Column: The history of the condom

In the fifth grade I learned that, in 12th century Scotland, men wore condoms made of sheep intestine. While this historical tidbit frightened me, it also instilled an important moral.

Condoms, no matter the texture or scent, are better than an unwanted pregnancy or an STD.

But was anyone, besides me, wondering about the other steps in the evolution of male condoms? How did they transform from a literal sausage sheath into the hygienic rubbers that the Love Lab gives out today?

After a harrowing Google image search, I discovered that fashion-forward Egyptian and Roman men often wore tiny loincloths covering the glans of their penises. But get this — those loincloths weren’t only worn for modesty, they also doubled as linen condoms. Poor Cleopatra, I wonder if she knew that sex with Mark Antony would be quite so… uncomfortable.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, mankind didn’t bother with inventing a replacement male prophylactic until syphilis began to spread. Travel to and from the New World worsened this STD pandemic — travel abroad stories anyone? Toward the latter half of the 16th century, linen sheaths covered with spermicidal chemicals replaced old-school loincloths. The improved cloth prevented both the spread of terrifying STDs and equally frightening unwanted pregnancies.

Animal innards and chemical-soaked linen continually penetrated the market until 1844, when Charles Goodyear and Thomas Hancock invented the rubber condom. I imagine intestines were hastily thrown aside, as peoples rushed to buy the newly vulcanized rubber accoutrements. However, these new and improved condoms tended to stink. The smell of burning rubber, while probably quite sexy to Nascar enthusiasts, isn’t what most would deem aphrodisiac.

Surprisingly, the invention of mass-producible bone blankets didn’t revolutionize dominant views on sexuality. The United States remained prudish for quite some time after the invention, and reserved the right to confiscate any birth control sold through the mail. This ban continued until World War I. Loneliness, an emotion felt by both incoming students and WWI soldiers, often manifests in heightened STD rates.

Because penicillin was not available till WWII, soldiers were repeating the well-established college mantra that starts with “YOLO!” and ends with “WTF was I thinking last night?”

Lovers were stuck using rubber condoms until 1919, when inventor Fredrick Killian found a latex substitute. After the improvement, in smell and durability, condoms evolved rapidly. In 1957, lubricated condoms were invented and soon became the rage. Punch bowls during the swinging ‘60s were soon packed with the colorfully wrapped party hats.

Condoms achieved further popularity in the 1980s, when they were found to be the most effective barrier against HIV. Even with all that Flock of Seagulls hair, ‘80s lovers knew what George Bush administration didn’t: “Abstinence Only” doesn’t always work.

Today, male condoms come in every shape, size, texture and scent imaginable. Hypoallergenic polyurethane condoms are available, for all the sneezers, itchers and swellers out there. Visual lovers are now able to access colored or glow-in-the-dark options. Touch-sensitive people can grab ribbed or studded while the olfactory obsessed can choose their favorite scent.

Female condoms and dental dams are a more recent invention, made of the same durable latex as a male condom. Today at UC Davis, condom use is encouraged. So don’t be like the 582 Yolo citizens who contracted chlamydia last year — according to the California Department of Health — and beat the odds, Aggies!

As a society we have come a long way, so take advantage of campus resources. Run to the Love Lab, located in the Student Health and Wellness Center, and grab 10 free condoms! You can do this once a day, multiple times a week.

Go ahead and stuff those little brown bags full. Even if you have no intention of ever using the condoms sexually, you can marvel at their rich history or make interesting balloon art.

If you are hosting a children’s party and are interested in hiring a clown/balloon artist, contact KATELYN RINGROSE at knringrose@ucdavis.edu.

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