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History of Condoms

Sexual freedom requires safer sex practices. For centuries, society has tried to provide the most up-to-date methods for birth control and disease prevention.  Unfortunately, technology and availability of materials along with legal, religious, and moral issues have all impeded safer sex practices.  Catholicism is still opposed to any form of birth control.  
 
Condoms are one of the longest-standing, most popular and effective methods of contraception and disease prevention.  In fact, condoms are the only device that prevent both unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Condoms have been made out of a variety of materials and recent advancements have improved the comfort and reliability of condoms.  
 

Antiquity Through the 1400s

Although there is no conclusive evidence that condoms were used in ancient civilizations, cave paintings in France that date back 12,000 to 15,000 years show that men wore penis coverings which may have been used for sexual protection. Loincloths were also worn by laborers in Greece and Egypt but it is thought that upperclass men wore similar loincloths during sex as protection.
 

Renaissance 

The need for a condom type of device skyrocketed when an epidemic of syphilis spread throughout Europe, Asia and beyond, starting in the very late 1400s.  In the mid 1500s, Italian Gabriele Falloppio claims to have invented a condom-type of device in which linen cloths were chemically treated then allowed to dry.  These linens were tied on to the penis with a ribbon and only covered the glans of the penis.  Reliability for these devices was obviously low.  
 
In the very early 1600s, there is  documentation showing that these types of devices were also used as birth control and not just to prevent diseases.  The first recorded use of the word "condom" was used in the mid 1600s by the English in a report regarding declining birth rates. 
 
During the Renaissance era, condoms also started being made out of animal materials such as intestines and bladders.  These types of condoms are actually still in use to today and are a good choice for people with allergies to latex.  Fine leather condoms were in use during the Renaissance too, and thought to be used by English military personnel.  
 

18th Century 

Opposition to the use of condoms increased in the 1700s both on medical and moral grounds.   Low reliability rates were the basis for the medical opposition and religious views for the morality issues.  
 
Documentation regarding American condom usage appeared for the first time in 1800, around the same time the use of linen condoms decreased due to cost and comfort level compared to skin condoms.  
 

19th Century 

Until the 1800s, condoms were mainly used by the middle and upper classes due to the cost.  Finally, condoms were marketed to the lower classes as a form of birth control and mainly as a way to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  Pamphlets were distributed in both city and country areas to promote the merits of using condoms and also to educate people on how the make the devices at home.  
 
The middle of the 19th century saw advertisements for condoms appearing in British newspapers and the New York Times. 
 
A technological breakthrough, which ultimately led to a breakthrough for condoms, came when Charles Goodyear invented the rubber vulcanization process in 1939.  Just 16 years later, the first rubber condom was manufactured by placing pieces of rubber around a penis-shaped mold then dipping the mold into a chemical solution to cure the rubber.   At first, rubber condoms only covered the glans of the penis and therefore needed to be custom fit for each man by a medical doctor.  These types of condoms fit poorly and tended to fall off during intercourse.  The fact that rubber condoms were reusable made them more economical long-term than skin condoms which had a lower individual price.  
 
Developing one-size-fits-all condoms that covered the entire length of the penis helped condom manufacturers to sell more condoms, with distribution in pharmacies. 
 
The United States' Comstock laws, passed in 1873, prohibited mailing contraceptives or information on such devices while state laws prohibited the manufacturing and selling of condoms in 30 states.  Various moralist and feminist groups also opposed the use of condoms at this time.  
 
By the 1850s, sex education was introduced in public schools to inform students about sexually transmitted diseases and how they are spread. This new area of curriculum came in response to rising STDs rates in America.   Although increased education was important, abstinence, however, was taught as the sole method for preventing disease, and the stigma for individuals with an STD remained so strong that many were refused treatment by hospitals.  
 
Condom manufacturing companies were founded in England, Germany, France and New York in the late 1800s, and in 1912, the German Julius Fromm developed a new technique -- dipping glass molds into rubber (gasoline or benzene was added to make the rubber material liquid) which improved the condom manufacturing processes.  The French were first to introduce textured condoms while Fromm's company was first to sell a branded condom.  Youngs Rubber Company followed this branding trend by introducing Trojan condoms in the early 1900s.  
 
By the turn of the 20th century, condoms were the most popular form of birth control in Europe and North America.  
 

20th Century

From the mid 1800s, Germany advocated condom use to its military personnel.  The United States and England were the only countries involved in World War I that did not supply condoms to their soldiers, even though an American military study showed that providing condoms significantly reduced the rate of STDs.  As a result, war time saw an increase in sexually transmitted diseases among American soldiers with nearly 400,000 cases of syphilis and gonorrhea diagnosed. 
 
