Population Action International

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Special Topic: History of Condom Use

As early as 1000 BCE, the ancieant Egyptians used a linen sheath for protection against disease, while the Chinese are known to have used oiled silk paper. However, the oldest condoms ever found date back to 1640 and were excavated near Birmingham, England. They were made of fish and animal intestine.

In 16th century Italy, Gabrielle Fallopius authored the first-known published description of prophylactic condom use. Fallopius conducted trials among 1,100 men using a sheath made of linen; none of the men became infected with syphilis. During this period, protection was also improved by soaking the cloth sheaths in a chemical solution and allowing them to dry prior to use — the first use of a spermicide on condoms.The condom’s usefulness in preventing pregnancy was recognized in the 1700s.

Condoms made out of animal intestines became widely available in Europe, but were costly and often reused. In 19th century Japan, the Japanese had condoms made from two other materials: one made of thin leather and the other of thin tortoise shells or horns.

The mass-production of “rubbers” began after 1844 and the invention of vulcanization, a process that turns crude rubber into a strong elastic material.These were as thick as inner tubes, had a seam, and deteriorated rapidly. Latex manufacturing processes improved sufficiently in the 1930s to produce single-use condoms almost as thin and inexpensive as the ones used today.

The reservoir tip on the latex condom was introduced in the early 1950s, textured condoms in 1973. In 1994, Polyurethane emerged as an alternative to latex, leading to the development of both male condoms for latexsensitive people and the female condom.

Sources:
Dooley, MM. 1994. “History of the condom.” J Royal Soc Med 87:58, January.

Himes, N. 1963. Medical History of Contraception. New York: Gamut Press, Inc.

Youssef, H. 1993. “The history of the condom.” J Royal Soc Med 86:266-228, April.

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