Condoms have remained the faithful third wheel of relationships for as long as you can remember. One of the most popular forms of contraception for not only preventing unintended pregnancy but also providing a layer of STI protection. But where did the condom originate? And how did it progress to become a male staple in the back pocket of jeans, backpacks, and gloveboxes around the world? It’s time to step back in time and learn the history of the male condom.
The oldest evidence of the condom goes way back to ancient caves in France known as Grotte des Combarrelles. Scientists believe paintings that represent an ancient male sheath exist in these caves.
During medieval times, King Minos of Crete used a goat’s bladder to protect his wife from his semen during sexual intercourse.
In Japan and China during the 1400s, glans condoms were a common type of contraception used by members of the upper class. Glans condoms differed to modern-day condoms in that glans condoms only covered the head of the penis, not the entire shaft. In Japan, glans condoms were made from tortoise shell and animal horn. In China, glans condoms were made of oiled silk paper and lamb intestines.
As the world moved into the 16th century, Italian anatomist, Gabrielle Fallopio, claimed to have invented a linen sheath to be worn for protection against then-fatal STI, syphilis. Upon conducting an experiment on 1,100 men to determine the effectiveness of the linen sheath, not one man became infected with syphilis.
Condoms made from animal intestines were the go-to contraception of choice during the 1600s. These condoms were available to the public, albeit it as a luxury item. Due to their expensive cost-price, these condoms were regularly reused, which as you can imagine, altered their efficacy.
As condom use soared into the 18th century, English physician, Daniel Turner, stated his belief that condoms were encouraging men to practice unsafe sex with multiple partners. Despite this, the condom market continued to grow. Condoms made of animal intestine, animal bladder or chemical-soaked linen became widely available to the point they were sold in public pubs and marketplaces.
More people increasingly advocated for birth control. In 1839 Charles Goodyear (yep, the man behind the tyre powerhouse) invented the rubber condom. Unlike animal-based condoms of the past, rubber condoms had the flexibility to stretch and remain untorn. Despite Goodyear’s advancement, rubber condoms were thick and uncomfortable to wear. Shortly after, more companies jumped on the rubber condom production bandwagon.
It was in 1912 when German chemist, Julius Fromm, discovered a new method of manufacturing condoms. Fromm’s process involved dipping glass moulds into a raw rubber solution. Thus, the latex condom was born. Latex condoms were cheap, disposable, and mass-produced for easy distribution to World Wat II troops all over the world. By the 1950s latex condoms had transformed into thinner, tighter, and lubricated versions of their former selves. A reservoir-tipped design was later introduced to collect semen and decrease the risk of leakage and pregnancy.
The world’s first smart condom was created in Nottingham, England. Worn as a ring around the base of the condom, the smart condom claims to detect sexually transmitted infections and provide statistics on the penis and sexual performance, including girth and calories burned.