When Were Condoms Invented?



first condoms
It seems that thousands of years ago, humans understood how venereal diseases propagate and started to think about protection. Thus, the first condoms were born. Though, it took quite a long for people to realize that they might also provide contraception.

Real progress and improvements in condoms production came with the industrial revolution when finally, mass-producing condoms cheaply became a reality. Additionally, advancement in medical science also confirmed their many benefits.

Condoms in Antiquity

It would be difficult to say when humans first used the condom-like sheaths, but one of the earliest documented use was by King Minos of Crete more than 5000 years back. It is said that his sperms contained serpents and scorpions, and thus he used condoms made from goat’s bladder [1].

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Early Egyptians used linen sheath for protection from tropical diseases like bilharzia some 4000 years ago. They perhaps used saliva or oils for lubrication.

Ancient Romans widely used condoms made from either linen or animal intestine or bladder. They knew that it protects them from disease, though they did not seem to understand that it also provided contraception.

Chinese specialized in silk production, and thus they created condoms made from silk and lubricated with oil, primarily used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Condoms Renaissance period

Despite the known benefits of condoms, people made little progress for thousands of years, and the use of condoms was limited to rich people or royals.

However, everything changed with the renaissance, when Europeans started studying human anatomy and physiology systematically.

During the English civil war, King Charles II used condoms prescribed by Colonel Condom to prevent both the diseases and the birth of illegitimate children.

Many think that word condom refers to the name of the colonel Condom. However, the etymology of word condom remains unclear as there are many similar words in French and Latin [2].

During this period, condoms were mass-produced in many places in Europe. Affluent people mainly used them. Condoms made from animal bladder or intestine were preferred over linen, as they were more comfortable for use.

The modern development of condoms

Charles Goodyear brought the real revolution in condom production. In the 19th-century, rubber vulcanization (heating natural rubber with sulfur) helped improve rubber’s tensile strength.

This enabled the creation of thin condoms, quite similar to what we see these days. Thus, the production of modern condoms (made of rubber) at the industrial scale began in the 1860s.

Industrial production of condoms also initiated ethical debates as some regarded use of condoms to be against the religion or various laws of nature.

Science invented latex in the 1920s. Latex is made from rubber by dispersing it in the water, and this helps create thinner, more tensile, and highly stretchable material.

Production of condoms was further boosted in the post-world war II era when newer equipment allowed to produce thousands of condoms in an hour.

After the 1940s, condoms started to become widely available as one of the most reliable ways of contraception and disease prevention.

However, with the discovery of oral contraception for females in the 1960s, the use of condoms fell in many parts of the world.

But, with the discovery of AIDS, it became more than clear that condoms have a special place in preventing sexually transmitted diseases. From the 1980s onwards, condoms became widely available in the pharmacies, stores, supermarkets, all over the world.

Although latex remains the most widely used material to produce condoms, this does not mean that all latex condoms are the same. Modern latex condoms are thinner, come in a wider variety, and are more comfortable to use, all due to improved production technology.

One of the significant problems with latex condoms is that some individuals are allergic to it. It led to more research to find alternatives, and the 1990s saw the introduction of non-latex condoms.

Non-latex condoms made from polyurethane became available in 1994. As a synthetic material, it has no protein molecules, like that in the latex, and does not cause allergies.

One can also use oil-based lubricants with it (oil-based lubricants reduce the strength of latex). However, they have slightly low tensile strength and are more prone to breaking.

Another breakthrough came in 2008 with the introduction of polyisoprene condoms. These condoms are similar to latex in most aspects, except that it is a synthetically produced material, and thus it does not cause allergies like latex.

Polyisoprene condoms are generally thinner than latex and might be better for those who dislike the sensation of condoms.

Another progress worth mentioning in condom production is the availability of variety. Modern condoms are lubricated, and many are flavored.

Further, researchers are paying huge attention to improve condom design. Thus, unlike condoms in the old days, modern condoms can increase sexual pleasures for both the genders.

Female condoms

For many people, it may come as a surprise, but female condoms were invented almost 100 years ago. First female condoms were made in the 1920s, and then there was renewed interest in them in the 1960s. However, they were forgotten, most probably due to the introduction of female contraceptive pills [3].

However, the 1980s saw a renewed interest in female condoms, mainly due to AIDS. It finally led to the commercialization of some of the brands. One of the first brands to commercialize was Femidom.

Female condoms did not receive widespread use for various reasons. They are less comfortable to use. Females are more hesitant to accept condoms as a way of protection and contraception. Some research points out that they might be less effective in preventing infections or unplanned pregnancies than male condoms [4].

Data shows that each year more than 18 billion condoms are produced. Though there are many ways of contraception, it is the only way effective immediately and does not cause and systemic toxicity. It is also the only way of contraception that can help prevent many sexually transmitted diseases.

References:

  1. Khan F, Mukhtar S, Dickinson IK, Sriprasad S. The story of the condom. Indian J Urol. 2013;29(1):12-15. doi:10.4103/0970-1591.109976
  2. Marfatia YS, Pandya I, Mehta K. Condoms: Past, present, and future. Indian J Sex Transm Dis AIDS. 2015;36(2):133-139. doi:10.4103/2589-0557.167135
  3. Bounds W. Female condoms. Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 1997;2(2):113-116. doi:10.3109/13625189709167464
  4. Sapire KE. The female condom (Femidom)–a study of user acceptability. S Afr Med J. 1995;85(10 Suppl):1081-1084.



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