- Education and Science
The Wild and Crazy History of Condoms
Condoms. They’ve been at the center of birth control, disease prevention, politics, religion, medicine, and many off-color jokes, but did you know that the condom has been around for at least 15,000 years and that its first depictions were painted on French cave walls? In fact condoms are considered a global birth control method because they appear to have been invented and reinvented in almost all societies both ancient and modern.
Fast forward a bit to 1,000BC and the condom makes its appearance in the artwork of Ancient Egyptians. Historians are still arguing with each other if these vestments were meant for birth control or were just ceremonial garb. The Ancient Romans weren’t slow to catch on either way. Their choice of condoms were originally made out of goat bladders. Later they would discover the animals’ intestines to be more suitable.
During the conquest of the New World our European ancestors didn’t just bring corn and tobacco to the Old World, they brought with them an epidemic of syphilis, blamed on the native people they had decided to screw instead of kill. Or maybe they did both, who knows. The point is that condoms for the first time in history were being credited with disease control. Enter the scene Gabrielle Fallopio. He’s the anatomist that fallopian tubes are named after but that’s quite beside the point. At the time he was researching the reproductive organs of both men and women and he discovered that in his study of 1,000 men, those who used his linen condoms were the ones with the smallest rate of syphilis infection. Not surprisingly the linen condoms did very little for birth control.
It was around this time that Lazzaro Spallanzani was doing his famous frog pants study. He realized that if he put tightly fitting pants on male frogs before introducing them to the females then none of the resulting eggs would turn into tadpoles. Alas birth control had reached the amphibians; I mean modern science figured out the role of sperm in pregnancy.
People in those days had not forgotten the wisdom of the Romans and were still using condoms made of animal intestines for pregnancy issues. However the process for making these was so labor intensive and time consuming that only rich people could afford them and even they decided that these were too expensive to be disposable. That’s right, condoms were very popularly reused.
Condoms got their name from this period of time. Some say this is due to a certain Dr. Condom whose job it was to keep the ever ready King Charles II free of infection and bastard sons.
So why was it that so many women fell for the charm of Casanova? Perhaps it was because he was one of the strongest supporters of condoms our world has ever seen. He used them faithfully and his mistresses didn’t seem to mind they were made of animal intestine or were reused.
The First Modern Condoms
Rubber has been around for thousands of years but in its natural state it dries out and becomes brittle very fast. It was never used for condoms until vulcanized rubber hit the market in 1844. Vulcanized rubber was far more durable, lasted longer, and in less then twenty years was being used in the production of condoms.
In 1873 outraged moralists passed the Comstock Act which made it illegal to place anything “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” in the mail. Of course that hit a heavy blow to the porn at the time but in this one sweeping gesture it also made mass produced rubber condoms illegal to ship. Even though they had gained popularity they were nowhere to be found after that.
There was however one way you could still obtain condoms – by prescription. Indeed men could go to their town doctor and ask for some condoms. This however wasn’t as progressive as it seems. Indeed doctors did not prescribe condoms to men for birth control, only for disease control for the gentlemen who liked to have flings with the local prostitutes. Respectable women requiring a prescription to give their weary ovaries a break were always turned down.
Similarly our moral attitudes prevented condoms from being given or sold to the soldiers fighting World War I and 70% of them came home with one or more forms of sexually transmitted diseases. This is even more unfortunate as in 1928 the first condom vending machines were put to use but they weren’t in the United States, instead they were located in Denmark, the United Kingdoms, Poland, and the Netherlands.
Finally our country came to its senses and declared the Comstock Act unconstitutional in 1936, overturning it and allowing easy access to condoms once again. This was fortunate as latex condoms had been invented during this interval in 1929. Latex was thinner and didn’t come with that new rubber smell. By the time World War II hit our county was bombing its own soldiers – with condoms, our attitudes on the issue having done a 180.
