February 17, 2022
Hey, hey, it’s National Condom Week! From February 14th through the 21st, we celebrate the amazing condom, which is the only form of contraception that prevents both unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
What do you know about the history of condoms? Where did they first show up? What materials have been used to make them? And why do they matter so much?
A Condom for Everyone
These days, there are a range of condoms available, including both internal and external. Internal (sometimes called “female,” although they are not just for people who identify as female) condoms can be inserted into the vagina or anus. External (sometimes called “male” although they are not just for those who identify as male) condoms fit over the penis.
Condoms today are frequently made of latex (a type of rubber). For those who have a latex allergy, there are condoms made of plastic materials like polyurethane, polyisoprene or nitrile. Some condoms are made of lambskin (more on that later), although these do not protect against STIs, just pregnancy. Condoms today can glow in the dark, come in various shades of the rainbow and—for oral sex—come in different flavors. Experiment to find out what you like!
Condoms have been around in one way or another for centuries. Some have said that condoms are depicted in French cave drawings from 11,000 B.C.!
As mentioned above, condoms are now commonly made out of latex. Latex condoms were first available in the 1920s. Before that, condoms made of thicker rubber showed up in the 1850s. Earlier than that? People proved how creative they could be with what was accessible to them!
For instance, according to Greek mythology, King Minos of Crete—whose semen was said to contain serpents and scorpions—used what we would now call an internal condom, but made of a goat’s bladder.
It turns out lots of materials have been used to make condoms. In addition to the intestines of various animals, condoms have been made from oiled silk paper, linen, thin leather, tortoise shell and animal horns. This may make you feel even more appreciative of latex!
External condoms are 98% effective at preventing pregnancy when used perfectly. But due to human error, they are usually 85% effective. Aim for perfect use by knowing the ins and outs of condom usage, whether you’re having vaginal, anal or oral sex. Check out this guide for important tips.
Condoms are available in drugstores, supermarkets and online. You can also often find them for low or no cost at health clinics. Use our clinic finder to find a health clinic near you.
In honor of those who spent years adapting and perfecting them to what they are today, celebrate condoms!
Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition