Thursday, October 5, 2023

Stealthing – a new front in Botswana’s battle of the sexes

If there is one thing that almost all Batswana men agree on, it is that sex with a condom is as bland as eating a candy without uncovering its plastic wrapper.

This home-grown Botswana analogy, tasteless as it sounds (no pun intended) may not be far-fetched. Evidence from local research findings suggest that that no matter how thin the latex may be, it still blocks a cardinal feature of sex: the deliciously slippery feel of skin on skin. And therein lies the most treacherous lightning rod of controversy in Botswana’s battle of the sexes.

A number of local surveys have revealed that scores of Batswana men would rather risk their health and respect of their partners than use a condom.

Research finding, published by Global information and education on HIV and AIDS revealed that a number of Batswana men risked HIV infection by having unprotected sex with sex workers, sometimes even forcing the sex workers to have sex without a condom.

“Most of Botswana’s current data on female sex workers is based on a 2012 study of Francistown, Gaborone and Kasane. It found HIV prevalence to be 61.9% among an estimated 4,000 female sex workers in the three districts.

About half (54.8%) had tested for HIV and 67% reported consistent condom use. Those female sex workers who reported not using condoms indicated that they were paid not to do so, and 18.6% reported they were forced not to use condoms”, states the report.

This adversarial relationship between Batswana men and latex was captured in another research, Condom use behaviours and correlates of use in the Botswana Defence Force by

Bonnie Robin TranAnne Goldzier Thomas and Mooketsi Ditsela.

The report which was based on a data analysis from 211 male BDF personnel, aged 18–30, who completed a cross-sectional survey that collected baseline data for an intervention study revealed that Botswana’s men in uniform were not exactly keen on suiting up in venereal armor, and it all had to do with the wrapped sweet analogy. States part of the report: “Factors associated with lower condom use included excessive alcohol use, perception that using condoms reduce sexual pleasure, and having a trusted partner.”

The report recommended that, “HIV interventions aimed at increasing condom use in the BDF should address condom perceptions, alcohol abuse, and issues of trust. Innovative ways to increase condom use in this population should also be explored.”

However, while Botswana health officials are still considering innovative ways to increase condom use among Batswana, scores of condom weary Smart Alecs are already implementing their innovative ways around the plastic menace: it is called stealthing. This refers to the the act of non-consensual condom removal. In basic terms, it’s when a male partner removes or purposely damages the condom during sex without their partner’s clear consent.

Local health experts and social scientist warn that this growing trend is not only a form of sexual assault and defilement, but is also invasive and risky for both parties involved especially for women.

Dr Orapeleng Phuswane-Katse, a physician with the Ministry of Health goes as far as condemning stealthing as a criminal act.

“If someone has given you their informed consent on the basis of you using a particular form of contraception in this case condoms and you remove the condom without a person’s knowledge then you are actively breaking their consent and committing a sexual offence”, she explained to Sunday Standard Lifestyle.

Dr Phuswane-Katse may be right on the money.  A number of research findings have revealed that the ills that result from both stealthing and rape mirror each other. Both violations revoke the victim’s autonomy. While sexual assault is considered an unwanted experience forced on someone without their consent, Stealthing exposes victims to a similar experience where they may be exposed to physical dangers from which they took measures to protect themselves. Explaining how stealthing mirrors rape, Dr Phuswane-Katse pointed out that, “the most immediate dangers of stealthing are exposing an unknowing partner to sexually transmitted infections and potential pregnancy. Apart from the fear of specific bad outcomes like pregnancy and STIs. The act leaves victims feeling disempowered and see it as a demeaning violation of a sexual agreement. Stealthing has other sexual connections such as an obsession with breeding or ‘pregnancy risk’ in which sexual pleasure is derived from either the risk of a potentially unwanted pregnancy, or the knowledge that an act of unprotected sex will lead to fertilization.”

Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer with the University of Botswana also pursues the line of reasoning that stealthing mirrors rape, although she does not say it in so many words.

Dr Ntshwarang harped on “consent” which according to Botswana’s penal code is the difference between rape and consensual sex.

She explained to Sunday Standard lifestyle that, “when someone consents to intercourse, with the knowledge that it will be with a condom, there is an obligation to uphold that understanding. Taking the condom off means that a different sex act is occurring, and informed consent needs to again take place. Stealthing could be viewed in a similar way to someone having consensual sex and not disclosing they are HIV+ or a female who doesn’t take her birth control but her partner thinks she has and then she ends up pregnant. Both of these experiences violate the other person’s sense of trust and safety. Stealthing thus might be seen as a betrayal trauma where someone significantly violates a person’s trust or well-being. If there is supposed to be an explicit contract between two people concerning protection but the other party betrays that, then this can have serious negative effects on trust which may echo throughout the victim’s future sexual experiences.”


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