Updated 14th June 2023
You may be surprised to learn that condoms have been used for thousands of years – both as a method of birth control and a form of protection against diseases.
Over the years there have been a number of ingenious inventions, as well as huge advances in design and production, to provide the ultra-thin, cheap and effective condoms that we enjoy today.
But when were condoms invented? Who invented them and how did they progress from mere animal guts to being mass produced and thinner than a human hair?
Let us take you on a journey into the history of the condom…
- First instances of condoms
- Egyptian Drawings Depict Condom Use
- Glans Condoms
- Linen Condoms
- Oldest Condoms in the World Discovered
- First Use of the Word ‘Condon’
- Casanova's French Letters
- Charles Goodyear Invents Rubber Condoms
- Fromm Invents Cement Dipping Technique
- First World War
- Advertising Ban on Condoms Lifted
- Invention of Latex Condoms
- Condom Marketing Initiatives Ramp Up
- Introduction of Reservoir Tip & Lubricant
- Introduction of Electronic Testing
- Condoms vs HIV & AIDs
- Flavoured & Coloured Condoms
- Polyurethane Condoms
- The Spray-on Condom
- Spermicide – From Friend to Foe
- Invention of Polyisoprene Condoms
- Custom Fit Condoms
- Sagami manufacturer World's Thinnest Condom at 0.01mm
- Ansell Sell Condom Arm of Business to Chinese Consortium
First instances of condoms
Cave paintings discovered in the French town of Combarelles depict a man wearing a condom-like device during sexual intercourse.
Egyptian Drawings Depict Condom Use
In ancient Egypt, the use of condoms, or rather early forms of barrier protection, can be traced back thousands of years. The Egyptians, known for their advanced understanding of medicine and hygiene, employed various methods to protect against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
One of the earliest recorded examples of condom-like devices in ancient Egypt is the use of linen sheaths. These sheaths were made from linen fabric and applied over the penis as a protective covering during sexual intercourse. The linen sheaths were often lubricated with various substances such as honey or plant oils to enhance comfort and reduce friction.
The purpose of these linen sheaths was twofold. Firstly, they served as a form of contraception, helping to prevent pregnancies. Secondly, they provided a physical barrier that protected against the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. While the effectiveness of these early condoms was limited compared to modern-day counterparts, the concept of barrier protection was already present in ancient Egyptian society, demonstrating their advanced understanding of sexual health.
In the 1400s, during the Ming Dynasty in China, a unique type of condom known as the glans condom or “jinsuo” was used. These condoms were specifically designed to cover only the glans, or the head of the penis, rather than the entire length.
The purpose of the glans condom was primarily to prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections rather than contraception.
Glans condoms were made from various materials, including silk or lamb intestine, and were typically tied at the base of the penis. The shape and design of these condoms allowed for easy application and removal. They were also known for their intricate decorations and embellishments, often reflecting the cultural aesthetics of the time.
The use of glans condoms in China during the 1400s showcased the country’s advanced understanding of sexual health and the importance of protection against sexually transmitted infections. These early condoms provided a level of barrier protection, reducing the risk of infection transmission during sexual intercourse.
The historical use of glans condoms in China not only highlights the ancient practices of safe sex but also showcases the cultural and technological advancements of the Ming Dynasty.
Gabriele Fallopius, also known as Gabriel Fallopius, was an Italian physician and anatomist who made significant contributions to the field of medicine during the 16th century. Among his notable achievements was the invention of a linen condom, which played a crucial role in the history of condom development.
Fallopius’s condom invention came about as a response to the widespread outbreak of syphilis in Europe during that era. In his efforts to find a reliable method of preventing the transmission of the disease, he designed a linen sheath that covered the penis. The condom was secured with a ribbon tied around the base of the organ.
Fallopius’s condom design was a significant advancement in terms of effectiveness compared to earlier attempts at barrier protection. The linen material provided a physical barrier, reducing the risk of direct contact and thus lowering the chances of infection transmission. His invention not only contributed to the prevention of sexually transmitted infections but also paved the way for further advancements in the development of condoms.
Gabriele Fallopius’s contribution to the history of condoms was an important step forward in promoting safer sexual practices and protecting individuals from the spread of diseases. His innovative invention laid the foundation for the modern condom as we know it today, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of this crucial form of protection.
