An Focal · Features · Health · Sex

Condom: This Is Your Life

For most condoms are just a matter of course when getting down and dirty but where did they come from?

National Condom Week took place from 15-21 of October so let’s celebrate the life of the humble condom.

Condom use can be traced back several thousand years to around 1000 BC. Ancient Egyptians wore linen sheathes but it is unclear as to whether they wore these condom-like sheathes for protection or for ritual.

The earliest evidence of condom use in Europe comes from scenes in cave paintings at Combarelles in France dating from 100-200 A.D.

In Italy, during the 1500s linen sheaths were used for prevention of infection, and later for the prevention of pregnancy.

In 1844 Goodyear and Hancock (Yes, these are their real names) began to mass-produce condoms made out of vulcanized rubber, which is a stronger and more elastic material.

The first advertisement for condoms was published in The New York Times in 1861. The advertisements were for “Dr. Power’s French Preventatives.”

In 1873 America, The Comstock Law was passed prohibiting the advertising of any sort of birth control, and it also allowed the postal service to confiscate condoms sold through the mail.

The first latex condom was produced in the 1880s, although it wasn’t until the 1930s that they were in widespread use.

In the early 1900s social hygienists fought to prohibit the use of condoms by Americans, resulting in World War I U.S. troops having the highest rate of STDs at over 70%!

The sexual revolution of the ’60s resulted in a decline in condom use as more and more youth practiced free love without condom usage.

The 80s identified HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and the Surgeon General stated that other than abstinence, the most effective way to protect against HIV is to use a latex condom each and every time you have sex.

Contraceptives were only made legal in Ireland in 1985 due to the protestations of the Catholic Church who thought they would lead to the moral decay of Ireland. Little did they know that no help was needed in this area.

The 1990s brought with it the stars of the condom world including coloured condoms, ribbed condoms, studded condoms, flavoured condoms, glow-in-the-dark condoms, and large condoms, as well as the first polyurethane condom.

The naming of the condom is a bit of a mystery. Some believe it was named for “Dr. Condom,” who supplied King Charles II of England with animal tissue sheaths. Others believe the name came from a “Dr. Condon” or “Colonel Cundum.” Most likely it came from the Latin word “condom,” which means “receptacle.”

Condom, this is your life and we thank you for it.

(Original text published in An Focal XXI Issue 4 on 31st October 2012 and online at


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