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The Odd, Yet Delightful History of Condoms

The Odd, Yet Delightful History of Condoms


Condoms have been helping people get it on since the days of George Washington.


Animal Urges
When researching the history of the condom, writer Hunter Oatman-Stanford discovered that in the early 1700s, butchers scored extra bank by selling the animal intestines thrown out by slaughterhouses as condoms (or "skins as they were called). The oldest condoms archeologists have discovered were from 1642, found in a cave in Europe.


Punishing Pleasure
Though condom production in America increased in 1839 when Charles Goodyear figured out how to vulcanize rubber, the party ended in 1873 when religious reformer Anthony Comstock pressured Congress to pass a law punishing anyone caught mailing “any article... for the prevention of conception."

The law carried a minimum six-month prison sentence for violation.


Rubber Goods
To get around the 1873 Comstock Act, condom sellers euphemistically began advertising their rubbers as sheaths, skins, shields, capotes, and "rubber goods" for "gents."

Although health professionals at the time didn't completely understand STD transmission, sellers avoided discussing pregnancy prevention and began highlighting condoms' ability to prevent diseases instead.


Doughboys In Peril
In the early 1900s, the U.S. military issued a painful post-coital chemical prophylaxis to Naval servicemen that involved antiseptics and urethral syringes—YOW!

According to Oatman-Stanford, "Over the next two years, around 380,000 American soldiers would be diagnosed with some form of VD, eventually costing the U.S. more than $50 million in treatment."


Modern Coverage
By 1918, the government created a Division of Venereal Disease and set aside $4 million dollars to promote STD prevention nationwide. Meanwhile, a concurrent court case also ruled that certified doctors could prescribe condoms for disease prevention.

As a result, the condom business began to boom and coming out with exotically named brands like "Sheik" and "Salome" and masculine named brands like "Stags," "Knights" and the still-famous "Trojans" rather than focusing on condoms' contraceptive abilities. 

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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