For those of you who may have been raised under the ocean, deep underground in secret government bunkers or have been hermits for most of your lives, a condom is a barrier device placed over the penis during sex to prevent the entrance of semen into the vagina and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms have remained popular throughout the years, even in the face of adversity — the Pope for instance — probably because “doing it” is fun. STIs are not.
You might have heard through popular condom lore that the ancient Egyptians were the first to sheath their penises, but there is debate surrounding this because it is unclear if this was done for ritualistic reasons or for protection
The earliest documented evidence of condom use is relatively recent. Shortly after the syphilis outbreak of the 1490’s in Europe, a man named Gabriello Falloppio wrote a treatise on syphilis; he described the use of a linen sheath that was soaked in spermicidal chemicals and allowed to dry, that would be placed over the glans (head) of the penis and held on with a ribbon. This, he wrote, would offer protection against syphilis.
The history of the condom is hard to trace following Falloppio’s treatise, because fact and fiction seem to have become mixed. A credible trail does pick-up though by the 18th century, when the popularity of the condom began to take-off and it was known as “preservative machine” and/or “armour.”
One of the people in the 18th century who took care to document their condom-use was none other than Giacomo Casanova (more commonly known as just “Casanova”), who made several mentions of condoms in his memoirs. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Casanova was not enthusiastic about using condoms — employing them more for contraceptive purposes, then protection against diseases. Casanova might have reevaluated his enthusiasm later in life, perhaps after contracting an STI around 1763, in England.
In the late 18th century, the condom made its way to America, although in both Europe and the U.S. their use was limited to the upper and middle classes because they were expensive and there was a lack of sex education among the lower class.
The 19th century saw many advances in condom production, especially after the invention of rubber vulcanization; however, some countries, like the United States, passed laws against the advertising of contraceptives and even gave the postal service the authority to confiscate condoms sent through the mail.
Despite social and legal opposition to condoms between the wars, condom sales continued to increase after the Second World War; from 1955-65, 42 per cent of sexually active Americans relied on condoms for birth control. Even though “The Pill” became the most popular form of birth control when it was introduced in 1960, the condom remained a close second.
Despite the benefits of condoms, the American Social Hygiene Association fought hard to prohibit condom use, on moral grounds that anyone willing to risk getting STIs shouldn’t benefit from protection. This meant during the First World War America refused to provide their troops with condoms, making them the only army in the war to venture forth without protection. Unsurprisingly, the American army had the highest rates of STIs.
Due to the availability of condoms, soldiers often found uses for them that had nothing to do with sex. Because condoms are water proof, elastic and fairly durable, they served as excellent multi-purpose containers and protected rifle barriers from water.
The realization that AIDS could be a sexually transmitted infection around 1980 gave condom sales a boost once more. Campaigns supporting the use of condoms were held in the U.S. and Europe despite the opposition of some political and religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church. Historically the Roman Catholic Church took a strong stance against the use of condoms, going so far as to argue that condoms fueled the AIDS epidemic, rather than helping to prevent the spread of HIV. Finally in 2010 the Pope relented and accepted that condom use could be justified for male prostitutes who were looking to protect themselves from HIV.
Today, there are many varieties of condoms, and they have become a very affordable method of contraception and protection. They are available in several kinds of stores, and even from vending machines in bathrooms. They’re also available for free at several clinics across the city, as well as the Womyn’s Centre here on campus.
Condoms today are definitely anything but boring and may actually enhance your sex life. Flavored, ribbed, performance-enhancing, large, small, spermicidal; you name it, it’s there.
So there really is no reason not to wrap-up, and even if you don’t think condoms are cool, don’t forget the world’s great player Casanova himself rocked them.