You probably use condoms on a weekly or a daily base. Have you ever wondered how and when condoms were invented? Or which different forms they went through before looking like they look today?
Every year, people buy around 9 billion condoms. It’s more than the world’s entire population. Still, to get there, condoms had to be invented, transform, and endure different centuries and laws.
Although condoms were (and still are) a forbidden topic in many countries, they managed to survive on the market. Condom production is full of controversy, failed attempts, as well as innovations in the medical field. So, let’s see some of the critical benchmarks in condom history.
Chronological History of Condoms and Condom Production
Researchers found the first known depictions of condoms in drawings of ancient Egyptians. However, unlike today’s natural rubber and polyurethane, those were probably made of leather or linen sheaths.
The 1400s and the 1500s
Asian upper class used unusual-shaped condoms during the14th century. They are called “glans condoms” and were put on the top of the penis. Those were extremely impractical since they would easily move or even stay inside the woman’s body.
Nonetheless, the Chinese produced these types of condoms from lamb intestines or silk paper. The Japanese, on the other hand, used to make condoms from tortoise shells.
The popularization of condom use aligned with the 1500s syphilis epidemic, a sexually-transmitted disease that spread across Europe and Asia. Gabrielle Fallopius, an Italian doctor, proposed linen sheath condoms as a form of protection from the disease. He tested 1,100 individuals and proved that none contracted the disease, after which the use of these condoms became popular.
Archaeologists who worked on excavations in West Midlands in England in 1985 found animal intestine condoms in a sealed lavatory of Dudley castle. Those are the first material evidence of condom use in Europe after the Middle Ages.
People in the 17th century made animal-membrane condoms from sheep intestines. They soaked the intestines in a solution of soda and added sulfur, after which they washed them left them to dry. Since the material has little elasticity, it had to be attached with a ribbon.
Condom use gained real fame at the beginning of the 18th century. Manufacturers started making condoms from animal skins or linen that they sold in markets, pubs or at the chemist's.
However, the cost of these products and lack of education restricted the usage to the higher-class members of the society. Moreover, Giacomo Casanova, the famous Italian adventurer, and womanizer made references about condoms in his memoirs. He used them to protect himself from syphilis.
1855 was a revolutionary year in condom use. Charles Goodyear, an American inventor, made the first natural rubber. The condoms were thick as opposed to those we have today.
Nevertheless, they were much safer than animal-membrane condoms since they were less likely to break. Also, manufacturers advised men to wash them and reuse them after each use.
A set of laws in the U.S. called Comstock laws was an “Act of the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use.” It banned the postal distribution of condom and other contraceptive promotional material.
During the 1890s, Dunlop Australia started producing latex condoms. Soon other companies followed in their footsteps, and the mass production of condoms started.
The invention of “cement dipping,” a process where you dip glass molds into rubber solution facilitated the large-scale production of condoms. Still, most people never learned about the new ways of preventing pregnancies and STIs.
The period of The First World War spread the venereal diseases even further due to the U.S. government’s refusal of condom distribution to the troops. The Germans were the only ones who gave condoms to their soldiers during the WW1.
As a result, many soldiers ended up in hospitals from STIs such s gonorrhea and syphilis.
Luckily, the U.S. government officials lifted the ban on condom advertising. It allowed condoms to be advertised as a method of disease prevention. The portrayal of condoms as a form of birth control, however, was banned.
During the Second World War, mass-production of condoms blew up. Marketing and packaging became sophisticated, and big companies created innovative campaigns to promote their products.
Subsequently, the sales almost doubled during the 1920s. At the same time, governments introduced Quality Control, meaning that the condoms had to pass standardized tests to be put in the market.
Latex condom design has seen an improvement with the invention of lubricants and lighter and tighter latex material. In the 1950s, reservoir tips were added to condoms to collect more semen. Condoms, therefore, became more effective, and condom use in the world increased.
Following the HIV epidemic during the 1980s, marketers put the condoms to the forefront, advertising them as the primary source of protection against the deadly virus.
Even supermarkets started selling condoms, and most couples in the U.S. preferred this kind of contraceptive method.
Some individuals reported experiencing allergy symptoms when using latex condoms, so a few companies launched polyurethane condoms in 1994. These allowed people suffering from latex allergies to safely use condoms and are on the market even today.
In 1995, condom-production companies introduced flavored and colored condoms. They were intended to exhort curiosity and make contraception fun.
The advances in condom production techniques and research brought polyisoprene condoms for the people with latex allergies. This type of material was a better option due to its elasticity and a more natural feel.
Which Type of Condom Do You Use?
We believe our short history of condom use gave you an insight into how condoms became one of the most important contraceptive methods. Today we can find them in every supermarket and condom use is a safe approach to care for your health.