The early history of male condoms is unclear. While one presumes men have been ornamenting their penises since before the advent of hand tools, the goals of contraception and disease prevention appeared relatively late in human history. The earliest known depiction of condoms exists in a French cave, Grotte des Combarrelles, alongside 12,000-year-old renderings of horses and bovine. Debate continues as to whether these condoms were functional or ornamental.

Ancient Egyptians wore linen sheaths, often covering only the glans, to protect against dusty wind. Glans condoms are likewise reported in pre-Renaissance Asia. Ancient cultures that had developed sufficiently to warrant family control (Egyptians included) treated contraception as a responsibility of women--indeed, vaginal pessaries were common in Ancient Rome--so it is debatable that these glans condoms were a male pro-activity. Vague references do exist in Roman texts to "man-controlled" contraception.

Men of antiquity in China used oiled silk paper; men of antiquity in Japan used soaked tortoiseshell. Keratin covers human skin, too.

Even the etymology of the name is a mystery. It would be sensible enough to assume the source is the Latin condus, for receptacle, if not for the (alleged) emergence of condom-like devices rendered from sheep guts in Condom, France in the 1640s. Ditto Colonel Quondam, an English army doctor and inventor from the same period, and the fabled Dr. Condom, who buffeted the immune breakdowns and illegitimate offspring of Charles II. The Latin is more dignified.

Condoms took a firmer hold on recorded history with the emergence of Europe's syphilis epidemic. Italian doctor Gabriel Falloppio, for whom the Fallopian tube is named, recommended a glans condom of linen dipped in a solution of salt and herbs. According to his recorded trials1 it protected 1000+ men from "The French Disease." The use of ruminant guts persisted as well, and in both cases the condom was held in place with a ribbon. Because production was labor-intensive early condoms were re-usable; prints and paintings from that period depict them hanging from clotheslines.

Condoms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were almost exclusively of animal skin, softened with sulfur and lye. They failed to enjoy the popularity of today's condoms because they were frequently riddled with holes, prone to slip off, and prohibitively expensive. Indeed, a single condom could cost a prostitute several months' pay. The first specialty shop selling condoms appeared in eighteenth-century Amsterdam; stores in England competed openly for condom revenue. Condoms were known to litter English alleyways during weekends in particular; as now, the condom was decried as a tool of immorality, and its distribution sabotaged. Manufacture and sale of condoms remained illegal in Ireland until the 1970s.

Halfway by accident, Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber in 1839. Early rubber condoms (again) covered only the glans and were custom-made according to measurement. Gut condoms continued to be more popular for some decades because they were cheaper and allowed more sensitivity. The first condom manufacturing company, E. Lambert and Son of Dalston, appeared in England in the 1870s. By 1900, condoms were the Western world's most popular contraception method, reportedly used by half the women in New York; in the United States at least, it was Goodyear rubber that covered tires and penises.


Manufacture, Care, and Use

For decades, rubber condoms were made by wrapping rubber strips around a glass mold and dipping the assembly in a curing solution. It wasn't until the 1920s that the next logical step--to dip bare glass molds in a cured rubber solution--occurred in Germany. Latex, or rubber suspended in water rather than hydrocarbon, further eased manufacture and prevented many factory explosions around the same time. The production of condoms has changed little since.

Being a living product, rubber deteriorates over time. Latex for today's condoms undergoes a process called "compounding," whereby it is mixed with stabilizers, vulcanizers, and preservatives. The average latex condom lasts four years assuming gentle treatment.

Candidate condoms are wrapped around a metal former and shot full of electricity. Samples are then force-fed air until they explode (this typically requires 40-ish liters of air). The remainder hang water-filled for several minutes before rolling across blotting paper to reveal pores. Other samples are subjected to calibration for size and thickness; others are baked to simulate aging; others are pulled like bridge cables between metal arms. Finished condoms are lubricated and sealed in an aluminum pack.

The great majority of today's condoms are of latex, but polyurethane condoms also exist, as do sheepskin ones for the unfazed. Polyurethane condoms are made much the same way as latex condoms and are stronger, thinner, and purportedly more effective at heat transmission. They are also made of plastic and feel like plastic.

Condoms are best stored in a cool, dark, stationary place. Keeping them in your wallet is bad for a number of non-chemical reasons; ditto your glove compartment. Do not use a condom if it is brittle or damaged or of an unusual color. Oil-based lubricants and oil-based yeast medications destroy latex; Polyisoprene condoms are an option for those allergic to both latex and polyurethane.

It is best not to unroll a condom before applying it. Pinch the end, leaving half an inch or so of space, and roll the ring down over your shaft; when finished, hold it at the base as you pull out. Today's condoms are not re-usable.

1 Confirméd bullshit. Latex does not stop 100% of microbes, let alone linen.


Go Ask Alice!, "Five Kinds of Condoms: A Guide for Consumers.", 10/25/14.

University of Texas. "Chapter 6. Models of sex in condom testing.", 10/25/14.

Center for Young Women's Health. "Male Condoms.", 10/25/14.

Wikipedia. "History of Condoms.", 10/25/14.

Condomerie. "History of the Condom., 10/25/14.

About Health. "The History of Condoms: Centuries of Safer Sex.", 10/25/14.

Goodyear Corporate. "Charles Goodyear.", 10/25/14.