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The Fascinating History of Condoms

The condom as we know it today, strictly regulated and uniformly packed in neat foil squares, may seem like a thoroughly modern invention, yet barrier methods have been used to prevent pregnancy and disease for centuries―find out the fascinating history of the condom below!

The Fascinating History of Condoms

In Antiquity

The use of contraceptives in the ancient world is something that is still very much debated. In ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, much of contraception would have been a woman’s responsibility, either through the use of religious amulets or pessaries (which were like a crude type of diaphragm). However, it is interesting to note that there are depictions of men wearing something sheath-like, and it’s thought it may have been early contraception.

  • 12,000 BCE: Cave paintings in the Dordogne area of Southern France were the earliest evidence of European condom use.
  • 3000 BCE: King Minos of Crete (a historical figure and character in Greek myth as the father of the minotaur) was said to have serpents and scorpions in his semen, and after his mistresses died after having intercourse with him, a ‘female condom’ made from a goat’s bladder was said to be used in order to protect himself and his partners, which included his wife Pasiphae.
  • 1350 – 1220 BCE: Ancient Egyptian tribesmen wore loincloths that only covered the glans of the penis to protect themselves against infection, injury and insect bites.

1400 to 1900

  • 1400s: Glans condoms were used in China and Japan; in China, they were made from lamb intestines or oiled silk paper; in Japan, the materials of choice were tortoise shell or animal horn.
  • 1500s: The Italian anatomist Gabrielle Fallopius claimed to have invented a condom made of linen and cut to the shape of the glans. He conducted trials amongst 1,100 men using the condom during the height of a syphilis outbreak and reportedly, none of the 1,100 men became infected with syphilis
  • 1640: The oldest condoms ever found are dated to the mid-1600s. Dug up from the cesspit of Dudley Castle (an English ruin) they were made of fish and animal intestine.
  • 1666: the English Birth Rate Commission attributed a recent downward fertility rate to use of “condons”, the first documented use of that word (or any similar spelling).
  • Late 1700s: Legendary ladies’ man Casanova recounts in his memoirs that as a young man he disliked using ‘dead animal skins,’ however he did use them in later life, and mentions inflating them before use to check for holes.
  • 1844: Goodyear discovered rubber vulcanisation and this technology was used to mass produce rubber condoms quickly and cheaply.
  • 1861: The first American condom ad was published in The New York Times printed with an advertisement for ‘Dr. Power’s French Preventatives.’
  • 1873: The Comstack law was passed, otherwise known as the ‘Act for the “Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use.” It prevented the advertisement of condoms (as well as sex toys) as well as their  distribution through the US Postal Service.

1900-Present Day

  • 1914-1918: The American and British armies were the only forces who did not provide condoms to their soldiers or encourage their us, causing an explosion of infection rates.
  • 1918: Just before the end of the war, an American court overturned a conviction against birth control advocate and nurse, Margaret Sanger. In this case, the judge ruled that condoms could be legally advertised and sold for the prevention of disease
  • 1920: Youngs Rubber Company was the first to manufacture a latex condom which were stronger, thinner, and half a shelf life of 5 years rather than 3 months.
  • 1930s: Fred Killian patented the first fully automated line for creating latex condoms, which until then had been hand-dipped.
  • 1960s and 1970s: Quality regulations on condoms were tightened
  • 1978: in Ireland legal condom sales were allowed for the first time
  • 1980s: Despite the abstinence-only stance upheld by the Reagan administration, other major advertising campaigns promoted condoms as the best defense against the AIDS as epidemic, which saw 360, 909 cases of AIDS reported and 234,225 deaths before its decline in 1993.
  • 1994: Media attention to the AIDS pandemic began to decline along with a decrease in condom sales
  • 2015:  Reported cases of three nationally STIs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – have increased for the first time since 2006.

Conclusion

While our understanding and education surrounding sexual health has increased (and continues to develop) since the latter half of the 20th century, it is shocking to note that the last true-innovation in condom design happened over70 years ago! Our attitudes toward sex have changed drastically during this time, so why haven’t our condoms? It’s time to learn more about how HEX™ represents exactly that―the first condom innovation in 70 years.

About Katy Thorn

Katy Thorn is a post-grad writer with a passion for - and a history of - writing about sex, sexuality and all that it entails. She spends her time running, reading, writing and socialising. Katy has a cat named Feargal, she loves coffee and hates writing bios.

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