A Brief History of Condoms

September 04, 2020 3 min read

Condoms are pretty ubiquitous these days. Most of us are aware of the importance of practising safer sex, as well as the dangers of unprotected sex. What’s more, there are now many different kinds of condoms available, meaning that they can be a fun and essential part of sex. If you’ve ever looked back on the ‘good old days’ and wondered whether condoms were different back then, this post explores a brief history of condoms.You might be surprised to learn about the origins of the humble prophylactic.

The first condoms

The history of condoms actually reaches back further than you might think. According to some research, the idea of safer sex is first documented in around 3,000 BC. After the mistress of King Minos of Crete died after intercourse, the bladder of a goat was used as a sheath to protect the women from disease.

This idea of a sheath was also present among the Ancient Egyptians, with evidence from around 1,000 CE showing that linen sheaths were used during sex. There were even different colours used, which often represented social status.

Other cultures also used early versions of condoms, with tribes in New Guinea using female sheaths made from plants. Chinese societies used silk paper sheaths that were applied with oil lubrication.

Protection against STIs

Even in the earliest history of condoms, they were associated with the prevention of diseases. By the 1500s, venereal disease was spreading across Europe. During these times, an Italian doctor named Gabrielle Fallopius recommended the use of sheath condoms to prevent the spread of syphilis. These sheaths were often made from lamb or goat intestines, a far cry from the vegan condoms on offer nowadays.

Many materials

Over the years, people have used many different materials in the manufacture of condoms. As well as bladders, intestines, and linen, sheaths were also made from materials such as leather and even tortoiseshell.

By the 1800s, condoms had gained popularity among the upper classes of western society. All kinds of businesses sold them, and their powers of birth control and disease prevention were widely known.

Perhaps the most significant transformation in the production of condoms came with the process of rubber vulcanisation in 1839. By 1855, the first rubber condom was produced, beginning the mass production of the items. However, finding the perfect size condom was initially tricky.  

The War and Latex

During the First World War, the German army began to deploy condoms along with weapons and ammunition. The American and British soldiers were not, resulting in numerous outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhoea among these troops.

By the 1920s, latex was invented. This was another revelation in the history of condoms and meant that they became safe and strong. However, because of new treatments for STIs, some attitudes towards condoms became more relaxed.

HIV and Modern Times

This laissez-faire attitude towards sexually transmitted disease would lead to disastrous results. The AIDS epidemic during the 1980s highlighted the need for safer sex. Since then, condoms have been commonplace around the world.

The importance of using a condom and practising safer sex is now taught in schools and by government programs. As such, the range of choice on offer is greater than ever before. As well as things like latex-free condoms, there are also flavoured, sensitive, and ultra-thin condoms readily available.

Despite not having a significant design overhaul since the 1950s, there are many variations on this classic. As our technology improves, it will be interesting to see what the next big innovation is.

A Brief History of Condoms - Final thoughts

What’s clear from this very brief history is that condoms have long played a part is safer sex. Although the mechanics of disease prevention and contraception may not have been fully understood until relatively recently, the basics were always there.

Nowadays, condoms are big business, with over 18 billion condoms used in 2015 alone. What’s more, the variation and choice available mean that just about anyone can enjoy safer sex.

Article Author: Matt Crabtree

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