A Close Look at Condoms

The condom has a colorful history. Cave paintings show that it was used during prehistoric times. Historians have no idea what the early condoms were made of but the ancient Romans made theirs from the guts and bladders of animals. In addition to being elastic, animal cecum had a fineness and strength which made it an excellent sheath.

Surprisingly, condoms were not considered a contraceptive device in those days. They were advocated as a means of preventing the spread of venereal disease. The first one to promote condoms for this purpose was the Italian Dr. Gabriello Fallopio. In his book “De Morbo Gallico” published in 1564, Fallopio recommended the use of a linen sheath to protect people from syphilis.

The condom entered the English vocabulary through the efforts of the English Doctor Conton who improved its design. When the contraceptive function of condoms became known in the 18th century, they became even more popular.

One of the earliest condom manufacturers was a woman named Mrs. Phillips whose brand was made from dried sheep gut. With the vulcanization of rubber in 1844, less expensive condoms were available. Most condoms now are made of latex, which is derived from rubber, but skin condoms made from lamb cecum are still around.

With the spread of AIDS and concern about safe sex, condoms have become one of the most popular contraceptives in America. This barrier method which is used by men also happens to be a woman’s best friend.

In the United States and Canada, sales of condoms amount to more than a billion dollars yearly with women as most of the buyers.

“Heeding public health warnings, Americans have helped boost condom sales more than 60 percent over the past two-and-a-half years. People who had never considered condoms before – women and gay men, especially – are now buying and using them. Women, for example, purchase 40 to 50 percent of condoms today, up from 10 percent a few years ago. Often the women are single, and often it’s disease – not birth control that’s on their mind,” according to the editors of Consumer Reports.

“One reason for the popularity of condoms is that they are easy to obtain. Condoms are available without a prescription in drugstores and can be purchased in vending machines in some men’s restrooms. They are available in various materials, ranging from rubber to animal skin; they come with or without a lubricant, and they are packaged in small and large quantities. Packaged condoms are good for at least two years,” said Dr. David E. Larson, editor-in-chief of the “Mayo Clinic Family Health Book.” (Next: Can you trust condoms?)