One of the most popular and oldest forms of contraception has a whole week dedicated to it — February14-20 is National Condom Awareness Week. The condom has been touted, advertised, shunned, mass produced, reinvented, flavored, made fun of, and made into art. We’ve all seen them on display at the drug store, in machines like candy in the bathrooms of bars, and in baskets at the clinic. Most sexually active adults have at some point used a condom, but how much do we really know about it?
The condom has been around for at least 400 years. It first gained popularity because of a sixteenth century syphilis outbreak in Italy. As a deterrent to this often lethal strain of the disease, linen cloths soaked in a chemical solution and dried were held to the penis using a ribbon. In addition to linen, condoms were also made of intestinal and bladder tissue from animals, horns (yes, as in goat horns), and leather. Rubber condoms were not produced until the nineteenth century, and latex was unheard of until the early twentieth century.
A great amount of controversy has surrounded condoms for their entire history. As they reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, condoms have been long thought to contribute to immoral, even deviant, behavior. At one point, it was even illegal to manufacture them. Still with all this opposition, the condom managed to become the most popular form of birth control in history.
By the 1930s the condom had become mass produced and widely accepted as effective protection against disease. Today we have an assortment of condoms that come in different colors, flavors, and textures. The female condom, first used in the late 80s, is another incarnation of the original. They are so ubiquitous that many people don’t take into consideration the condom has saved countless lives. With continued education and availability, it will do so for the foreseable future.