Trying to track down the history of condoms all the way to their roots is no small feat.
Prophylactics go back further than you might think, but these semen-snaring devices certainly do have a sordid past. Not exactly refined in their early days...
However, they’ve come a long way, and we're grateful that condoms have evolved in such a way to be much more effective, and pleasant to our private parts, too.
Travel with us, visiting milestones throughout the history of condoms.
When were condoms invented?
It’s hard to pinpoint without speculation the exact time in history, and in what part of the world, condoms were invented.
What we know from the history books is that the oldest condom ever excavated was made of an animal intestine. This discovery took place in England back in the 1640s.
In the early days, linen sheaths, silk paper, animal intestines or bladder tissues were the go-to material.
We can only wonder what condom effectiveness was in those old days. It’s safe to say that they were not super dependable.
The invention of the rubber vulcanization process in 1839 opened up a whole new world of possibilities for condom manufacturing (more on all this later).
History of condoms
It's still subject to speculation whether or not men in Ancient Egypt used any sexual protection, like linen sheaths, to cover their penises. There is some mention of devices that covered only the tip of a penis, known as glans condoms, being used in Asia, prior to the 15th century.
We’re leaving this area of condom history in the fog, hoping one day that archaeology or history professors give us a definitive final ruling.
So we must fast-forward several hundreds of years to the 15th-century when records about condoms start to be a bit more consistent.
In the late 15th century, a syphilis outbreak that started among French troops swept through Europe and later to Asia. Condoms came to the rescue.
If you got syphilis in those early days, you were pretty much guaranteed a horrific experience. Pieces of flesh would even fall off your face and other parts of your body. You’d basically be in pain then dead in a few months. That sounds like an episode from “ Walking Dead” now, but back then, it was a reality.
Let's end this syphilis outbreak paragraph on a bit of a positive note. Syphilis nowadays is much less deadly due to the advances in medicine. Does that make you feel any less frightened about this grotesque STD?
16th and 17th-century
In the 16th and 17th centuries, several authors described in publications and their literature, a penis covering device for birth control and also disease prevention.
Condoms made of animal skin were used as early as the 17th century. Imagine something similar to sausage casings.
These prophylactics were very expensive for the general public so mostly only middle and upper-class lovers used them at that time.
References to condoms in the 18th-century are more common and we can time them with more consistency and accuracy.
Unfortunately, some individuals in medical circles at this time disliked condoms, either objecting that they did not provide complete protection against syphilis or that they were immoral.
Despite the negative condom talk, the market grew fast. They were more obtainable than ever before. You could pick them up in pubs, a variety of markets, and even barbershops.
The first condom celebrity
One of the most legendary lovers to date, Giacomo Casanova was the first, at least from the records, to test condoms for holes prior to using them. His testing method included blowing them up and inspecting them. Obviously, Casanova did not want to take any chances.
We bet that ever-horny Casanova would have loved modern-day condoms for his numerous sexual escapades. If only he had access to them.
After Charles Goodyear invented the rubber vulcanization process in 1839, the first rubber condom wasn’t far behind. Let’s just say that the 1850s was a good decade for sex, as major rubber companies started mass producing condoms in using Goodyear's patented process.
Even though we now had a rubber condom, rates of sexually transmitted diseases increased midway through the 19th-century. Historians credit this to the effects of the American Civil War and various law restrictions.
Sad, but true... Like alcohol at one point, condom distribution was limited, and in some U.S. states even illegal, as a result of Comstock Law.
In the 1870s Anthony Comstock, who was a politician and a U.S. Postal Inspector, managed to influence the United States Congress to pass the Comstock Law. This law made illegal the delivery of such safe sex products. In Comstock's eyes, condoms were obscene material.
Condoms faced similar challenges in some parts of Europe. For example, Ireland made their sale completely illegal deep into the 20th century.
Fortunately, rubber condoms kept increasing in popularity and became standard around the world by the end of the 19th-century. The original rubber condoms were thick and smelled like a set of new tires. Their selling advantage was reusability, which was appealing to many since condoms were not cheap at that time. (We must remind you again: never reuse a condom).
Regardless of the legal obstacles, cost and because people naturally want to have sex, condom popularity rose.
During World War 1 the German military was the first to promote condoms to its soldiers. The United States and British military did not, which resulted in high rates of STDs among their soldiers. By the end of the war, cases of syphilis and gonorrhea reached all-time top numbers (possibly as high as 400,000).
The next invention in prophylactics was the process of latex rubber suspended in water. None of us should be surprised that the roaring 1920s unveiled this new manufacturing process, which allowed the production of much thinner material.
More quality control
In 1937 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to categorize condoms as a medical device. This necessitated more quality control measures for manufacturers. Product testing became standard for the industry and paved the way for more reliable condoms. This regulation, however, limited condom availability to pharmacists.
By the end of World War 2 condoms were accepted as a standard form of sexual protection.
In the mid-1950s, about half of couples in America used condoms for preventing pregnancy.
The 1960s and 70s in the United States ushered in an era of sexual revolution, which meant a more liberal approach to traditional sexual behavior. The sexual liberation evoked an impulse for sex outside of conventional heterosexual monogamous relationships with people who didn't know each other very well. This social movement spread worldwide.
This free-loving generation generated pregnancy prevention in drug-form, which led to women-controlled birth control for the first time ever. That is unless you count calculating their ovulation cycle and telling their men when to pull out, which isn’t always so effective. Thus, The Pill overshadowed condoms for a while since one of their main purposes was no longer as big of a factor. The other purpose was a bit forgotten because they worked so well.
The early 1980s
When our society learned about a new public health problem--the discovery of HIV, AIDS--condom demand rapidly increased. Suddenly, using or not using condoms could mean the difference between life and death.
Condoms were in the spotlight, more than they ever had been because once again, they came to the rescue.
Due to the AIDS epidemic, the first half of the 1990s continued the worldwide increase in prophylactic use in developed countries. Condoms became available in a variety of supermarkets and convenience stores.
Brands also kept developing their product lines to satisfy customer demand, which leads us to the next question.
In the mid-1990s, Durex came out with Avanti, a significant product introduction, as it was the first polyurethane condom (non-latex).
As the new century rolled in and condoms started to find their way to the world wide web, people began exploring. Buying condoms online must be considered a major event in the history of condoms because it opened up a new, convenient and private way of shopping.
At the end of the opening decade of the 21st-century LifeStyles introduced the first polyisoprene condoms. Another material that contains no rubber whatsoever. This new material is so good, it could be what finally overtakes the 100-years-tested traditional natural rubber latex prophylactic.
2010 until today
Condom development continues, and manufacturers more and more focus not only on the primary purpose, prevention, and protection but also on how to maximize pleasure.
Trojan Ecstasy is the most notable example in this regard, with a new and revolutionary design.
Also in our current decade, online shopping has become second nature. The e-commerce platform especially benefits products as personal as condoms. No longer is it embarrassing to buy condoms. Today, you use your smartphone, place your order and have them delivered discreetly right to your door.
It's no question that condoms have been on a rollercoaster ride since their inception.
They've been liked and disliked, loved and hated, legal and prohibited. Hope you feel happy living in an era that gives you the luxury of choosing from such a wide selection of condoms.
Even with the invention of the oral contraceptive pill, condoms are still one of the most popular birth control methods in Western society. They are still the only mechanism for minimizing sexually transmitted diseases.
Condoms were invented ages ago, and with new technologies and manufacturing processes, they get better and better. It's safe to say they are not going anywhere anytime soon so use them and enjoy them every time. That's when they work the best for you.