When it comes to birth control, there’s nothing more OG than the condom. It may not be mentioned as a major cultural touchpoint like how we refer to The Pill (‘The Condom’ never quite took off, so you know…), but it’s stuck around for many reasons. Safe sex, looking at you…
Condoms have been around forever, and before latex condoms, people used… pretty much everything else? The ancient Egyptians used oiled animal intestines, and in ancient Rome, soldiers would use muscles or skin from their defeated (human) enemies as a “victory condom” or mule-hair condoms, as Aine Collier writes in The Humble Little Condom: A History. Before rubber condoms were invented in 1855, animal intestine condoms were pretty much it, and besides the ick factor, they also didn’t offer STI protection. “The cellular junctions [of animal skin condoms] were tight enough to keep out sperm, but not tight enough to protect from STDs,” says Dr. Emily Porter, MD, aka the Austin Love Doctor.
Animal skin condoms are still around today. If you’ve ever heard of “lambskin” condoms, it’s not a euphemism (lol)—they’re actually still made of animal intestine. And while lambskin condoms might protect against pregnancy, they are not suitable for STI protection. This is why you’ll see that lambskin condoms often come with hella warnings or marketing lingo that emphasizes their use for “monogamous couples.”
Condoms have come pretty far, not just throughout civilization, but even just improvements to the ol’ latex condom we know and love today. Here’s a look at how the modern condom has changed over the past hundo years:
1916: Youngs Rubber Corp. gets trademark approval for the name “Trojan” condoms.
Heard of ’em?
1937: Condoms become classified as a drug by the FDA.
The FDA announces that condoms are now to be classified as a drug and undergo quality testing before being sold to consumers.
Here’s a look at an old-school water test circuit from the Trojan archives. This machine would’ve been in use in the ’40s.
During the 1940s, Youngs also developed a new line of condoms called “Thins,” exclusively for service men in the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.
Trojan-Enz still exist today, although their packaging looks a bit different. TBH, would pay more for fun, vintage-style condom packaging, but maybs that’s just me.
1987: After hearing about the AIDS crisis, Davin Wedel founds Global Protection as an undergrad at Tufts.
Wedel wanted to break the stigma associated with condoms and starts going HAM with novelty and licensed condoms. His first foray into condom packaging features the Tufts mascot.
At this point, the FDA allowed “novelty condoms” (aka, not cleared for sale for the purpose of STI and pregnancy prevention), allowing for creative products like the Global Protection “Knight Light” condom to debut. The marketing materials for the glow-in-the-dark condom also came with condom-themed boxes and a matching tie.
(Later, in 2001, the founder of Global Protection, Gavin, worked with the FDA to clear the glow-in-the-dark condoms for official sale.)
1992: Global Protection develops presidential candidate condoms.
There’s the “Bush Barrier: For a strong defense”; “The Clinton Condom: Lookin’ out for the little guy”; and “The Perophylactic: Never withdraw again! Perotection for the third party!”
1995: Global Protection teams up with Prince for “Purple Rain Coats” condoms.
Ugh @ the lack of novelty condom packaging nowadays. Sigh.
1997: More concert collabs!
Global Protection partners with U2 for their album POP.
2000: Global Protection introduces a new “Pleasure Pouch” condom.
The Pleasure Plus has more room at the head of the penis. Look at that early 2000s packaging! That weirdly digital font! The f u t u r i s t i c kerning!
2003: Global Protection launches ONE condoms, aka the condoms that come in circular packaging.
Fun fact: The circular packaging is a nod to Global Protection’s first condom packaging, non-wrapped condoms in metal cases.
2008: SKYN condoms launch after a decade of development.
These polyisoprene condoms are a latex-free alternative for those with latex allergies or sensitivities. The material is stretchier than other synthetic latexes, yet just as strong as premium latex. SKYNs are super popular now, and it’s crazy that pre-2008, you were just kinda outta luck if you wanted a non-latex condom that felt as “like the real thing” as SKYN.
2010: Trojan launches BareSkin, a condom that’s 50% thinner.
Today, the BareSkin line is one of their top sellers.
2014: Sustain launches the first Fair Trade-certified, nitrosamine-free, lower-protein-level condom.
Condoms were Sustain’s first product (they’ve since gone into other categories like lube, tampons, pads, liners, and period undies). Sustain sought out to develop an ethical condom that used only Fair Trade- and Forest Stewardship Council-certified rubber from a rubber plantation in southern India. What does Fair Trade even mean in a condom? No child labor, no harsh pesticides being used, and higher wages and healthcare for rubber tappers, explains Meika Hollender, co-founder and President of Sustain Natural.
Sustain also worked to add a chemical blocker to the latex to prevent nitrosamines, a chemical that the FDA monitors in baby pacifiers, but not condoms. Sustain condoms are also 75% lower in protein levels, making them less likely to cause allergic reactions (as it’s the proteins responsible for those reactions).
2016: Lelo’s HEX hits markets after seven years in development.
The Lelo HEX was a BFD when it came out because it featured hexagons in the condom, making it stretch and flex to fit securely. The grooves are on the inside of the condom, not the outside, for extra security, as this “creates a surface that remains perfectly smooth while providing the same security against slippage as grooved tires do on wet surfaces,” explains Stu Nugent, brand expert at Lelo.
As for why hexagons? “We spent a long time um-ing and ah-ing over graphene, the super-material which will undoubtedly change the world over the next few generations,” says Nugent. But at the current cost, graphene goes for $200 a gram, making a box of condoms $5,000 a box, aka not happening (for now, at least). The team ultimately decided on latex, and early ideas included diamond or chainmail patterns. Ultimately, they were inspired by what they learned from graphene, including its molecular composition, which is hexagonal. They noticed that hexagons pop up all the time in naturally occurring formations, like honeycombs, dragonfly wings, snake scales, soap bubbles, etc. “Whenever nature needs something strong and light, the hexagon is often the go-to shape,” says Nugent.
2017: ONE launches myONE Perfect Fit, aka a custom condom sizing kit.
The kit includes sizing guides and allows customers to find their perfect fit for a condom that’s as comfortable as it is safe. Too large of a condom = might unroll and leave ya hangin, a condom that’s too small could rip and also be bad news bears. This recent product launch is kinda ironic considering early iterations of condoms before the 1900s had to be custom-fit and shaped by a doctor.
2020: Trojan launches G-Spot condoms.
These have a “pouch” kinda like the 2000 Global Protection Pleasure Pouch, but also feature ribbing on the baggy portion to stimulate your internal hot spots all the better.
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