You wouldn’t expect something as mundane as a condom to have a long history – but in fact, condoms are much older than you might think, and they’ve played an important role in human sexuality and shaping our modern world.
Historians disagree on when the earliest condoms may have been created or used. Some suggest that cave paintings – dating back an amazing 11,000 B.C.E! – depict condom use. We know for sure that by the 1400s A.D., China and Japan were utilize glans condoms made of lamb intestines, oiled silk paper, and even animal horn.
In the 1500s, condoms were first used as STD protection. At the time, syphilis was a major health threat; the Italian physician Gabrielle Fallopius (also known as the man who first discovered the fallopian tubes and their role in women’s reproduction) recommended condoms for protection. These early condoms were made of linen soaked in chemicals and dried.
Condoms fell in and out of fashion, meeting objections on moral grounds from church authorities, but they never disappeared entirely. The word “condom” itself dates back to 1666, when the English Birth Rate Commission attributed lowered birth rates to the device. Throughout this period, they were made of chemical-soaked linen or intestine/bladder tissue from sheep treated with sulphur or lye.
It wasn’t until 1839 that rubber condoms were invented – by none other than Charles Goodyear, whose experiments with vulcanized rubber also gave rise to things like automobile tires. By the late 1800s, people were popularly calling condoms “rubbers,” a name that’s stuck around to the modern day.
Growing in Popularity
Condoms really took off in the early 1900s, when judges finally ruled that they could be advertised and publicly sold as a prevention for STDs. By the 1920s, creative packaging and naming conventions were boosting the sales of condoms worldwide. By the early 1930s, they became standard issue for military men, and by the 1950s and 60s, almost half of Americans were using condoms for birth control and disease prevention.
Condom usage rose even more in the 1980s, when fear of the AIDS epidemic drove more people to use them. Today, condoms are safer and more effective than ever before, and come in a wide range of colors, textures and even flavors.