15,000 Years Of Condoms: A Feel-Good History Lesson

They've come a long way. Check out these surprising historical facts for a new appreciation of safe sex.

Awkward to talk about and even more awkward to buy, condoms are potentially a vital part of your life. They prevent sexually transmitted infections, they prevent unwanted pregnancies, and are probably one of the most important inventions of the last....wait, when were they invented?

You use them, but do you really know them? Roll up for a journey through contraceptive history...

Condoms are ancient

Way ancient. Condoms are depicted in French cave paintings estimated to date back 12,000-15,000 years. They also grace Egyptian hieroglyphics that date back 3,000 years.


It's unclear whether these condoms were used to prevent pregnancies or for some other ritualistic purpose, but either way, guys have been rockin' jimmy hats for a long time.

The word "condom" is pretty old too

Some historians claim that condoms are named for a "Dr. Condom" who gave King Charles II sheepskin condoms in the 1600s. Others believe it's a tribute to Condom, France. Another option: It comes from the Latin word "condus," which means "one who stores" or "vessel."

Old-school condoms were crazy

In the 1500s, Japanese men wore condoms made from tortoise shells and animal horns. Other materials included oiled paper and animal intestines and bladders. Sexy!


They've stopped disease since the 1500s

The Italian scientist Gabriele Falloppio, for whom the Fallopian tubes are named, invented a linen condom to combat a syphilis epidemic. These condoms were tied up with a string -- a pink string, to be exact, since Falloppio thought that would appeal more to women. The guy was also the first person to write about the clitoris, so clearly he knew women pretty well.

The oldest surviving condom was found in a toilet

The ancient history of condoms is a little fuzzy, but they were definitely in use by the 17th century. An excavation at Dudley Castle in the UK dug up a few condoms from a medieval lavatory. They were made of animal and fish intestines, and were probably used around 1646. They eventually found their way to a museum, which proves archeology is both gross and awesome.

Rubbers used to be rubber

Condoms were made from animal products for centuries, but they became actual rubber in the 1850s, shortly after the discovery of rubber vulcanization in 1839.


They also used to be custom-fitted

These rubber condoms were thick, rough, and only covered the tip of the penis -- basically a Charlie Chaplin hat for your "Great Dictator." They also had to be individually fit, and customers would wash and reuse them multiple times. (At least, you'd hope they were washed.)

Latex changed the game

In 1919 Frederick Killian invented the latex condom, which led to a thinner, more durable and more pleasurable prophylactic. Sticking with fish intestines was like having last year's iPhone.

Condoms fought in both World Wars

Well, they fought STDs in the wars. European countries issued condoms to their soldiers in WWI to stem the flow of disease, and the Americans did the same in WWII. U.S. soldiers also got sex ed as part of their standard training.


Condoms were illegal in the U.S. for almost 100 years

The Comstock Laws of 1873 outlawed birth control, effectively making condoms (and porn!) illicit material. Although the restrictions on rubbers were eventually relaxed in most districts, the Comstock Laws stayed on the books in certain states for nearly a century, and were still hitting the Supreme Court in 1965.

Thanks to the '90s, they can glow in the dark

The lightsaber special came about in the early 1990s, after appearing in the film "Skin Deep" and sparking public demand for such a thing.

Also a '90s invention: Flavored condoms

Durex introduced its line of flavored condoms in 1995, and now offers a Tropical Flavors pack.

Condoms are more effective than ever

Condoms are rigorously tested to simulate real-world use -- emphasis on simulate, since no one is trying them on in a lab to make sure they work for you. Electronic impulses travel through finished condoms to check for holes and tears. They are filled with water to test durability, and get attached to air hoses to check for pressure resistance. Test units even get baked in an oven to simulate the aging process, then tested again. (Apparently, oven-baking is kind of what you do to that old Trojan by keeping it in your wallet?)

They can prevent pregnancy 98% of the time when used properly, and make sex 10,000 times safer from HIV transmission. As far as safe sex is concerned, it's a great time to be alive.

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