History Of The Condom – A Timeline

October 24, 202211 Minutes

Believe it or not, condoms have been around since ancient times. Made from animal intestines (yuk), tortoiseshell (ouch!) or linen (nah) back then, condoms have come a long way over the years – thanks to latex! Here’s a brief look at the history of the condom which has been marked by controversy, progress, and failure.

11,000 BC – Yep, the first traces of condoms were found in a series of cave paintings in France. The paintings show a man and a woman having sex, and, the man looks like he has covered his pee-pee with animal skin.

Cave paintings in the French town of Combarelles (Image: spafe.com.au)

3,000 BC – King Minos of Crete was supposedly cursed to have “serpents and scorpions” in his semen. To protect his wife Pasiphae from his deadly sperm, they used a goat’s bladder during intercourse. Whether this story is true or just a myth is up to you to believe.

2,000-1,000 BC – Let’s get to the Ancient Egyptians, who used linen sheaths as condoms to protect themselves from tropical diseases like bilharzia. The linen sheaths were dyed in different colours to distinguish between classes of people.

Painting from Ancient Egypt showing the use of condoms (Image: tingle.com)

753 BC-AD 476 – Historical rumours say that the Ancient Romans used not only linen, animal (sheep or goat) intestines, and bladders but also the muscles of their slain combatants as condoms. A Freudian nightmare, but you shouldn’t believe every gossip you hear.

Japanese and Chinese civilizations also used condoms before the 15th century. In China, they were made mainly from lamb intestines or silk paper lubricated with oil. In Japan, men used sheaths called Kabuta-Gata, made of tortoiseshell and later of thin leather (sounds more comfy).

Condoms made of tortoiseshell sheath (Image: Wellcome Collection. © Science Museum, London. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Side Note: While societies in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome liked to keep their families small and are hence known to have used a variety of birth control practices (pessaries, amulets, etc.), they are thought to have used condoms, not for contraception but to prevent the spread of diseases such as syphilis.

1500s – The Italian doctor Gabriele Falloppio was the first to write about condoms in his book De Morbo Gallico (“The French Disease”). Here he proved with an experiment on 1,100 men that linen sheaths (fastened with ribbon and lubricated with saliva) provided protection against syphilis, a deadly epidemic at that time in history. Smart guy.

1600s – Some researchers believe that the term “condom” was coined during the English Civil War, when King Charles II asked his doctor, Colonel Condom, to find protection for his sailors and soldiers who were dying from STDs. And, of course, to prevent the birth of more of the king’s illegitimate children. Again, animal intestines were the covering of choice. Aren’t we just so thankful for the invention of latex? But we’ll have to wait a little longer for that.

1700s – Condoms were stigmatized because they were associated with prostitution or immorality. Nevertheless, they became quite popular among the upper and middle classes. Condoms were still made from animal intestines (sheep, calves, or goats) which were usually treated with sulfur or lye to smooth the sheath. Yes, we must continue to be patient until latex makes its debut.

Condom made from animal intestines (Image: itweetfact.blogspot.com)

1750s – Even the famous Italian adventurer and lover Giacomo Casanova decided to be better safe than sorry and wrote about using condoms in his memoirs, Histoire de ma vie (“Story of my life”). He describes blowing up condoms to entertain his girlfriends (and to check for any leaks).

Giacomo Casanova entertaining his lady friends (Image:.pinterest.ch)

1785 – The term “condom” appeared for the first time in the diary of doctor Daniel Turner. Later, the term “condom” was officially used when it was found in a dictionary in London. Where exactly the word “condom” originated is a matter of speculation; there’s no evidence to support the existence of doctor Colonel Condom. Some claim that “condom” comes from the Latin word condus (“vessel”), or from the Persian word kemdu, which refers to a long piece of intestine used for storage.

1855 – BIG thank you to Charles Goodyear who discovered the vulcanization of rubber in 1839, and which led to the first rubber condom. Rubber condoms were washable, reusable, cheaper, and mass-produced. Since these condoms covered only the glans of the penis, they were called “American tips” in Europe.

Charles Goodyear discovering the vulcanization of rubber Image: spafe.com.au

1861 – The first U.S. condom ad appeared in the New York Times.
– Rubber condoms were made “full length” with a seam down the middle, which as you can imagine was quite uncomfortable. A couple of decades later, thin, seamless, and cheaper rubber condoms were introduced, hooray!

1920 – Drum roll: THE TIME HAD FINALLY COME and the latex condom was born. Latex condoms were easy to produce, cheaper, disposable, and had a shelf life of 5 years, while rubber condoms had a shelf life of only three months. Catchy names and clever packaging became increasingly important for marketing condoms.

1920s – Worldwide, condom sales doubled, but met with opposition from moralists, the church, and some feminists who were against male-controlled contraceptives. Even Sigmund Freud, who was generally opposed to contraceptives, spoke out against condoms in particular because they reduced sexual pleasure.

World War I & II – Although distributed to soldiers to prevent disease, condoms, and other contraceptives were banned in most countries in response to fears of declining birth rates and allowed only for disease prevention.

1940s – Plastic and polyurethane condoms (both were short-lived) and the first multi-coloured condom was made in Japan. 

1957 – Here came another great thing: the first lubricated latex condom. It’s also thinner, tighter and now has a reservoir tip. We love it.

1955-1965 – Laws are changing and people around the world frequently use condoms.

1960s & 1970s – When the pill became the world’s most popular method of birth control, condom use decreased.

1981 – But the emergence of HIV as a sexually transmitted disease brought condoms back into the mainstream. Condoms were now also sold in supermarkets and discount department stores. 

1993 – The first female condom hit the market, but it had a PR problem from the start. Women feared that it would be difficult to insert and uncomfortable during sex.

1995 – Condoms started to be offered online. And, instead of making ads related to AIDS, condom manufacturers changed the tone of their ads from scary to humorous.

Ad for safe sex. (Image: Colour lithograph by Marco Pellanda, 1992, for Wizard & Genius-Idealdecor)

2000s – New developments continued to occur in the condom market: condoms now came in different shapes, flavours, and colours. Durex also introduced the first polyurethane condom.

2009 – A few years later, Polyisoprene condoms for people with latex allergies were created. According to The National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal), condoms are becoming more popular as the decades go by, particularly among men with new partners.

2016 – Pope Francis suggested condoms could be used to prevent the spread of Zika virus, though not HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. Not quite the statement we were hoping for.

2020 – Condoms are the most widely used contraceptive worldwide, with sales of more than 35 billion units in 2020. Wow.

2021 – According to the report, “Condom Market – Global Outlook and Forecast 2021-2026,” latex condoms are expected to reach approximately $10 billion in sales by 2026. – Looks like condoms are here to stay.







Anijar K, DaoJensen T. Culture and the condom. Peter Lang Publishing Inc. 2005: 93–103. [Google Scholar]

Aine Collier (2007). The Humble Little Condom: A History. Buffalo, N.Y: Prometheus Books.