A Brief History of the Condom

After more than 3,000 years, they're still as vital as ever

Around the world, between 6 to 9 billion condoms are sold every year. Unfortunately, their use is not universally accepted, despite the fact that experts agree that consistent condom use can dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections each year.

Condom with Latin manual (circa 1813)
Matthias Kabel / Lund University Historical Museum

Even in the Catholic church, which has long forbidden condoms as a means of birth control, leaders have become to endorse them in very particular circumstances. Yet, others within the church still insist condoms promote sexuality out of the bonds of marriage and outright condemn them.

But views are shifting. In 2010, Reverend Federico Lombardi, speaking on behalf of Pope Benedict, stated that the use of condoms by people with HIV could be "the first step of responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk to the life of the person with whom there are relations... whether it's a man, a woman or a transsexual."

Benedict's successor, Pope Francis has been less clear about his views but has stated condoms may be the "lesser evil" in comparison to abortion, but has archly refused to speak about its utility in preventing HIV.

The history of condoms has been fraught with such controversy, innovation, advances, and failures. We offer a snapshot of some of these key moments as well as insights into why condoms (both external and internal) remain as important as ever:

1,000 B.C.E.

As far as anyone can tell, this is roughly the time when the use of external condoms was first recorded. Unlike today's latex or polyurethane, the early condoms were made of oiled silk paper, linen sheaths, leather, or very thin hollow horn.

200 C.E.

Cave paintings dating back to the year 200 C.E. depict external condom use, the earliest known visual evidence of their use.


An Italian doctor by the name of Gabrielle Fallopius (for whom, coincidentally, the fallopian tube was named) suggested that linen sheath external condoms be used to protect against syphilis, a deadly epidemic at that time in history.


Some researchers believe that farmers in Condom, France began using sheep guts as external condoms, possibly the origin of the lambskin condom—as well as the device's eponymous name.


Another group believes that the term "condom" was coined when Charles II was given oiled sheep intestines to use as external condoms by a physician named, unsurprisingly, Dr. Condom. However, other insist that the "condom" came from the Latin word condus which simply means "vessel."


The infamous Giacomo Casanova wrote about his method of testing external condoms in his memoir, detail how he would blow them up to test for holes and tears.


Rubber is introduced as a component of external condoms. At that time, men were advised that these rubber version could be washed and reused until they crumble.


The first U.S. external condom ad appears in the New York Times.


The introduction of latex makes external condoms cheap and disposable. Thus, the single-use, latex condom is born. By World War II, latex external condoms are mass produced and given to troops all over the world.


Following World War I, France implements a ban on external condoms and other contraceptives in response to fears about falling birth rates.


The external latex condom is improved by making them thinner, tighter and lubricated. Also, the reservoir tip is introduced that collects semen in the end, decreasing the risk of leakage and unintentional pregnancy.


Once a source of embarrassment and absolutely forbidden from being advertised in print or on television, the emergence of HIV as a sexually transmitted infection takes external condoms into the mainstream. Experts agree that external condoms are the best way outside of abstinence to avoid HIV, but many still avoid using condoms.


Condom sales reach 9 billion worldwide. Experts find the spermicides used to prevent pregnancy can also increase the risk of HIV and issue warnings about their use. Additionally, with the emergence of latex allergies, condoms made of polyurethane are manufactured for those people with latex allergies.


Billionaire philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates offer $100,000 for the most promising next-generation external condom designs, the challenge of which sparks media attention and brings focus to some of the more groundbreaking designs, including a type that will "shrink wrap" to fit the penis and a graphene-based model reported to be 100 times stronger than steel.


Nottingham, England-based British Condom introduced i.Con, marketed as the world's first smart condom. The device, which is actually a ring that fits around the base of the external condom, can provide you statistics on every aspect of your penis and sexual performance that you never really needed to know (such as girth, calories burned, etc.) but also claims to be able to detect sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and syphilis.

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By Mark Cichocki, RN
Mark Cichocki, RN, is an HIV/AIDS nurse educator at the University of Michigan Health System for more than 20 years.