According to the dictionaries, condoms can be defined in several ways. Condom is a barrier type means of contraception; it is a hood impervious for sperm that fits over the erect penis. Condoms are designed to prevent conception and sexually transmitted viruses and diseases. Modern condoms are most often made from latex, although other materials, such as polyurethane, are used (Harper 181).

The history of condoms counts at least 400 years. The oldest condom extant has been found in Lund, Sweden, and dates back to 1640. It was invented in the early 16th century by Dr. Charles Condom for Henry VIII. It was made from the mucous membrane of the sheep’s intestine. According to some reports, condoms were used before in ancient Egypt and Rome.

Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The oldest possible evidence of condom is its supposed image in the French cave Grotte des Combarelles made 12-15 thousand years ago. Among the historians, there is no consensus about whether condoms were used in antiquity. In ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, a woman was responsible for contraception. Therefore, all the well-documented contraceptive devices of those times were designed for women. Ancient texts contain subtle indications and techniques for male contraception, but most historians believe that they tell not about condoms, but about the interrupted sexual intercourse or anal sex. The factor contributing cessation of contraception was the spread of Christianity, which declared any contraceptive methods sinful.

At the same time, male condoms were used before the 15th century in Asia. Condoms covered only the head of the penis and apparently were used only by the upper classes. At the end of the 15th century, Dutch merchants began to bring condoms made of “thin leather” from China.


At the end of the 15th century, the epidemic of syphilis began. The first reliable mention of syphilis was dated 1495 years. The pustules covered the body from the head to the knees and death occurred within a few months. The first authentic mention of condoms was found in the treatise De Morbo Gallico by the Italian physician Gabriel Fallopian. It was published in 1564, two years after the author’s death. To protect against syphilis Fallopian recommends a device that, according to him, he invented himself: a linen cover, soaked in a special chemical solution, and then dried. Fallopian wrote that he tested the device on 1100 people and none of them got infected with a terrible disease. After the publication of De Morbo Gallico, the widespread distribution of condoms begins (Hatcher, Trussel, and Nelson 48-50). The use of a condom for the prevention of infection was referred to in many texts across Europe. The first explicit reference to the use of “un petit linge”, a small piece of tissue, to prevent pregnancy occurs in the French novel L'Escole des files (“The philosophy of the girls”) in 1655. In 1666 the English Birth Rate Commission found that the cause of reduced fertility was in wide use of “condoms”. This was the first mention of the word “condom” or the one similar to it. Besides linen, condoms during the Renaissance were made from the intestines and bladders of animals.

18th Century

In the texts of the 18th century, condoms were mentioned more frequently than in the earlier sources. Not all of these mentions were positive; thus, in 1708 John Campbell unsuccessfully called on Parliament to prohibit them. The famous English physician Daniel Turner also condemned condoms. In his view, condoms did not provide complete protection against syphilis, but a false sense of security forced men to engage in promiscuous sex with dubious partners. Later in the 18th century, doctors criticized the use of condoms from an ethical position; they believed that the use of condoms was immoral.

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Despite the criticism, condom sales grew rapidly. They were made of linen or “skin”, intestines and bladder treated with sulfur or sodium hydroxide. They were sold in bars, hair salons, pharmacies, markets, and theatrical performances throughout Europe. The first mention of checking the quality of condoms is found in Giacomo Casanova’s memoirs.

In colonial America, only female contraceptives were used. The first mention of the use of condoms in the United States dates back to 1800, almost 30 years after gaining independence.

Before the beginning of the 18th century, condom use was limited to the middle and upper classes. The reason was a lack of awareness of the working class on sexually transmitted diseases as well as the high price of a condom. For the typical prostitute price of a condom was consistent with her earnings for several months.

19th Century


At the beginning of the 19th century, the promotion of contraception among the working people began. The authors recommended other methods of contraception because of the high cost of condoms and their unreliability; then condoms were often torn, fell, or were full of holes. However, it was noted that condoms were useful in some cases and that only they protect against syphilis (Oriel 85). One group of British supporters of contraception began to spread literature about condoms with instructions for their production at home among poor neighborhoods. In 1840 the same treatises were distributed in both urban and rural areas of the North American States.

From 1820 to 1870, the lecturers, men, and women traveled across the U.S., lecturing on physiology and sex. Many of them after the lectures sold contraceptives, including condoms. In the 1840s, condom advertising appeared in the English newspapers and in the New York Times in 1861.

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The first rubber condom was made in 1855; by the end of the 1850s, some of the largest rubber products companies have established the mass production of condoms among other things. The main advantage of rubber condoms was reusability, making them more efficient. By the end of the 19th century, the word ”rubber” became a euphemism for a condom in various countries around the globe. First, rubber condoms covered the only glans. The doctor had to measure the glans size, and then the right size was ordered; despite this, condoms often fell. Later, the producers realized that they could increase sales of products, making condoms of the same size, covering the entire penis, and selling them in pharmacies.

The second half of the 19th century was marked by the struggle against condoms using legislative methods. In 1873, the North American United States Comstock act, prohibited the transfer of materials having “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” characters was adopted. This category covered condoms and information about them. Also, 30 states have passed laws prohibiting the production and sale of condoms. Despite all the obstacles, condoms were widely available in Europe and America; they were advertised under such names as the “male shield” and “rubber good.” At the end of the 19th century in Europe, they were called “a little something for the weekend.”

Not only moralists were opponents of condoms. At the end of the 19th century, the feminist movement in Europe and America was strongly against condoms. According to the feminists, birth control should belong entirely to women. Despite the criticism and legal prohibitions, at the end of the 19th-century condoms were the most popular means of birth control in the Western world.

From the second half of the 19th century, the incidence of STDs in the United States has increased dramatically. Among the reasons, historians point to the Civil War and ignorance of the prevention of STDs that were caused by the Comstock laws. Sexual abstinence was declared the only way to prevent STDs.

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20th – 21st Centuries

At the beginning of the 20th century, experiments carried out in the U.S. Army showed that the distribution of condoms to soldiers dramatically reduced the incidence of STDs. Quality control of condoms became more popular. Worldwide condom sales doubled in 1920. Still, there were many opponents of condoms such as feminists, moralists, and doctors; for example, Freud was against condoms because they reduce sexual satisfaction.

In 1920, latex was invented. American Youngs Rubber Company was the first to produce latex condoms. They were thinner and stronger than the old rubber condoms and could be kept for 5 years instead of 3 months. Condom sales boom falls to the Great Depression years. Only in the U.S. people purchased 1.5 million condoms a day. In 1937 FDA classified condoms as medicine and required that each condom be tested before packaging (Youssef 118).

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During World War II, condoms were not only distributed to male U.S. soldiers, but their use has been regularly promoted in films, posters, and lectures. Many slogans were invented for the army such as “Don’t forget - put it on before you put it in.”

Between 1955 and 1965, 42% of Americans of reproductive age relied on condoms as a means of birth control. In 1957, Durex manufactured the first lubricated condoms. The first television advertisement for condoms in the United States came out on November 17, 1991. Condoms began to be sold in a variety of stores, including supermarkets and retail chains. Condoms have continued to improve; in 1990 Durex released the first polyurethane condom Avanti. Durex was also the first condom manufacturer that opened its website. It happened in 1997.

The use of condoms in the world continues to grow. According to statistics, in 2015 only the developing countries will need 18.6 billion condoms.

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