Sex is still a taboo in many countries across the world and so is contraception. But very few might know that the usage of the first condom has an interesting history attached to it which includes poison, a greek king and infidelity!
Sex has been a taboo for so long in India that we have forgotten that Indians were the ones that gave the world the first literature, known as Kamasutra, that treated sex as science. Kamasutra is an ancient Indian Sanskrit text that talks about sexuality, eroticism, and emotional fulfillment in life. It was written by Vatsyayana Mallanaga and was published in 1883. You may have seen the many sculptures in old Hindu Temples that are related to Kamasutra. Out of the many ancient temples, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh is a UNESCO world heritage site. Another temple in Rajasthan has sculptures of all the major chapters and sexual positions that are illustrated in the Kamasutra.
While sex was widely talked about and even written about since ancient times, what was not talked about was birth control. When we say that birth control wasn’t talked about a lot, it does not mean that people didn’t practice it. The use of condoms goes back several centuries. Polygamy was very common in ancient times, and as a result, any form of birth control was essential.
Birth-Control: The Burden Of Women
While polygamy was popular in ancient times, the use of condoms didn’t become popular until the 1500s. Birth-control was always the burden of the women, not of the men. Women would have to make sure that they do not get pregnant, and the easiest way for that was vaginal douching. Douching means flushing the insides of the vagina with a fluid that would be squirted up into the vagina with the use of a bottle, bag, or tube. Women in the ancient world would use honey, olive oil, or wine.
Societies from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome preferred small families and practiced various birth controls. The writings from those times contain veiled references to male-controlled contraceptive methods. It was unclear whether the men used condoms at the time, but historians interpret that it was usually the coitus interruptus or the ‘pull out method’ and anal intercourse. But the first-ever reference made to a man using a condom came from the stories of King Minos of Crete.
King Minos: The First Man To Use Condom
Greek Mythology fanatics may know King Minos, the father of the Minotaur. For those of you who don’t know who a Minotaur is, it is a mythical creature portrayed to have the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. King Minos was the son of Zeus, the God of Sky and Thunder, and Europa, a Phoenician princess. In 3000 B.C. King Minos ruled Knossos. He was married to Pasiphaë, the daughter of Perse, an Oceanid nymph, and Helios, the god of Sun.
Like many of the kings, King Minos also had several mistresses. While all was good at first, several mistresses would perish away after having sex with him. It was believed that his semen was poisonous, and he ejaculated ‘serpents and scorpions’. It is believed that this poisonous semen resulted from a curse given to him by Pasiphaë as a punishment for his infidelity.
To not let any more mistress die from having sex with the King, a type of condom was engineered for him. A protective sheath was made from a goat’s bladder. It was the first recorded form of a condom. It is, however, unknown whether the device was worn by the King himself or by his mistresses and wives. For centuries, the use of glans as condoms has been recorded in Asia. Glan condoms were worn only on the head of the penis and not the whole length like the condoms we have today. Glan condoms were only used by the upper-class members and were made in China by using oiled silk paper or of lamb intestine and were made in Japan by using tortoise shells or animal horns.
However, it was in the 16th century where Gabriele Falloppio wrote a description of condom use as a result of the Syphilis outbreak in 1494 among the French troops. Falloppio wrote ‘De Morbo Gallico’ (The French Disease) and was published in 1564. In his book, he recommended using linen sheaths soaked in a chemical solution and allowed to dry before use. The cloth was sized to cover the glans of the penis and was fastened with a ribbon. He claimed to have experimented with the linen sheath on 1100 men, and none of them had contracted the diseases as they used the product.
Oldest Condom Found
In the 17th century, the use of condoms as a contraceptive was well documented. In addition to using linens as condoms, condoms were even made out of intestines and bladders during the renaissance. The oldest condom was found in 2003, in Dudley Castle, West Midlands, England. The condoms found at the castle were made from fish and animal intestine and are believed to be used by the soldiers of King Charles I. By the 18th century; however, the use of condoms became quite popular. A variety of qualities and sizes were available for the men and were sold at pubs, barbershops, chemist shops, open-air markets, and theatres throughout Europe and Russia.
Linen condoms lost popularity in the 1800s, and their production was also ceased. Linen condoms were more expensive and were less comfortable when compared to skin condoms. By the 19th century, contraception was promoted to the poorer classes as well for the first time. A group of British contraceptive advocates gave away condom literature in poor neighborhoods. These books would contain instructions about making their own devices at home, and similar activism was seen in the United States in the 1840s.
The First 'Rubber'
Finally, in 1855, the first rubber condom was produced, and soon major rubber companies started producing condoms in large numbers. The discovery of the rubber vulcanization process is still unclear. Some say Charles Goodyear invented it in America, and some say it was Thomas Hancock from Britain who invented the process that allowed the invention of rubber condoms. In the 19th century, the German military became the first to promote condoms among the soldiers. It was proved by an experiment in the 20th century that the rates of sexually transmitted diseases were lowered significantly when the military was provided with condoms. However, during World War I, the U.S. and British soldiers did not use condoms. As a result, by the end of the war, the American military had diagnosed 400,000 cases of syphilis and gonorrhea, which was a historic high.
When the New York Times first published a story on AIDS, it became known to the world that the use of condoms saved them from the disease. In response to this finding and to help fight against AIDS, condom promotion programs started. In 1990, North Carolina senator Jesse Helms said that the best way to fight AIDS was to enforce state sodomy laws. The sale of condoms increased since the discovery of AIDS and decreased when the AIDS pandemic began to decline in 1994.
AIDS Awareness and Sex Education
While the ads for condoms were scary due to the rising AIDS patients every day, the ads became more humorous since the decline. New developments have been occurring in the world of condom manufacturing. The first polyurethane condom, which is thinner, stronger and not as tight as the latex condoms, branded Avanti and produced by Durex, which was introduced in the 1990s.
Now a variety of condoms are available in the market. Not only for saving ourselves from any sexually transmitted disease but also for our pleasure. There is also a glow-in-the-dark condom which is patented and trademarked by the Global Protection Corp. The company is also the first brand to donate 5% of its sales to the development of sexual health outreach and educational programs. Let’s hope India, too, starts taking sex education as seriously as many other countries. India gave Kamasutra to the world; it is high-key hypocritical of Indians to consider sex a taboo.