the Recepticle Tip
they come in a dazzling assortment of colors, shapes, sizes
and flavors. Their history can be traced back to ancient Egypt,
where a rudimentary linen sheath was believed to provide its
wearer with protection from certain insects and diseases.
Later, the Chinese would employ oiled silk paper, the Japanese
would explore leather and tortoiseshell, and the Romans would
experiment with goat bladders. It was with the discovery of
the sap of a South American rainforest tree that modern condom
technology would emerge to provide protection against disease
and allow for today’s wild displays of product diversity.
This simple device, when used correctly, remains our best
means to prevent the sexual transmission of disease on St.
Valentine’s Day, or any other day of the year.
The evolution of condom technology was fostered by two concerns:
prevention of pregnancy and prevention of disease. Through
time, these concerns flip-flopped in predominance as contraception
alternatives became available and sexually transmitted disease
epidemics waxed and waned.
Back in the 16th century, Europe was rocked by a major syphilis
epidemic. While the understanding of the disease was rather
rudimentary at the time, it was easily observed and understood
that the disease was transmitted through sex. One of the earliest
written accounts of condom use in disease prevention can be
found in Gabriel Falloppio’s 1564 book Morbo Gallico,
where the Italian doctor recommended a linen sheath drenched
in a solution of salts and herbs as protection against syphilis.
Over the next two centuries sheep and goat gut would emerge
as preferred materials for condoms. These early condoms were
often tied onto the penis with a ribbon and reused, sometimes
showing up as another drying item dangling from the family
clothesline. We’ve come a long way, baby.
The modern latex condom has its roots back in 1735, when French
scientist and Amazon explorer Charles Marie de la Condamine
journeyed along Venezuela’s Upper Orinoco River and encountered
native people collecting sap from rubber trees. He observed
and described how they formed and dried the sap to make containers.
One hundred and four years later, Charles Goodyear came up
with a process to strengthen this natural rubber and make
it more elastic. The early condoms produced from Goodyear’s
vulcanized rubber were thick with bold seam lines. They provided
a level of sensitivity equivalent to wearing rubber from a
As the Industrial Revolution progressed, so did domestic condom
development. In 1883, Julius Schmidt took skills he’d honed
making perfume-bottle caps out of lamb gut and applied them
to capping the penises of his fellow Americans. His efforts
led to the first commercial production of lamb-gut condoms
in this country under the Sheik and Ramses trade names.
Refinement of condom technology continued into the 20th century.
As rubber-manufacturing techniques evolved, Merle Leland Youngs
jumped into the fledgling condom industry. In 1920, Youngs
began using latex rubber to manufacture Trojan condoms. Trojans
would soon come to dominate the American condom market. Research
would later confirm that the latex condom had a disease prevention
advantage over the lamb-gut variety, which some viruses could
pass through. With the development of a wide selection of
effective pregnancy-prevention options in the second half
of the 20th century, condom use and production went into a
In the 1980s, the latex-condom industry was suddenly revitalized
with the arrival of the HIV epidemic. Condoms were soon recognized
as an effective means to prevent the transmission of HIV.
They were relatively cheap to produce, could be quickly distributed
and, if used correctly, could also prevent the spread of the
human papillomavirus (associated with cervical cancer) and
other sexually transmitted infections. According to research
published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases,
people who use latex condoms face risks for HIV infection
that are 10,000 times less than those faced by those who do
not use such condoms.
However, a recently published study of about 800 sexually
active, unmarried women between the ages of 18 and 24 led
by Dr. Diane Civic of the Group Health Cooperative in Seattle
reported that 44 percent of the women surveyed risked disease
transmission or pregnancy due to improper condom use. The
study’s findings were most alarming for those women who used
condoms as their primary mode of contraception, with 59 percent
reporting that they had waited until after an initial penetration
from their partner’s penis before unrolling the wrapper. Such
behavior puts women at risk for exposure to pre-ejaculate
fluids that may contain both viruses and sperm. The men involved
were also putting themselves at greater risk for disease exposure.
Effective condom use needs to begin a safe distance from any
While no means of protection can be 100 percent effective
(except abstinence), there is some mighty impressive research
supporting the disease prevention possible through condom
use. In one study of couples where one partner was HIV positive,
it was found that correct and consistent condom use resulted
in no new infections from vaginal or anal sex during the 20
months of the research. A comparison group where condom use
was inconsistent found that 10 percent of the uninfected partners
became infected during the study period.
So, for this St. Valentine’s Day and the days beyond, be sure
the love you share is safely wrapped. In this world of epidemics,
such precaution benefits us all. No glove, no love. Keep it