Condoms have been around for centuries in one form or another. Cave drawings found in French cave paintings from sometime around 10000-13000 BC and an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic from around 1000 BC are some of the oldest known records of condoms. And everything between then and now is a colorful and controversial history.
Condoms through history
History shows that people were making condoms out of many different items in their attempts to have safer sex. Animal intestines, linens, tortoise shells, silk, fish bladders, and many other unique, some quite gross, things were used to make condoms. The 1700s saw the beginnings of widespread sale of contraceptives with the large number of European slaughterhouses. The discarded organs were repurposed into sheaths for the prevention of pregnancy. These “skins,” as they were called, became the most affordable and accessible form of contraception at the time. Archaeologists have even found animal-membrane condoms dating back to the mid 1600s.
Condoms and Casanova
Casanova is regaled to be the greatest lover of all time. It may be his own claim to fame, but one thing he did do for sure was to help to remove the stigma of condoms during the late 1700s. Yes, even then there was a stigma attached to condoms. Casanova kept detailed notes about his escapades and the fact that he used condoms to help prevent getting any diseases, specifically syphilis. He was definitely ahead of his time with this one!
The Rubber Revolution
The big turning point in the access to and production of condoms came in the mid 1800s. Charles Goodyear figured out a method of rubber vulcanization that single-handedly kick-started modern latex technologies. By 1870, condoms were available almost anywhere in the US you could buy day to day staples. But still condoms were mainly thought to be for protection against unwanted pregnancy and not as much for disease prevention. That changed with World War I.
The War on STIs
During WWI gonorrhea and syphilis were both rampant amongst the troops. Condoms were handed out to many of the troops in Europe but were not standard issue for North Americans. The fight against STIs became more scientific as the number (and cost) of infections rose. By WWII condoms were regular military issue so that “the boys” didn’t bring home something unexpected. The messaging on the condom tins and foils were focused on fighting disease no differently than fighting the war.
Condoms have come a long way. They are now available in all different sizes, colors, flavors, shapes. They glow in the dark. They have different shaped tips. They can be tattooed. They can be latex or non-latex. They are available online, in grocery stores, pharmacies, adult stores, corner stores, gas stations - pretty much anywhere you can think of. Today condoms are recognized as both a barrier method for pregnancy prevention and to help reduce the transmission of infections. They are scientifically tested and controlled as medical devices to ensure that they meet certain criteria for safety. They are advertised on TV, online, in magazines and other marketing formats. Throughout history they have rode the waves of controversy, no different than many other sexual health products. But condoms have withstood, and continue to withstand, the test of time because they work!