The History of the Condom

Many people are under the false impression that the history of the condom only stretches across the past couple of decades. However, it goes far beyond that. For example, cave paintings have indicated that condoms were in use around 15,000 years ago, although whether they were actually used regularly is a matter of some debate.

Just before the 15th Century, it seemed that Glans condoms were in use in some places throughout Asia. This type of condom only covered the head of the penis, and they were most likely used for birth control. This type of condom was made from either silk or lamb intestines in China, and Tortoise Shell or Animal horn in Japan.

Up until the 16th Century however, the use of condoms wasn’t really known about. The first documented mention of the condom was from Gabriele Falloppio. He said he had invented a device made of linin which was soaked in chemicals. They were designed to cover the glans of the penis and was tied by ribbon. The original intention of this device was to combat syphilis as opposed to acting as a form of birth control, this really didn’t become public knowledge until around 1650’s. Condoms dated back to the 1640’s have been found in England, they were made from animal bladder.

A Condom Made From Animal intestineCondoms became better known throughout the 18th Century, although a lot of the views were negative. For example, members of parliament in the United Kingdom tried to have them banned as they did not believe they offered sufficient protection against syphilis, and the fact that it encouraged sex with unsafe partners. Despite this though, the condom market expanded rapidly with condoms being sold everywhere from pubs to barbershops to the theatre. Condoms made of skin as opposed to fur lined were much more popular than fur lined condoms. Up until the 19th century though, condom use generally only occurred in the upper classes, mainly due to the lack of sexual education in the working classes.

The early 19th Century saw changes in perceptions towards contraceptives. For the first time ever, the working class had access to condoms. At this point though, condoms weren’t generally promoted as they were deemed to be unreliable as they often had holes in and they were expensive. However, condoms were still promoted by birth control advocates.

In 1839, Charles Goodyear invented rubber vulcanization. The first condoms made of rubber were produced in 1855, and just a short few years later, the majority of rubber companies were producing condoms as well. These condoms were reusable, which meant they were much more affordable. Skin condoms still were more popular however, mainly because they were lower in cost. One of the problems with early rubber condoms was that they were ‘custom made’, and yet they could still fall off as they only covered the glans of the penis. It was eventually discovered by condom manufacturers that they could mass produce condoms wholesale, ones that would fit everybody. This was when the history of condoms changed forever.

The popularity of condoms quickly spread as they became cheaper, despite many countries actually forbidding the advertisement of contraceptive devices. They really came into their own in the middle of the 20th century when condoms were given to the military as they were shown to lower the rate of an STI. Britain did not promote to the soldiers however, and they were the only country not to do so. Before the war, the majority of condoms distributed in Europe were provided by Germany, but this changed a number of years. In 1918 it was deemed that condoms could be sold and advertised for the prevention of disease, although they could not be sold as contraceptives. Condom sales doubled as a result in the 1920s.

In the 1920s, the invention of Latex came about. This involved a process with rubber suspended in water. The first latex condom was produced by the Youngs Rubber Company. They were produced en masse, and they were much cheaper as the labour required was not as high. The London Rubber Company because the first manufacturer of Latex condoms, this brand was known as Durex and is still going strong today.

The ability to create condoms in a large scale manner started in the 1920’s when the first automated condom assembly lines came to be. These were expensive, but they did end up drastically lowering the price of condoms, and eliminating most of the labour that was required. However, many smaller companies went out of business as they could not afford the machinery. Skin condoms started to go out of fashion around this time. However, latex condoms were not known for their effectiveness, in fact, the majority of condoms leaked. The FDA then mandated that a condom was a drug, and therefore they would need to be tested before they left the factory.

The final stage in the history of the condom was the discovery that AIDS was a sexually transmitted disease, and the best way to protect against this (and the only way) was through barrier methods such as the condom. The condom then absolutely exploded in popularity, and can now be found in many places around the world from supermarkets to pharmacies. The condom has now become firmly rooted in the history and is now one of the most popular birth control methods out there.

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