The History Of Condoms — From Sheep Intestines To Latex

Published November 6, 2017
Updated November 11, 2020

A Condom Renaissance

Animal Membrane condom

Wikimedia CommonsA condom made by Bell & Croyden out of animal membrane around the year 1900.

Around the 16th century, a nasty little venereal disease began to spread throughout Europe known as syphilis. Then-known as the “French disease” — a definite jab at the French — it posed a major problem until Italian physician Gabriele Falloppio, the namesake behind Fallopian tubes, introduced a more advanced version of the condom to help combat the syphilis outbreak.

This new and improved condom was a chemical-soaked linen sheath that fit over the penis and was tied with a ribbon around the shaft to hold it in place. Sort of a gift-wrapped take on safe sex.

Falloppio even went so far as to conduct a study of his new anti-syphilis device and had 1,000 participants try it out. To his delight and likely their relief, none of the participants contracted the disease, making Falloppio the inventor of the first proven condom to protect against STDs.

Unfortunately, with the success of Falloppio’s new condom came scrutiny and controversy from both the religious and scientific communities. In 1605, Leonardus Lessius, a Catholic theologian, took the title as the first prude to label using condoms as immoral.

A century later, English physician Daniel Turner launched a campaign against the use of condoms, oddly enough, claiming that they promoted unsafe sex by encouraging men to have many sexual partners.

Despite criticism from condom-opponents, condoms made from animal intestines began to become more widely available and could be found in pubs and barber shops throughout Europe and Asia in the late 18th century. Because of their pricey nature though, those who bought them often reused them. A practice that nowadays would almost certainly end in one’s sexual partner running for the door.

Joel Stice
Joel Stice is a writer who enjoys digging into all things pop culture, history, science, and anything weird.