The Evolution of Condoms: From Sheaths Made Of Animal Parts To Rubber And Latex

Samyuktha Nair
·3-min read

Disclaimer: Originally published in April 2018. It is being republished since it still remains an interesting topic till today.

In ancient times, birth control was largely considered to be the responsibility of the woman. This could have been due to the patriarchal nature of most societies in the world.

However, mentions of male birth control made their first appearances in the 1500s- a sheath-like device worn on the penis during sexual intercourse to guard against sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

Since then, the condom has evolved over the centuries to become a more sophisticated product. The materials used to make them and their appearance also changed as they evolved.

Early lambskin condoms
Early lambskin condoms

The First Condoms

The 1500s saw the first recorded mention of condoms.

In Asia, there has been recorded use of “glans condoms”- condoms that covered only the tip of the male organ. However, they were available only to members of the upper classes.

In China, they were made of oiled silk paper or lamb intestines, and of tortoise shell or animal horn in Japan. Later, Dutch traders introduced the Japanese to condoms made of fine leather, which covered the entire male organ.

In Italy, a treatise was written of syphilis by Gabriele Falloppio, a physician and anatomist. It was there that he described the first account of condom use in Europe-a linen sheath soaked in a chemical solution, left to dry, and then worn and held on with a ribbon. These were mainly used to guard against contracting syphilis.

However, people soon began using them for birth control too, and this was written off as “immoral” by the Catholic theologian Leonardus Lessius.

Sheep-gut condoms held closed with a ribbon
Sheep-gut condoms held closed with a ribbon

Read More: What Is The Right Time For Parents To Talk To Kids About Sex?

Birth Control in Medieval Europe

In the year 1666, the English Birth Rate Commission noticed a dip in the rate of childbirth, and attributed this to the use of “condons.” Other early terms used were “condam,” and “quondam” (similar to the Italian “guantone,” from “guanto,” meaning “a glove”).

In the 1700s, Giacomo Casanova was said to have used “assurance caps” to guard against his mistresses falling pregnant.

The Usage of Condoms Across Classes

In the 1800s, condoms became available to the lower classes, too. However, they were not a popular method of birth control, as they were said to have had holes, and the tendency to fall off or break.

Even though laws were passed against the manufacture and use of contraceptives, condoms were still highly advertised using euphemisms and metaphors. Europe and the US also circulated within themselves instructions on how to make condoms at home.

By the late 1800s, a condom was the most popular form of birth control used in the West.

Modern-day condoms
Modern-day condoms

Rubber Condoms

Thanks to the patenting of the process of vulcanising rubber in the 1800s, the rubber condom came into being. However, it was said to be highly uncomfortable, as it had seams as thick as the inner tube of a bicycle tyre.

Latex Condoms

Latex condoms gained popularity when it was noted that they were thinner and stronger than rubber condoms, and had a shelf life of up to five years when compared to the rubber condom’s shelf life of just three months.

Latex condoms are in use to this date and are the world’s second most popular method of birth control (the first being the oral contraceptive pill).

The condom has evolved tremendously over the centuries- not just in terms of materials used, but in terms of effectiveness and ease of use.

What we have today is an extremely sophisticated and easy-to-use condom, which was developed from aeons of trial and error. The ease of use and access of condoms to people around the world has helped curb the spreading of STDs and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, thus benefitting the human race tremendously.

Image Credits: Google Images

Sources: The Indian Express, Wikipedia, Say It With A Condom

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