Prophylactics. Condoms. Rubbers. Whatever you may call them, we’re pretty sure they’ve played a role in your relationships — and without them, life would be very different. But have you ever wondered where condoms come from? And how they got where they are now?
One of the earliest successful USA condom manufacturers was first a sausage maker, says Dr. Trina E. Read, a best-selling author, sex coach, media expert, magazine columnist and international speaker. In the 1880s, New York sausage-maker Julius Schmid left nothing to waste when he started using animal intestines to make condoms. Condoms had been made for centuries using animal parts, linen and silk, and Schmid’s early prototypes were smelly and uncomfortable. He soon perfected his design and named his product Ramses after a fertile Egyptian ruler who sired more than 100 children.
Similar types, also made from animal membranes, were known as “French safes” or “male safes.”
In 1839, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanization, a process that hardens rubber and makes it flexible — creating the material from which was made the item we know of as a “rubber.” The first rubbers were reusable. (Ewwww.) They cost about a dollar during the Civil War and were used to prevent syphilis in the brothels.
Taboo Goes Mainstream
The condom used to be a taboo item that was profitable for its purveyors, says Dave Levine, owner of sextoy.com. With the taboo mystique gone and all mainstream drug stores carrying condoms, however, profits have shrunk. “As owner of sextoy.com, I prefer products being taboo because we make more money! Now that they are accepted and available everywhere, we have trouble selling and making money on them,” says Levine.
Where were condoms first seen?
It’s believed that the Egyptians developed the first condoms, and they were linen sheaths that protected the wearer from diseases. There doesn’t seem to be a connected line of condom use until the Roman Empire, where condoms or coverings were referred to in diaries and notes. It is unclear what they were made of.
Then, during the 1500s, syphilis spread throughout Europe, and Gabrielle Fallopius invented a linen sheath to protect against syphilis, but it was not yet worn to protect from pregnancy. Later, these same sheaths were soaked in a solution, which was thought to kill sperm, making the condom effective against pregnancy — or so it was thought.
During the 1700s the use of animal skin and intestines was introduced to defend against infections and pregnancy. They were quite expensive and available only to the wealthy and elite. Because of their cost, they were often reused. Ironically, they were called “armor against pleasure.”
In the 1900s, Goodyear developed vulcanization. The technology used to manufacture rubber tires was applied to condoms, and the first latex condoms were made, albeit very thick. As improvements in dipping were achieved and a thinner condom was available, the widespread use of latex condoms launched a period of awareness of protection from both pregnancy and infections.
Then, in 1994, polyurethane condoms were launched in the US. Polyurethane condoms did not provide the same protection from infections and pregnancy as latex and were to only be used if the user was allergic to natural rubber latex. In 2008, LifeStyles launched polyisoprene condoms, which are just as effective as natural rubber latex, help transmit heat and are softer to the feel — more like skin. And so, the new SKYN polyisoprene condom was born. Today it is the fastest-growing condom segment in the US.
Condoms have improved over time by getting thinner and thinner, but still achieving a high degree of protections from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy as their thicker, older versions. They also now come in more sizes, so wearers can find the appropriate size for them, reducing slippage and improving comfort and sensitivity. The cost of condoms has come down since generations ago, so they are more easily, and readily available to people of all ages and income and are an affordable choice for contraception and STD protection.
Condoms have come a long way – and the industry shows no sign of slowing down. Where do you see them going next? Leave a comment!