While many people believe that condoms are a relatively new form of contraceptive, created not so long ago, this is far from true. Many historians believe that, in ancient Egypt, pharaohs used papyrus reeds to cover their penises during sex. Ancient Roman soldiers are believed to have used dried sheep intestines as condoms, as well (Parisot, 1987, pp. 4-6). In the East, the Chinese used oiled silk paper, and the Japanese had two versions of a condom: the Kawagata, which used thin leather, and Kabutogata, which used thin tortoise shells or horns.
While it is unknown whether condoms in these early days were used more to prevent disease, as contraceptive devices or for ritualistic purposes, we do know that by the 16th century, the emphasis was on the prophylactic function of the condom. Today, condoms have evolved in many ways, and are now available and appealing to the mass public.
According to Maier (2003), "Like love itself, condoms are uniquely personal. But product selection has evolved far beyond a choice of red, blue, ribbed, or extra-thin. The latest condoms provide technical innovation and lots of opportunities for product differentiation."
This paper discusses the history of the condom, tracing its roots back to ancient days and covering related topics to present day. It will also discuss the challenges that were presented to condom use along the way.
According to Wikipedia (2003), "a condom is a device, usually made of latex, that covers a man's penis during sexual intercourse to avoid pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis and AIDS."
The first efforts at making condoms were rather clumsy and involved the use of woven fabrics. These methods were not effective. The earliest effective condoms were produced from sheep gut or other animal membrane. These are still available today because of their ability to transmit body warmth and sensation. However, they are not as effective in preventing pregnancy and disease as synthetic condoms.
When latex condoms became available, it was a great step forward in effectiveness and affordability. However, prior to the mid-1900's, many places refused to sell condoms, and many subsequently allowed their sale solely "for the prevention of disease."
The early latex condoms were basically all the same, except that some used reservoir tips. One early innovation, the "short cap," only covered the head of the penis. However, this version failed to reduce disease and pregnancy. In recent years, many manufacturers have made condoms in a variety of sizes, colors, and shapes of condoms, including ones that are used to enhance stimulation. Many condoms add spermicidal lubricant, although this is not as effective as separate spermicide use.
Condoms made from natural materials, such as lambkin, are recent additions to the condom industry, although these are not as effective at preventing disease. A few companies are today also making condoms from polyethylene and polyurethane, which is believed to be as effective as latex but have not been extensively researched. The alternate materials are useful for people who are allergic to latex.
Recently "female condoms" have joined the condom market. These condoms are larger than male condoms and have a stiffened ring-shaped opening. Female condoms are designed to be inserted into the vagina. Sales of female condoms have been low, however, so they are not as widely available as they were when they were first introduced.
As a method of contraception, condoms have many advantages. For one, there are virtually no side-effects. They also offer good protection against sexually transmitted diseases. However, according to Wikipedia (2003), "There is a paradox in the use of condoms for contraception: their theoretical effectiveness is relatively high, but their actual effectiveness is relatively low. This is because many people fail to rigorously follow the proper procedures for condom usage. Even touching the female genitalia with the same (unwashed) hand that removed the condom can potentially cause pregnancy. Furthermore, surveys have shown that many users do not know how to correctly put them on, resulting in bursts and slippages."
Therefore, condoms are considered only moderately reliable. However, when combined with a spermicide, their reliability is better than most other methods of contraception. The disadvantage of condoms is that many people find them unpleasant, particularly since they prevent skin contact and reduce sensitivity. In addiiton, putting them on can interrupt lovemaking.
The Early Condoms (While the use of penile sheaths made from a diversity of substances, including linen, gourds, tortoiseshell, leather, silk, and oiled paper, has existed in many societies from ancient times, it is unknown whether these were used as a protection against sexually transmitted disease or contraceptive purposes, rather than for ritualistic purposes or modesty Hall, 2001).
More than 3,000 years ago, the Egyptians created an illustration of the condom (Knowles, 2003). However, it is difficult to determine by the drawing exactly what it was used for. Some historians believe it was part of a ritual. Others say it may have been used for sexual reasons. Many believe that, in later years, the ancient Romans made condoms from the muscle tissue of warriors they defeated in battle.
In the 1500's, an Italian anatomist, Fallopius, wrote in a published work, "De morbo gallico" (meaning "on the French disease"), discussed using a linen sheath as protection against venereal disease (Hall, 2001). He claimed to be the inventor of this sheath, which is today known as a condom. His described means of fitting it, by putting it over the glans but under the foreskin, or inserted into the urethra, sounded neither comfortable nor practical. Later, writer Hercules Saxonia described a larger linen sheath, which could be soaked in a chemical or herbal preparation, and which covered the entire penis.
Studying at the University of Padua in the 1500s, Fallopius is believed to have prevented syphilis in 100% of the 1,100 men who had tried it (Parisot, 1987, p. 11). This sheath, which was a standard eight inches long, consisted of medicated linen that fit over the penis and was tied at the base with a ribbon. This ribbon was pink, as it was intended to appeal to women.
Five fragments of shaped animal gut were found during the excavation of the garderobe (lavatory) of the keep at Dudley Castle, which had been buried in 1647 (hall, 2001). These prototype condoms (baudruche, french letters, capotes anglaises, and more), both animal and vegetable, were used mainly as prophylactics against sexual disease, although evidence exists that their dual purpose as contraceptives was recognized at this time, as well. It is assumed that these condoms were used to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections during the war between the armies of Oliver Cromwell and soldiers loyal to King Charles I.
Historians are unsure about how condoms got their name. Many say a "Dr. Condom" supplied King Charles II of England with animal-tissue sheaths to keep him from getting women pregnant and catching sexual diseases from prostitutes (Knowles, 2003). Many claim the word comes from a "Dr. Condon" or a "Colonel Cundom." It is most likely that the word comes from the Latin condom, meaning "receptacle."
Regardless of the origin of the word, the invention of the sheep-gut sheath is believed to the invention of Dr. Condom, Cundum or Quondam, yet historians are unsure of the man's name (Hall, 2001). This version was created during the reign of Charles II. Archaeological evidence, however, suggests that rather than being a product of the licentious Restoration era, gut condoms were already available over twenty years earlier during the English Civil War.
Condoms made of sheep's intestines are still available today. They are disposable and should only be used once. However, in the 1940s and 1950s, they were washed, bathed in petroleum jelly, and kept in little wooden boxes in a bedroom drawer (Knowles, 2003).
It is uncertain whether "Dr. Condom," as many refer to him, heard about Fallopius's invention (Parisot, 1987, p. 13). However, when King Charles II, who had many mistresses and children out of wedlock, decided he needed something to prevent disease and unwanted children, he approached the doctor. Dr. Condom's sheaths consisted of oiled and stretched sheep intestines. After the king started using them, they were circulated among many English noblemen.
There are many literary references throughout the eighteenth century, particularly in the memoirs of notorious womanizer Casanova and the diary of James Boswell, to the use of "armour," or "implements of safety (Hall, 2001)." Madame de Sevigne, however, writing of their contraceptive use, regarded condoms as "an armour against enjoyment and a spider-web against danger." In the 18th century, Casanova is believed to have worn condoms made of linen (Knowles, 2003).
After 1844, when Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanization of rubber, which he invented in 1839, rubber condoms were mass-produced (Knowles, 2003). According to Hall (2001), early condoms "were manufactured from the caecum or blind gut of sheep, which was soaked, turned inside out, macerated in an alkaline solution, scraped, exposed to brimstone vapor, washed, blown up, dried, cut and given a ribbon tie. It…