Most of the people in the world today have grown up knowing what a condom is and what it’s used for and it’s hard for them to imagine a world without this useful invention, the same way it is difficult to imagine a world without toothpaste or artificial lighting.
Although the condom has been around for quite some time now, its meager beginnings couldn’t have foretold the importance and large scale employment it enjoys in the present time. Here is a short outline of the developments of the condom throughout human history.
Antiquity and the Middle Ages
Although the ancient civilizations didn’t have the technology to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it doesn’t mean they didn’t concern themselves with the problem. There is a variety of methods recorded, from those that might have worked, like the pessaries, and plain wishful thinking, like amulets and prayers. Coitus interruptus and anal sex were also popular, although they left open the possibility of sexual transmitted diseases. In what concerns the condom, there are virtually no documents mentioning it.
Coitus interruptus and anal sex were also popular, although they left open the possibility of sexual transmitted diseases. In what concerns the condom, there are virtually no documents mentioning it.
- If you are interested in some of the earliest contraceptive methods, check out this Wiki article
Before the 15th century, there are recordings of condoms made out of lamb skin, oiled silk paper, tortoise shell or animal horn in China and Japan. They were made to cover only the glans and probably not very efficient. In Europe, the spread of syphilis motivated people to find a way of protecting themselves and an Italian, Gabriele Falloppio wrote down the first description of condom use.
The condom consisted of pieces of cloth big enough to only cover the glans that had been previously soaked in a chemical solution and left to dry before use. Later on the use of animal bladder and intestines as condoms was attested, not only for the prevention of diseases, but also for that of pregnancies.
- Check out the oldest condom found in America on MentalFloss.com
The condom market began to rapidly gain in importance between the upper and middle classes, as the lower classes were mostly unaware of the danger of STD’s and also too poor to afford them. Condom variety and availability expanded, but it soon attracted criticism from physicians who didn’t consider them 100% efficient and from the clergy who viewed contraception as immoral.
This century was a real struggle for the condom. The people who understood its importance and tried to promote its use and educate the masses were fighting the prejudice of doctors, moralists and clergymen who viewed abstinence as the only acceptable way for the prevention of pregnancies and STD’s. Its legalization was a problem in many countries, the most severe example being Ireland where it was illegal until the 1970s.
However, with the discovery of the rubber vulcanization process, its economic potential was too great to pass by and 1855 was the year that saw the production of the first rubber condom. At first, men had to consult with their doctor and order a condom according to their shape and size, but following new advances in technology, better and easier to use varieties were available in pharmacies.
The condom didn’t have it all the way easy this century either. While Germany became the top manufacturer of condoms, some countries like France and Spain ban it due to concerns in population growth. In the 1920s latex was invented and this was a new technological revolution for the condom which led to the foundation of the Durex company in 1932.
The World Wars made the condom a soldier’s best friend and its utmost necessity was made clear once and for all with the advent of the AIDS pandemic. The present times are witness to an unprecedented variety and use of condoms and the condom market is one of the biggest in the world.
We are all aware nowadays that condoms play a very important role in our life and that they save maybe as many lives as they prevent. Throughout history, it was not only necessity and common sense that dictated its evolution, but also science and technology and it may be the same science and advances in disease control that will some day end its fulminating career.