In 1918, when an American court overturned a ruling against Margaret Sanger, condoms could legally be advertised and sold for preventing disease though ads promoting the devices as a method of birth control were still illegal in 30 states.  Various European countries also faced opposition for condom promotion and usage.  
 

The Roaring '20s

A major breakthrough for condom technology came in 1920 with the invention of latex, which is rubber suspended in water. Youngs Rubber company manufactured the first latex condom soon thereafter. Latex condoms were not only easier to produce and posed less manufacturing risk (gasoline was no longer required which lowered fire hazards), but they were also stronger, thinner for a more natural feel, and offered much longer expiration dates. Advancements in automated manufacturing processes in the 1920s also significantly decreased the cost of condoms while condom reliability increased when condom testing became more prevalent. 
 
The roaring '20s saw condom sales double worldwide.
 

The Great Depression

Condom sales remained high in the 1930s due in great part because condoms were able to prevent unwanted pregnancies.  
 
Once again, Margaret Sanger was a trailblazer for birth control and safer sex.  When a shipment she arranged of diaphragms from Japan to a doctor in New York was intercepted by U.S. Customs, Sanger helped file a lawsuit.  Four years later, a United States federal court ruled that the government could not interfere with doctors providing contraceptives to their patients.  In the late 1930s, the U.S. Surgeon General promoted the use of condoms and over 300 birth control clinics opened in the United States, leading to a significant decrease in the number of STDs by 1940.   
 
Condom quality continued to improve in the 1930s, especially when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classified them as a drug in 1937 and required individual testing. 
 

World War II and the 1950s

Condom usage was heavily promoted, and condoms were distributed to male military personnel throughout World War II despite the shortages in rubber.  After World War II however, STDs rose. This was thought to be the result of the introduction of penicillin to treat STDs, leading to a more cavalier attitude toward STDs. 
 
Durex brought to market the first lubricated condom in 1957.  
 
Condom advertisements were banded by the American National Association of Broadcasters in the late 1950s, a ruling that lasted until 1979 when the U.S. Justice department finally overturned it.  
 

The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s

The introduction of the "Pill" in 1960 revolutionized birth control and lead to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.  The Pill quickly became the most popular from of birth control followed by condoms. 
 
Additional legal barriers to condom use, such as the remaining Comstock laws, were lifted in the 1960s and 70s. 
 
In the 1960s, the U.S. Agency for International Development launched a widespread campaign promoting condom usage in third world countries.  
 

The Discovery of AIDS in the 1980s

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was first reported in an article in the New York Times in 1981.  A year later, it was suggested that AIDS was a new sexually transmitted disease.  During this time, the U.S. Surgeon General advocated condom promotion to prevent the spread of the disease.  U.S. President Ronald Regan preferred to promote abstinence programs.  Conservative groups opposing condom usage perpetuated the stigma of the disease by stating it was a disease of gay men and drug users. 
 
Wanting to educate the public on AIDS, Youngs Rubber company mailed informational pamphlets to American households, but were forced by the postal service to go to court in order to do so.  The Supreme Court ruled that Youngs Rubber Company could mail the pamphlets as part of the free speech clause of the First Amendment.  Additional major campaigns launched in the U.S. and Europe, promoting condom usage for the prevention of AIDS.  
 
Condoms became more available as they started being carried in various retail stores such as supermarkets, grocery stores and discount department stores. 
 

Advancements in Condom Technology -- The 1990s and the New Millennium

Durex produced the first polyurethane condom, called Avanti, in the 1990s and also launched the first website by a condom brand in 1997.  Trojan followed with the Supra Condoms, also made out of Polyurethane.  Polyurethane condoms offered an additional option for people with latex allergies but they weren't as stretchy as their latex counterparts.  Until Avanti was introduced, skin condoms, which prevent unplanned pregnancies but not STDs, were the only option for latex allergy sufferers. Non latex condoms are therefore becoming very popular among natural rubber latex sensitive users.
 
Female condoms, also made out of polyurethane.  Female condoms are similar to traditional (or male) condoms except they are looser fitting with rings on both ends and worn by women.   
 
In 2009, another material for condom manufacturing was introduced.  Polyisoprene condoms represent still a better option for people who are allergic to latex because these are stretchier and feel more natural than their polyurethane alternatives.  Silicone-based condoms are currently being tested and may be introduced into the marketplace in the next year or two.