Condoms of Today
Today condoms are used to prevent the spread of STD’s in both the states and many countries abroad as well as finally prevent pregnancy. In fact the 1990’s saw the first mass produced female condoms which you can go ogle at the pharmacy the next time you’re there. The 90’s also saw an explosion in the creativity of condom manufacturers. Now you can buy flavored condoms, colored condoms, ribbed condoms, glowing condoms, and I seriously wouldn’t be surprised if you could find a singing condom out there somewhere. In fact I did find some condoms that looked like dinosaurs and other small animals… and I wish I could be more professional when talking about but really I can’t stop laughing, they just look so damn cute, like some bizarre evolution of finger puppets. And hey, it’s not just manufacturers that are making condoms more amusing. An old Hollywood secret is to use “blood” filled condoms for movie special effects. Basically they attach them to a mild electric charge and BAMB! Fake blood everywhere! Now try not to think about that as you look at the dinosaur condom.
The Future of Condoms
Currently condom developers are working on an “invisible condom” that is more or less a spray on gel that turns solid when the body temperature rises. Scientists are also working on full body condoms so stray floating sperm won’t clog up the instruments on board space vessels. No, none of our astronauts are in the 20 miles high club but if colonization and longer space travel ever becomes possible then scientists realize there will be some hanky panky going on and that could be quite disastrous on so many levels. This will bring new levels of horror to any germaphobe.
The Gates Foundation is also doing its part in the condom revolution. Believing that condoms will more likely be used if their wearers actually enjoy them they have put out a $100,000 challenge to anyone to invent one that is more pleasurable. The troops really rallied on this one as 812 ideas poured in. Some of us in the know watched with intense fascination as "origami condoms" started to get talked about as one of the runners-up. In an attempt to make them feel like they weren't there the origami condom's creators made them in the shape of an accordion. Fitting loosely they're apparently quick to use and easy to ignore. Not to be outdone there were also people working on women's condoms for the contest, I guess because women are ultimately seen as the responsible party in our society? Who knows. I'm at a loss to see how a woman's condom could be any less desensitizing than a man's condom but what do I know? It could be the next big thing! In the meanwhile the same company that invented the origami condom are also bringing out their new line of RAI (Receptive Anal Intercourse) condom as soon as 2015. They claim it is the first condom to be designed specifically for this particular act with internal lubrication, a design that "anchors" it inside the body, and it also apparently expands and contracts. It's the multitasker of all condoms.
In the end 11 contestants were awarded the $100,000 to advance their ideas. Some had fun buzzwords in their pitch like nanoparticles, shape memory, ultra thin, and heat sensitive. Others... well, they're just special in their own way like The Handlebar, which has easy applicator handles that make putting on a condom as quick as jumping into your drawers. At least one boasted their condoms were made of a material 100 times stronger than steel, which makes me wonder what kind of enormous overzealous space worm they were making them for. And my personal favorite, The Tenderloin, just said, "I'm the most punderful thing on the planet, PLEASE make jokes at my expense." It's name comes from the fact it's made from the tendons of beef cows which apparently great at heat transfer... I'd call it the Meat Thermometer personally, the perfect fit for your meat stick... Oh whoever writes the logos for that one is going to have the greatest job in the world.
We're still waiting on the next round of winners. Apparently two of these eleven contestants will be rounded up for additional funding or given to work with one or more of the other teams. Come on people, we can do this!
This Commercial Shows the Reality of Intestinal Condoms.
Materials Historically Used for Condoms
So we’ve gone through most of the history of condoms and gone over some of the materials used but not all of them. Below are all the crazy things once or currently used for condoms.
Tortoise Shell or Horn (used in ancient Japan)
Oiled silk paper (Ancient China)
Lambskin (still available today for people allergic to the more common alternative – be careful though as lambskin is NOT an effective barrier against the HIV or any other virus.)
Euphemisms for Condoms
French Letter (used around WWII)
Johnny (Australia & Ireland)
Snake’s Second Skin
A Mini Documentary on Condom Advertising Throughout the World
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