The Condom : An Invention that Predates Modern Times

Published: 25th January 2008
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Had you asked me a while ago when condoms were first introduced, I might have looked up the date that the Trojan Condom company first opened its doors. Many of us don't realize the long and tumultuous history that the simple condom has endured. In fact, the history of condoms is a rich one dating back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians.

A drawing of a sheath being worn like a condom was discovered that dates back 3,000 years to the Egyptians of 1000 BC. These sheaths were worn to protect from disease and may also have served as props for various rituals. Ancient Europe was first introduced to condoms a thousand years later around 100 AD as seen in paintings within the caves of Combarelles in France. Some researchers have also noted that evidence exists of condoms being used in imperial Rome.

It was the widespread European syphilis epidemic in the 1500s that spawned the first written condom reference, attributed to the Italian Gabrielle Fallopius. In his writings, Fallopius claimed to be the inventor of these early linen sheaths that would be safeguards against the deadly syphilis virus. These early condoms were thought only to protect against disease. Many had not yet understood that they could also help prevent unwanted pregnancies. In the late 1500s, spermicide made its first appearance in an unlikely form. Users of these condoms (linen sheaths) would often let the sheaths soak in a solution of chemicals. After soaking, the sheaths would be laid out to thoroughly dry before use, thus, the introduction of the first spermicidal condom.

The first actual condom to have been found from these times dates back to the 17th century. These condoms had evolved a bit and were now constructed out of animal intestines. Their primary purpose was still to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but many also used them to protect against unwanted pregnancies. It has been suggested that even Casanova, the well-noted Venetian lover, was a routine user of condoms. As these condoms became more effective, they also became more costly. Due to this, many people began washing and reusing the condoms, making them less effective.

Throughout the world, different countries created their own regional versions of condoms. In Japan in the 1800s, some condoms were manufactured out of leather and tortoise shells. With the advent of new technologies in the 19th century, condoms were about to have a makeover. In 1844, Charles Goodyear (of Goodyear tire fame) perfected and patented the process of vulcanizing rubber. This process transformed normal rubber into a material that was both flexible and strong. In turn, condoms were able to be mass-produced, making them more affordable and more available to the masses. The United States had a bit of a drawback with the Comstock Act that came into play in 1873 and lingered until it was overturned in 1936. This act made it illegal to advertise or transport any items that were being used as birth control, including condoms. The only way to procure condoms was to have a prescription for them.

Latex condoms emerged in 1919 bringing with them the advantage of lasting longer, smelling less offensive and being thinner. With the free love era of the 1960s, the use of condoms went into a decline as the sexually active worried more about preventing pregnancy (using the pill) and less about transmitted diseases. That came to a screeching halt in the 1980s with the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept across the globe. Today, condoms are being promoted worldwide as a barrier against both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

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