Per your reader requests, I made a stop at Langson Library to investigate the history behind everyone’s favorite contraceptive. I decided to approach the help desk for, you guessed it, help on researching condoms. Once we got past the giggles, we got right down to business.
After reading through a few encyclopedias, I came across several pretty ridiculous precedents to the condom. Everything from jumping backwards seven times immediately following sex to rinsing off with honey was deemed, by expert opinion mind you, to be an appropriate method of birth control.
The first real and somewhat effective method of birth control to be developed turned out to be the condom. According to some sources, the invention is attributed to a – get this – Dr. Condom.
I’m sure you mature adults aren’t even bothering to stifle those snickers, but in truth, more reputable sources give all the credit to the much less interesting Latin term, condus, which means “receptacle.”
Some of the earliest condoms dating to before the 15th century, were made with linen tied on with a ribbon and were used mainly for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases rather than pregnancy.
While ribbons might not be your thing, just imagine getting stuck with tortoiseshell or animal horn condoms in Japan or using condoms made of animal bladder and intestines.
Let’s just take a moment of silence for condom-users of this time period and thank our lucky stars for Charles Goodyear, whose development of vulcanized rubber helped to make sex simpler for us all and turned out to be helpful to more than just the transportation industry.
The vulcanization of rubber around 1840 revolutionized contraceptive methods, and made condoms one of the most popular choices for birth control to this day (and banished animal horns from the bedroom forever).
Until about 1920, all rubber condoms were handmade and required gasoline and benzene to make. While keeping things hot in the bedroom has never historically been a bad thing, I wouldn’t advocate lighting any candles around this ill-fated manufacturing technique.
Luckily, latex condoms were invented and cost less to produce, which helped to eliminate fire hazards and perform better for the consumer. While they were stronger, thinner and had a longer shelf-life than rubber condoms, many poor Americans hit by the great depression often turned to the rubber condom for its ability to be reused.
Yes, I said it. They reused their rubber condoms. For up to three months.
Following improved methods of automated production and the great depression, the latex condom increased significantly in popularity, bringing it to the number one used contraceptive until the debut of oral contraceptives in 1960.
Quality regulations tightened for condom manufacturers in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and many legal restrictions were lifted. However, restrictions on the advertisements of condoms remained in place until 1979.
We’ve said our goodbyes to tortoiseshell and bladder, but lambskin still remains as a (significantly more expensive) option and the 21st century has brought an endless variety of flavors, textures and colors to the market.
So, whether you’re a Lifestyles kind of gal or a Trojan man, the next time you tear open a pack, don’t forget to remember that there’s a history of social and economic change behind your latex friend.
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