Let's Talk About Safe Sex

By: RSC Editorial Team

June 3, 2022

History of Condoms: Contraception and Safe Sex Then and Now

Pulling out a condom during a sexual encounter is a no-brainer for many. But have you ever thought about how condoms originated, how they got their name, and how they’ve changed over the years? 

Read on to learn the history of condoms and how safe sex has transformed throughout history. 

Why Is It Called Condoms?

Condoms have an extensive history dating back to 3000 B.C. At first, people used animal horns as condoms. They then transitioned to using condoms made from linen or animal intestines. 

Condoms adapted and changed dramatically over the years, creating a more comfortable, enjoyable sexual experience and enhancing protection against pregnancy and STDs. 

Oddly enough, the origin of the word “condom” is unknown. Historians believe the name originated with King Charles II, whose nickname was Earl of Condom or Dr. Condom. However, condoms had existed for several hundred years before King Charles II came to power. 

How Do Condoms Work?

Condoms help prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases by keeping semen from entering the vagina. These products roll over the tip of the penis and encompass the entire penis shaft, leaving a small amount of space at the tip to catch semen upon ejaculation. 

How Effective Are Condoms? 

Condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy when used correctly. Unfortunately, however, people often misuse these products. In reality, the failure rate of condom use is closer to 15%. The most common reason condoms fail is because they break or slip off the penis during use, typically when they are too large. 

What Are the Types of Condoms? 

The modern market is filled with a wide range of condom types. The most common are latex condoms, which use non-porous latex because it is cheap, easy to produce, and strong. However, non-latex condoms are also common among people with latex allergies. These products can consist of:

  • Polyurethane
  • Lambskin
  • Polyisoprene
  • Nitrile

Lubricated vs. Non-Lubricated Condoms: What’s the Difference? 

Lubricated condoms have a thin layer of lubrication on their exterior that may make them easier to put on. This lubrication sometimes contains spermicides to prevent pregnancy. However, lubricated condoms typically do not have enough lubrication to aid penetration. 

Meanwhile, non-lubricated condoms may be better for oral sex, as they have a more natural taste and texture. 

Condoms During Ancient Times

Condoms have a fascinating history dating back to ancient times — specifically, around 3000 B.C. 

During this period, King Minos of Crete covered his penis with a goat’s bladder sheath during sex to protect his wife from his semen. Medical professionals didn’t understand sexually transmitted diseases at the time, but King Minos was convinced his semen was full of “serpents and scorpions.” 

However, contraceptive use fell dramatically in the 5th century, and there is no recorded use of condoms in the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Muslims and Jews may have used onion juice or tar as a contraceptive during this time, which likely proved ineffective.  

The next recorded use of condoms wasn’t until the 15th century, when people across Asia began developing creative forms of birth control. Glans condoms — condoms that only cover the penis head — were prevalent at this time. In China, people made condoms from oiled silk paper and lamb intestines. Meanwhile, the Japanese used animal horns as condoms. 

A few thousand years later, the Egyptians began creating condoms to prevent the spread of diseases. They produced condoms from linen sheaths and dyed them different colors for different classes of people. Oddly enough, the Ancient Romans created condoms from the muscles of their slain enemies. However, most condoms consisted of animal products. 

Condoms in the Renaissance Period

During the Renaissance, the primary purpose of condoms was to prevent the spread of STDs. For instance, syphilis was prevalent — and often deadly —  throughout Europe in the 16th century. 

Sperm and its role in pregnancy was not discovered until the 17th century. Upon this discovery, the Church shunned condom use, and many considered condom use as only for prostitutes and immoral people. 

Condoms During the 18th Century 

Condom use became much more common starting in the 28th century. However, opinions about these contraceptives were diverse. For example, John Campbell asked Parliament to make condoms illegal. 

Still, the condom market grew, and these products became widely available in chemist shops, pubs, and barbershops. At this time, condoms were made of a linen blend or animal skins.

Charles Goodyear Started a Condom Revolution 

Charles Goodyear, the founder of the global Goodyear tire company, began a condom revolution in the 19th century with his invention of vulcanization. This process combined sulfur and natural rubber to create a durable, tensile rubber material. Vulcanization launched the creation of the first rubber condom in 1855, which allowed condoms to be mass-produced. 

Condoms in Modern Times 

Condom use became much more popular after the invention of rubber condoms in the 1850s. During World War I, the American military began providing condoms to soldiers to lower STD rates. While condoms were very prevalent during the early 1900s, many people still opposed them.

In the U.S., condom companies could only advertise their products in terms of their disease prevention. Condoms were not openly marketed forms of birth control until several decades later. 

Then, condom sales increased dramatically during the 1980s, as AIDS began to spread like wildfire throughout the U.S. Advertising campaigns marketed condoms as an effective solution to protect against AIDS. 

The Rise of Latex 

Latex was first invented in 1920. Soon after, Youngs Rubber Company produced the first latex condom as part of its Trojan brand. These condoms required a less intensive production process than rubber condoms and eliminated the fire hazard present during rubber condom manufacturing. 

1990 and Beyond: Quality Improvement

Quality testing within condom production has improved slowly over time. Manufacturing regulations tightened significantly in the 1960s and 1970s, making condoms more reliable and effective. In the 1990s, condom advertisements shifted from scary to humorous, reducing some of the stigma surrounding condom use. 

Condoms and Safe Sex Today 

Today, condom use has become standard procedure within safe sex practices. These products are highly effective in preventing pregnancy and the spread of STDs. 

Understanding Sexually Transmitted Diseases

During the AIDS epidemic, condom use became a critical procedure to stop the spread of this deadly disease. Condom use, combined with the invention of same-day STD testing, helped to ultimately contain AIDS.

Current Attitudes to Condoms and Other Birth Control Methods 

Today, condoms are a no-brainer for many. While some object to condoms due to diminished feelings of sexual pleasure, many individuals worldwide view condom use as an essential step in any sexual experience. 

To Wrap It Up 

While the history of condoms is diverse and interesting, today, they are necessary contraceptives for safe sex. However, condoms are still not 100% effective at preventing the spread of STDs. Check out our resources below, then contact us to schedule a rapid STD test or 10-panel STD test

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By: RSC Editorial Team
June 3, 2022

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