues having sex. Aside from being a heinous violation of trust and hygiene, stealthing reveals one of the many weaknesses in surveys of condom use in East Africa. In short, people could answer honestly that they used condoms.

One of the many problems with condom-use surveys – aside from the rampant lying – is that they don’t ask how condoms are used. Do they break? Do people remove them because of chafing or put them on only at the last minute, just before ejaculation? Do they cut holes in the ends to allow the life-giving semen to reach the woman? The truth is vital to know because the consequences of removing a condom can be deadly.

An alternative to surveying people about their sexual practices is to survey their garbage, aka garbology (as described here). A systematic excavation of trash would reveal the frequency of used condoms that contained no ejaculate – or that had ripped, etc. While different scenarios could explain the lack of semen (including good ol’ coitus interruptus), at least researchers would have a head-start in understanding the diversity in how condoms are used.

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