If you’re visiting our blog and website for the first time, welcome! Perhaps you ran into us distributing condoms and information cards on the street, or maybe you picked one up from a display basket at a local business. I’ve spent the last couple months learning everything there is to know about condoms. Here are some of the gems, Trivia-style:
Since condoms became standard issue to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the military, soldiers have found additional ways to use them. They can be used to hold water in emergency situations and began being used in World War II to cover and protect rifle barrels from water and particles that could harm them. Engineers use condoms to keep soil samples dry and to protect sensors embedded in probes for soil resistance testing. They are also apparently used by the film industry to protect microphones for underwater recording when a waterproof mic is unavailable or just not in the budget. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring non-sex use of condoms is by paramedics in need of a one-way valve for chest decompressions in the field. A needle is inserted though the condom and then into the chest and the condom allows air to exit but not enter the chest.
Whether they are soldiers, engineers, paramedics, or none of the above, women can also use a modified male latex condom when receiving oral sex, to prevent the transmission of STIs that can infect the mouth and throat, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and both types of herpes. To learn how to make a dental dam for female oral sex, click here.
And you thought condoms were just for vaginal and anal sex!
Some of the earliest condoms covered only the head (called the glans) of the penis and were used as birth control by the upper classes. In China, these glans condoms were made of oiled silk paper or lamb intestines. In Japan, they were made of tortoise shell or animal horn (ouch!). Later, chemical-soaked linen and animal intestines or bladders became materials of choice for full-penis-covering condoms in Europe. Dutch-produced leather condoms made an appearance in Japan in the late 15th century. The first rubber condoms again covered only the glans and a doctor had to measure each man to ensure the correct size. That made them quite inaccessible and they often fell off during use, so manufacturers moved to the full-length option. They were made by wrapping strips of raw rubber around penis-shaped molds, then curing the rubber with chemical. In 1912, a faster and more efficient technique was developed, called cement dipping, which involved dipping glass moulds into raw liquid rubber. Latex was invented in 1920 and latex condoms appeared soon after.
To find out what today’s condoms are made of, click here.
According to the Greek legend, Minos’ wife Pasiphae cursed him with semen containing serpents and scorpions (funny, I don’t remember learning that one in grade school …). In order to protect his lover from bites and stings, she inserted a goat’s bladder, like we might use a female condom today. The legend appeared in 150 AD and some historians suggest this is indicative of condom use in ancient societies. It has also been claimed that condoms are represented in 12,000-15,000 year old cave paintings at la Grotte des Combarelles in France. The first usage of condoms that we can be sure about corresponds with the first well-documented outbreak of syphilis which began in 1494 and spread rapidly throughout Europe and Asia.
Curious about those female condoms? For more information, click here.
Early condoms varied widely in size and quality. In fact, when a biochemist tested 2000 condoms in 1935, he found that 60% of them leaked. Already in the 18th century, condoms of questionable quality could be purchased throughout Europe in pubs, barbershops, from the chemist, and at the theatre. The first known condom quality tests were informal ones performed by the famous lover Giacomo Casanova and involved blowing each condom up with air to test it for holes. While it is definitely not recommended that you blow up a condom before using it, it would also be unnecessary. Condoms are now rigorously tested for quality and as long as you use them correctly and consistently, they are highly effective at preventing the transmission of HIV and many other STIs.
For more information on how to use condoms with confidence, click here.
These three gents were all users or advocates of condoms. Gabriele Falloppio was an Italian doctor who wrote De Morbo Gallico, a 1564 treatise on syphilis which recommends the use of a chemical-soaked and ribbon-tied linen glans condom, which covered only the head of the penis. Louis XV, the king of France from 1715 to 1774, is known to have used condoms to prevent his mistresses from becoming pregnant. He reportedly sent a British diplomat to inquire and obtain them from across the Channel. The Venetian seducer Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) famously used condoms and tested them for quality.
For more information about the present day use of condoms, click here.
People are always happy to have a nickname to refer to something taboo. With condoms, this was particularly important during times when they were illegal. In the United States, the Comstock laws were passed in 1873, banning the manufacture and sale of condoms. In Ireland, they were effectively outlawed right up until the 1970s. In other parts of Europe, contraceptives were illegal but condoms could be used for disease prevention. Whether they were legal or not, condoms continued to be used throughout North America and Europe and there were lots of different euphemisms to refer to them by. “A little something for the weekend” was one of them. Also “male shield” and “rubber good”. If you were in England, you might have called them “French letters” to protect from the “French disease” (syphilis), while the French would ask for an “English riding coat” to protect from “the English disease” (also syphilis). You get the picture!
Whatever you decide to call them, use condoms with confidence and enjoy!
This blog represents the ideas of individual writers, and does not necessarily reflect any formal stance taken by Positive Women’s Network.