Oldest Condoms in the World Discovered
During excavations in 1985 at Dudley Castle in the West Midlands, England (pictured), the contents of the castle toilet (aka ‘garderobe’) were discovered remarkably intact and subsequently sorted for further analysis by the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum.
It’s believed the contents remained so well preserved due to the latrine being sealed circa 1947 due to the castle being under siege during the English Civil War (1642-1651).
Examination identified several animal-membrane condoms, thought to be the earliest physical evidence of the use of animal-membrane condoms in post-medieval Europe.
It remains unclear however whether the condoms were used for contraceptive or as protection against venereal diseases.
First Use of the Word ‘Condon’
The first documented use of the word ‘condons’ is thought of have occurred in 1666 when the English Birth Rate Commission reported a drop in birth rates and attributed it to ‘condons’.
Despite some public concern around morality, condom usage soared during this time. They were made from animal skin (bladder or intestine) or linen soaked in chemicals and were available to buy in pubs, markets, barber shops and chemists.
Due to their relative expense and lack of sex education during this time, condom usage was usually confined to the middle and upper classes.
Casanova’s French Letters
Infamous smooth talker, and all-round womanizer, Casanova is thought to of been an early adopter and frequent user of condoms to protect himself and his many lovers from infection; namely syphilis.
Casanova’s memoirs make reference to this and are depicted via this image discovered at the Library Of Congress in Washington D.C.
“We found the three girls lightly clad and sitting on a large sopha, and we sat down opposite to them… The syndic, like a careful man, drew a packet of fine French letters from his pocket, and delivered a long eulogium on this admirable preservative from an accident which might give rise to a terrible and fruitless repentance.
The ladies knew them, and seemed to have no objection to the precaution; they laughed heartily to see the shape these articles took when they were blown out.”
Charles Goodyear Invents Rubber Condoms
Charles Goodyear, an American inventor and chemist, played a pivotal role in the history of condoms with his breakthrough discovery of vulcanization. In the mid-19th century, Goodyear revolutionized the manufacturing process of rubber, making it more durable and elastic. This invention had a significant impact on the development of rubber condoms, marking a crucial turning point in their evolution.
Prior to Goodyear’s discovery, condoms were predominantly made from various materials such as linen, animal intestines, or silk. While these options provided some level of protection, they were often less comfortable and less effective than the condoms we know today.
Vulcanization, Goodyear’s revolutionary process, involved treating rubber with heat and sulfur to enhance its elasticity, strength, and resistance to deterioration. This made rubber a far superior material for condom production. The vulcanized rubber condoms became more flexible, less prone to breakage, and could better withstand friction during sexual intercourse.
Thanks to Goodyear’s invention, the mass production of rubber condoms became possible, leading to greater accessibility and affordability. This development greatly contributed to the widespread adoption of condoms as a reliable form of contraception and protection against sexually transmitted infections.
Charles Goodyear’s invention of vulcanization and the subsequent production of rubber condoms transformed the landscape of sexual health. His pioneering work not only revolutionized the manufacturing process but also improved the effectiveness and comfort of condoms, making them an essential tool for safe and responsible sexual practices.
The Comstock Law, officially known as the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, was a federal law enacted in the United States in 1873. It was named after its primary advocate, Anthony Comstock, a moral crusader who sought to combat what he considered obscene materials and vice.
The law aimed to prohibit and penalize the production, distribution, and possession of materials deemed obscene, including contraceptive devices, contraceptive information, and sexual education materials. The Comstock Law targeted various items and publications, such as books, magazines, photographs, and even anatomical models related to contraception and reproductive health.
Under the law, individuals found guilty of violating its provisions could face severe penalties, including fines and imprisonment. The Comstock Law had a significant impact on restricting access to information about contraception, limiting the dissemination of materials related to reproductive health and sexual education.
The Comstock Law remained in effect for several decades, although its strict enforcement eventually faced growing opposition and criticism. In the early 20th century, advocates for reproductive rights and freedom of speech began challenging the law’s constitutionality and advocating for its reform.
It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s, during the sexual revolution and women’s rights movement, that significant changes occurred regarding access to contraception and the overturning of the more restrictive aspects of the Comstock Law. Court decisions, such as the landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, recognized the right to privacy and individual autonomy in matters of contraception.
While the Comstock Law had a lasting impact on reproductive health and sexual education in the United States, it ultimately gave rise to increased advocacy and legal challenges that paved the way for greater access to contraceptives and the recognition of reproductive rights.
