Evolution of condoms

From linen sheaths and animal guts to latex and plastic

A recent Trojan brand condoms ad campaign, “Evolve,” involves pigs “evolving” into men by using Trojan condoms. While these advertisements may be clever, they are also ironic in the sense that condoms evolved from pigs to men, too; that is, from pig guts to man-made materials.

For centuries, men and women throughout the world have been using various forms of condoms to lessen the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease during sexual intercourse. Beginning with the ancient Egyptians, who used a form of the condom to protect themselves from disease and infection, condom use spread to Europe and is even depicted in French cave paintings, according to a “History of Sex” available at the Durex Web site. The first published use of condoms involved a linen sheath used to protect against infection during the syphilis epidemic in Europe. In addition to the linen sheath, tortoiseshell and leather, oiled paper, fish bladders and animal guts have also been used as condoms throughout history, the history states.

The condom was officially given its name in the 1600s, but the true origin of its name has remained in question. While some people believe that the word “condom” derived from “condus,” the Latin word for “receptacle,” others believe that it was named after Dr. Condom, Charles II of England’s physician who made sheaths of animal guts, the history notes.

Regardless of its etymological origin, the introduction of the rubber vulcanization process in the mid-19th century made it easier and less expensive to turn rubber into a strong elastic material — providing an ideal material for a new form of condom. The rubber condom was favored until 1930 when manufacturers discovered liquid latex. According to the online history, the latex condom has been the least expensive, most effective and most popular form in the history of condoms since that discovery.

In addition to the development of latex condoms, condoms have continued to change in regards to size, shape, color and even flavor in response to ongoing technological advances and the consumption habits of various societies. Most condom brands now offer standard, large and extra large sizes in various styles — such as lubricated, thin or ribbed — and an assortment of colors and flavors to appeal to anyone and everyone.

“There are definitely more brands and types available now than when I started working in Student Health 20 years ago,” said Christine Peterson, gynecology director and physician at Student Health.

Second-year Engineering student Allison Kilanski agreed that condom makers have increased the range of condoms available.
“Condom manufacturers have changed condoms from simple sex protection,” she said. “Now they attract users by offering things such as ‘her pleasure,’ ‘his pleasure,’ flavors and colors.”

Condoms have grown in their ability to prevent pregnancy and disease since their days as linen sheaths and animal guts, and will, as Peterson put it, “undoubtedly” continue to do so. Not many University students interviewed, however, admitted to actually using some of the more unusual types of condoms on the market today.

“I’ve never used one,” an anonymous University student said of colored and flavored condoms. “I think they just draw attention to the brand.” Second-year College student Alex Waggoner, meanwhile, called them “novelty items.”

Novelty items or not, condoms of all kinds have evolved in more than just looks; the condom’s general reputation in our society has changed as well.

“Availability has made them less taboo,” Waggoner said. “Also, the fact that you don’t have to be a certain age to buy them is important.”
If age is not an important factor, what factors do influence who purchases condoms? A 2004 study conducted by the sociology department at Auburn University-Montgomery considering an individual’s actions when purchasing condoms found that 103 of 142 females were first-time buyers, compared to 13 of 74 males. Twenty-nine females indicated that they were not embarrassed to make the purchase; many said the reason for not being embarrassed was prior purchase. Others remarked that it was simply “a responsible thing to do.” The study also found that males were more likely to make the purchase alone than females were.

University students, some of whom preferred not to be identified by name due to the personal nature of the topic, offered different answers to the same question regarding who should provide condoms, often taking into consideration the circumstances of the relationship.

“The boys,” an anonymous female University student said in response to the question. “Because girls are in charge of birth control; however, I do think it’s different for people who are hooking up and for those in a serious relationship. If you’re just hooking up, it’s definitely the boy’s responsibility. If you’re in a relationship, then it’s both people’s responsibility.”

An anonymous male student agreed. “I think it’s the guy’s responsibility to buy the condom,” he said. “He’s the one that’s using it, so he should have it.”

Second-year Engineering student Craig Paxton, though, noted that both sexual partners should be responsible for having condoms.
Although opinions on who should buy condoms differed among students interviewed, many seemed to agree that condoms should be used when engaging in sexual intercourse. Along with the physical evolution of the condom and its changing reputation, educational promotions also have been developed to tell people about condoms and promote their use. Students can learn about and get free condoms through various online organizations, as well as from Student Health on Grounds, which offers students standard Trojan condoms through its “three for free” educational promotion, administrative assistant Jay Nottingham said.


Published January 21, 2009









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