Before the 19th century
Whether condoms were used in ancient civilizations is debated by archaeologists and historians.:11 In ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, pregnancy prevention was generally seen as a woman's responsibility, and the only well documented contraception methods were female-controlled devices.:17,23 In Asia before the 15th century, some use of glans condoms (devices covering only the head of the penis) is recorded. Condoms seem to have been used for contraception, and to have been known only by members of the upper classes. In China, glans condoms may have been made of oiled silk paper, or of lamb intestines. In Japan, they were made of tortoise shell or animal horn.:60-1 In 16th century Italy, Gabriele Falloppio wrote a treatise on syphilis.:51,54-5 The earliest documented strain of syphilis, first appearing in Europe in a 1490s outbreak, caused severe symptoms and often death within a few months of contracting the disease. Falloppio's treatise is the earliest uncontested description of condom use: it describes linen sheaths soaked in a chemical solution and allowed to dry before use. The cloths he described were sized to cover the glans of the penis, and were held on with a ribbon.:51,54-5 Falloppio claimed that an experimental trial of the linen sheath demonstrated protection against syphilis. After this, the use of penis coverings to protect from disease is described in a wide variety of literature throughout Europe. The first indication that these devices were used for birth control, rather than disease prevention, is the 1605 theological publication De iustitia et iure (On justice and law) by Catholic theologian Leonardus Lessius, who condemned them as immoral.:56 In 1666, the English Birth Rate Commission attributed a recent downward fertility rate to use of "condons", the first documented use of that word (or any similar spelling).:66-8
A condom made from animal intestine circa 1900.
In addition to linen, condoms during the Renaissance were made out of intestines and bladder. In the late 15th century, Dutch traders introduced condoms made from "fine leather" to Japan. Unlike the horn condoms used previously, these leather condoms covered the entire penis.:61
Giacomo Casanova tests his condom for holes by inflating it. Casanova in the 18th century was one of the first reported using "assurance caps" to prevent impregnating his mistresses. From at least the 18th century, condom use was opposed in some legal, religious, and medical circles for essentially the same reasons that are given today: condoms reduce the likelihood of pregnancy, which some thought immoral or undesirable for the nation; they do not provide full protection against sexually transmitted infections, while belief in their protective powers was thought to encourage sexual promiscuity; and, they are not used consistently due to inconvenience, expense, or loss of sensation.:73,86-8,92 Despite some opposition, the condom market grew rapidly. In the 18th century, condoms were available in a variety of qualities and sizes, made from either linen treated with chemicals, or "skin" (bladder or intestine softened by treatment with sulfur and lye).:94-5 They were sold at pubs, barbershops, chemist shops, open-air markets, and at the theater throughout Europe and Russia.:90-2,97,104 They later spread to America, although in every place there were generally used only by the middle and upper classes, due to both expense and lack of sex education.:116-21 1800 through 1920s
The early 19th century saw contraceptives promoted to the poorer classes for the first time. Writers on contraception tended to prefer other methods of birth control. Feminists of this time period wanted birth control to be exclusively in the hands of women, and disapproved of male-controlled methods such as the condom.:129,152-3 Other writers cited both the expense of condoms and their unreliability (they were...
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