1890 – 1905
Dunlop & Ansell condoms in Australia
The Australian arm of Dunlop Rubber started making condoms in the 1890s in the South Melbourne area.
Dunlop’s Catholic chairman Nicholas Fitzgerald however wasn’t comfortable with the company making condoms and by 1905 forced the business to stop making them altogether.
Eric Ansell was working within the factory at this time and witnessed the condom making equipment being removed and placed into nearby storage. Ansell offered to, and subsequently purchased, the condom making equipment and started making condoms from his rented house in Richmond.
He subsequently quit his role at Dunlop and, with $60 to his name, founded Ansell Rubber.
Incidentally, Dunlop Australia went on to buy Ansell in 1969.
Fromm Invents Cement Dipping Technique
German Chemist & Inventor, Julius Fromm, creates a manufacturing condom technique of dipping glass molds into rubber solution, known as ‘cement dipping’. This was a breakthrough in facilitating the mass production of condoms.
1914 – 1918
First World War
Germany was the only country distribute condoms to soldiers during WW1. The British government, followed by the US when they joined in 1918, argued distribution would promote fornication and initially opted to not provide condoms to troops.
As a result, it’s believed as estimated 5% of the British army suffered from venereal diseases throughout WW1. When you consider the British and Empire army reached around 4 million at one stage that’s quite staggering.
The epidemic of syphilis and gonorrhea wreaked havoc on the British army with over 400,000 hospitalisations, each out of action for 4-5 weeks.
In an effort to keep more soldiers in action and out of hospital, the British army started to distribute condoms in 1917.
Their U.S. counterparts, however, did not and were instead presented with a “Dough Boy Prophylactic” kit, used to treat syphilis and gonorrhea rather than help prevent it.
Advertising Ban on Condoms Lifted
The ban on advertising condoms was lifted and condoms were legally allowed to be advertised and sold as methods to prevent the spread of disease. They weren’t however allowed to be advertised or sold for the purpose of birth control.
Invention of Latex Condoms
1919 was somewhat of a landmark year in the history of condoms as the single-use latex condoms, which we’ve come to know and love today, were invented by a fellow in Ohio named Frederick Killian.
Latex was the ideal material for condom production as it was thinner than rubber, didn’t aged as quickly and was relatively odourless.
Using latex also meant that condoms were cheap and fast to produce, leading to mass production.
Condom Marketing Initiatives Ramp Up
Following the lifting of the condom advertising ban, condoms manufacturers started improving branding both in terms of names and packaging, to make condoms more appealing. 100 years later, this still rings true as condom companies such as Durex and Ansell come up with such innovative and provocative campaigns to raise interest.
Their efforts helped as condom sales doubled during the 1920’s.
This period also saw the introduction of Quality Control methods including filling condoms with air and using pressure release tests to check for holes.
Rather than discard the condoms that didn’t pass Quality Control, condom companies would sell the rejects under a cheaper brand name.
Introduction of Reservoir Tip & Lubricant
Huge improvements were made to latex condom design with the introduction of a reservoir tip, thinner, lighter and tighter latex and the addition of lubricant.
The reservoir tip, as it still does today, was designed to collect semen and was proved to reduce leakage and make condoms more effective.
Introduction of Electronic Testing
Durex started using electronic testing methods to test the quality of condoms. This was a huge step in quality control and increasing the effectiveness of condoms as a contraception and protection against venereal diseases.
Introduction of Lubricant
In the 1950s, a significant development in the history of condoms occurred with the introduction of lubricants. Lubricants were added to condoms to enhance comfort during sexual intercourse and improve the overall user experience.
Prior to the introduction of lubricated condoms, individuals would often apply their own lubrication, such as saliva or oils, to reduce friction and increase pleasure. However, this approach was not always effective or reliable.
The inclusion of lubricants directly on condoms brought several advantages. Firstly, it eliminated the need for individuals to apply lubrication separately, ensuring a more convenient and hassle-free experience. Secondly, the addition of lubricants helped reduce the risk of condom breakage or tearing, as it provided a lubricated surface that could withstand friction. This increased reliability made condoms a more trusted method of contraception and protection against sexually transmitted infections.
Initially, the lubricants used on condoms were typically oil-based substances, such as mineral oil or vegetable oil. However, it was later discovered that oil-based lubricants could weaken latex condoms, leading to potential breakage. As a result, water-based lubricants became the preferred choice due to their compatibility with latex and other condom materials.
Water-based lubricants offer several advantages, including their compatibility with condoms made from various materials, such as latex, polyurethane, and polyisoprene. Additionally, water-based lubricants are easy to clean, non-staining, and do not leave a residue. They also tend to be more body-friendly and less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions.
The introduction of lubricants in the 1950s was a significant milestone in condom technology. It not only enhanced the overall user experience by providing smoother and more comfortable intercourse but also contributed to the increased effectiveness and reliability of condoms as a barrier method for contraception and protection against sexually transmitted infections.
Condoms vs HIV & AIDs
Following the frightening AIDs epidemic, condoms were endorsed, marketed and sold as a method to prevent the spread of HIV.
Condom became available in supermarkets and usage rose dramatically Worldwide. By 1988, condoms were the contraceptive of choice for married couples in Britain – overtaking the contraceptive pill.
Flavoured & Coloured Condoms
The invention of flavored condoms brought a new dimension to the world of condom innovation, enhancing the experience of safer sex by adding taste and sensory pleasure. Flavored condoms were introduced to cater to diverse preferences and to make oral sex more enjoyable for both partners.
The concept of flavored condoms emerged in the 1980s as an expansion of the condom market. The introduction of flavored varieties aimed to provide an enticing option for those engaging in oral-genital contact. These condoms are typically made from latex or polyurethane, similar to regular condoms, but they are coated with a flavored lubricant.
The flavored lubricant on these condoms is carefully formulated to offer a range of tastes, including popular flavors such as strawberry, banana, chocolate, mint, and more. The use of these condoms allows couples to incorporate oral stimulation into their intimate encounters while still ensuring protection against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
Flavored condoms not only add a new level of enjoyment to oral sex but also help alleviate potential concerns about taste and smell that might otherwise deter individuals from engaging in this form of sexual activity. They are designed to enhance pleasure and create a more enticing experience for both partners.
It’s important to note that while flavored condoms are primarily intended for oral sex, they still provide the same level of protection as regular condoms when used correctly. They should be used for their intended purpose and should not be mistaken as a substitute for regular condoms during vaginal or anal intercourse.
The invention of flavoured condoms revolutionised the condom market by diversifying options and catering to the preferences of individuals and couples. They offer a playful and enjoyable twist to intimate moments, making safer sex practices more enticing and encouraging the use of protection in various sexual activities.
In an effort to fight against HIV and AIDS, Richard Branson, of Virgin fame, partnered with Ansell to manufacture non-profit condoms.
They were marketed under the ‘Mates’ brand which was later sold back to Ansell. In return, Ansell paid royalty payments to Branson’s non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite.
The invention of polyurethane condoms expanded the options available to individuals, particularly those with latex allergies or sensitivities. These condoms offer strength, flexibility, heightened sensitivity, and resistance to oil-based substances. With their introduction, the condom market became more inclusive and catered to the diverse needs and preferences of users, ultimately promoting safer and more enjoyable sexual experiences.
The invention of polyurethane condoms marked a significant advancement in the history of condom technology. Polyurethane condoms were developed as an alternative to traditional latex condoms and brought about notable improvements in terms of material properties, sensitivity, and compatibility.
Polyurethane condoms were first introduced in the 1990s as a response to the demand for non-latex options. Latex allergies and sensitivities affected a portion of the population, and polyurethane condoms provided a viable solution. Polyurethane is a synthetic material known for its strength, durability, and resistance to tearing, making it an excellent choice for condom production.
The advantages of polyurethane condoms extend beyond their compatibility for individuals with latex allergies. They are also thinner and more flexible compared to latex condoms, providing a heightened level of sensitivity and a closer, more natural feel during sexual intercourse. The transparency of polyurethane condoms offers a different aesthetic appeal compared to traditional latex options.
Another noteworthy benefit of polyurethane condoms is their resistance to deterioration when exposed to oil-based substances, such as certain lubricants. This distinguishes them from latex condoms, which may experience weakening or breakage when exposed to oil-based lubricants.
Polyurethane condoms are also effective in preventing the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and provide a reliable barrier against unintended pregnancies, similar to latex condoms.
While polyurethane condoms offer several advantages, they are typically more expensive than latex condoms due to the higher cost of production. However, their availability as an option provides individuals with diverse needs and preferences a wider range of choices when it comes to sexual health and protection.
The Spray-on Condom
Jan Vinzenz Krause, an inventor at the Institute for Condom Consultancy in Germany, set about on a mission to finding the perfect fitting condom by inventing the spray on condom.
It didn’t work…
Spermicide – From Friend to Foe
A discovery is made that spermicide, added to condoms to kill sperm and avoid pregnancy, actually increased the risk of HIV. Manufacturers promptly started to remove spermicide from their condoms.
In 2006, it was recorded that over 9 billion condoms were sold worldwide.
Invention of Polyisoprene Condoms
Polyisoprene condoms offered an alternative to both latex and polyurethane condoms. Polyisoprene condoms combine the benefits of both materials, providing a comfortable and reliable barrier for safer sexual experiences.
Polyisoprene is a synthetic material that shares similar characteristics with natural rubber latex but without the proteins that can cause latex allergies or sensitivities in some individuals. The development of polyisoprene condoms was driven by the need to provide a non-latex option for those with latex allergies or sensitivities.
Polyisoprene condoms offer several advantages. Firstly, they are hypoallergenic, making them suitable for individuals who experience adverse reactions to latex. Secondly, they provide a high level of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies, similar to latex condoms. Additionally, polyisoprene is a stretchable material, allowing for a comfortable fit and enhanced sensitivity during sexual intercourse.
Similar to latex condoms, polyisoprene condoms are manufactured using the dip molding process. The liquid polyisoprene material is dipped onto formers or molds, creating a thin and seamless barrier that conforms to the shape of the penis. After drying, the condoms are then lubricated for smoother and more pleasurable experiences.
Polyisoprene condoms are recognized for their strength, durability, and resistance to breakage, ensuring reliable protection during sexual activity. They are also compatible with both water-based and silicone-based lubricants, providing users with a range of choices to enhance their experience.
The invention of polyisoprene condoms expanded the options available for individuals with latex allergies or sensitivities. These condoms offer a reliable and comfortable alternative, providing a barrier method that meets the highest standards of safety and pleasure. With their introduction, individuals have been able to enjoy the benefits of condom use without worrying about adverse reactions to latex.
Custom Fit Condoms
The concept of custom-fit condoms gained traction in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Companies began offering options that allowed individuals to select from a range of sizes and dimensions to find the perfect fit. This was achieved by providing a selection of measurements for length, width, and girth, enabling users to choose the combination that best suited their anatomy.
Custom-fit condoms are typically made from latex or non-latex materials such as polyisoprene or polyurethane. They undergo the same manufacturing processes as standard condoms but with the added benefit of a more tailored fit. This customization allows for a better, more comfortable experience, reducing the risk of slippage, discomfort, or decreased sensitivity.
The availability of custom-fit condoms has contributed to promoting safer sex practices by addressing individual preferences and needs. By offering a range of sizes and dimensions, these condoms provide a more secure and pleasurable experience, encouraging regular condom use.
While custom-fit condoms have gained popularity, they are often available through specialized brands or online retailers, as they may not be as widely stocked in physical stores. However, their emergence represents an important step in condom innovation, showcasing the industry’s commitment to improving user satisfaction and ensuring the accessibility of condoms for a diverse range of individuals.
Sagami manufacturer World’s Thinnest Condom at 0.01mm
In their quest to create the best condom, Sagami Rubber Industries smashed the world record for the World’s thinnest condom with their 001 condom.
At just 0.01mm thick, the Sagami 001 is 6x thinner than a human hair and half the width of Sagami’s previously thinnest condom, the aptly named 002 which stood at 0.02mm.
Having been in development for over ten years, over 20,000 different prototypes were tested before the 001 was born.
A Sagami researcher commented
Honestly, I don’t how we can make them thinner than this…but as long as there is a need for thinner, we will continue researching 0.009 millimeter and 0.008 millimeter thinness.
Made from polyurethane, the world’s thinnest condom is only for sale in Tokyo. We spoke to Sagami and there are not currently any plans to make them available to the Australian public directly however there are a few online retailers who do stock them.
Ansell Sell Condom Arm of Business to Chinese Consortium
In 2017 Ansell sold the sexual wellness side of the business to Chinese consortium ‘Humanwell Healthcare’ and ‘CITIC’ for US$600 million, ending the company’s 80 year history of making condoms.
The Covid-19 pandemic forces the world’s largest manufacturer of condoms, Karex Bhd, to close it’s factories and stop condom production.
This, combined with us all being locked up with only so much to watch on Netflix, means there’s a potential condom shortage looming on the horizon.