In the modern age, condoms are most often made from latex, but some are made from other materials such as polyurethane, polyisoprene, or lamb intestine. A female condom is also available, most often made of nitrile. As a method of birth control, male condoms have the advantage of being inexpensive, easy to use, having few side effects, and of offering protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
However, according to a study in the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association condoms have a breakage rate of 2.3% and a slippage rate of 1.3% which "may translate into a high risk for individuals who are very sexually active." With proper knowledge and application technique—and use at every act of intercourse—women whose partners use male condoms experience a 2% per-year pregnancy rate with perfect use and a 15% per-year pregnancy rate with typical use.
Condoms have been used for at least 400 years. Since the 19th century, they have been one of the most popular methods of contraception in the world. While widely accepted in modern times, condoms have generated some controversy, primarily over what role they should play in sex education classes. They are considered unacceptable in almost all situations by certain religions, notably the Catholic church.
Condoms interfere with the process of paternal tolerance, by which exposure of a woman's immune system to semen during unprotected sex may decrease the risk of pregnancy complications in subsequent pregnancies.
Rubber and manufacturing advances
In 1839, Charles Goodyear discovered a way of processing natural rubber, which is too stiff when cold and too soft when warm, in such a way as to make it elastic. This proved to have advantages for the manufacture of condoms; unlike the sheeps' gut condoms, they could stretch and did not tear quickly when used. The rubber vulcanization process was patented by Goodyear in 1844. The first rubber condom was produced in 1855. The earliest rubber condoms had a seam and were as thick as a bicycle inner tube. Besides this type, small rubber condoms covering only the glans were often used in England and the United States. There was more risk of losing them and if the rubber ring was too tight, it would constrict the penis. This type of condom was the original "capote" (French for condom), perhaps because of its resemblance to a woman's bonnet worn at that time, also called a capote.
For many decades, rubber condoms were manufactured by wrapping strips of raw rubber around penis-shaped molds, then dipping the wrapped molds in a chemical solution to cure the rubber.:148 In 1912, a Pole named Julius Fromm developed a new, improved manufacturing technique for condoms: dipping glass molds into a raw rubber solution. Called cement dipping, this method required adding gasoline or benzene to the rubber to make it liquid.:200 Latex, rubber suspended in water, was invented in 1920. Latex condoms required less labor to produce than cement-dipped rubber condoms, which had to be smoothed by rubbing and trimming. The use of water to suspend the rubber instead of gasoline and benzene eliminated the fire hazard previously associated with all condom factories. Latex condoms also performed better for the consumer: they were stronger and thinner than rubber condoms, and had a shelf life of five years (compared to three months for rubber).:199-200
Until the twenties, all condoms were individually hand-dipped by semiskilled workers. Throughout the decade of the 1920s, advances in the automation of the condom assembly line were made. The first fully automated line was patented in 1930. Major condom manufacturers bought or leased conveyor systems, and small manufacturers were driven out of business.:201-3 The skin condom, now significantly more expensive than the latex variety, became restricted to a niche high-end market.:220
1930 to present
In 1930 the Anglican Church's Lambeth Conference sanctioned the use of birth control by married couples. In 1931 the Federal Council of Churches in the U.S. issued a similar statement.:227 The Roman Catholic Church responded by issuing the encyclical Casti Connubii affirming its opposition to all contraceptives, a stance it has never reversed.:228-9
In the 1930s, legal restrictions on condoms began to be relaxed.:216,226,234 But during this period Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany increased restrictions on condoms (limited sales as disease preventatives were still allowed).:252,254-5 During the Depression, condom lines by Schmid gained in popularity. Schmid still used the cement-dipping method of manufacture which had two advantages over the latex variety. Firstly, cement-dipped condoms could be safely used with oil-based lubricants. Secondly, while less comfortable, these older-style rubber condoms could be reused and so were more economical, a valued feature in hard times.:217-9 More attention was brought to quality issues in the 1930s, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began to regulate the quality of condoms sold in the United States.:223-5
Throughout World War II, condoms were not only distributed to male U.S. military members, but also heavily promoted with films, posters, and lectures.:236-8,259 European and Asian militaries on both sides of the conflict also provided condoms to their troops throughout the war, even Germany which outlawed all civilian use of condoms in 1941.:252-4,257-8 In part because condoms were readily available, soldiers found a number of non-sexual uses for the devices, many of which continue to this day.
After the war, condom sales continued to grow. From 1955–1965, 42% of Americans of reproductive age relied on condoms for birth control. In Britain from 1950–1960, 60% of married couples used condoms. The birth control pill became the world's most popular method of birth control in the years after its 1960 début, but condoms remained a strong second. The U.S. Agency for International Development pushed condom use in developing countries to help solve the "world population crises": by 1970 hundreds of millions of condoms were being used each year in India alone.:267-9,272-5 (This number has grown in recent decades: in 2004, the government of India purchased 1.9 billion condoms for distribution at family planning clinics.)
In the 20th century the invention of plastic and other man-made materials did not lead to an improvement in the quality of condoms. However the deterioration of the rubber became less rapid. Condoms became not only thinner but also more reliable. In 1995, plastic condoms went on the market in the USA.
In the 1960s and 1970s quality regulations tightened, and more legal barriers to condom use were removed.:276-9 In Ireland, legal condom sales were allowed for the first time in 1978.:329-30 Advertising, however was one area that continued to have legal restrictions. In the late 1950s, the American National Association of Broadcasters banned condom advertisements from national television: this policy remained in place until 1979.:273-4,285
After learning in the early 1980s that AIDS can be a sexually transmitted infection, the use of condoms was encouraged to prevent transmission of HIV. Despite opposition by some political, religious, and other figures, national condom promotion campaigns occurred in the U.S. and Europe.:299,301,306-7,312-8 These campaigns increased condom use significantly.:309-17
Due to increased demand and greater social acceptance, condoms began to be sold in a wider variety of retail outlets, including in supermarkets and in discount department stores such as Wal-Mart.:305 Condom sales increased every year until 1994, when media attention to the AIDS pandemic began to decline.:303-4 The phenomenon of decreasing use of condoms as disease preventatives has been called prevention fatigue or condom fatigue. Observers have cited condom fatigue in both Europe and North America. As one response, manufacturers have changed the tone of their advertisements from scary to humorous.:303-4 New developments continue to occur in the condom market, with the first polyurethane condom—branded Avanti and produced by the manufacturer of Durex—introduced in the 1990s,:324-5 and the first custom sized-to-fit condom, called TheyFit, introduced in 2003. Worldwide condom use is expected to continue to grow: one study predicted that developing nations would need 18.6 billion condoms by 2015.:342 Condoms have become an integral part of modern societies.
In March 2010, Switzerland announced that its government was planning to manufacture smaller condoms meant for boys of 12–14 years old. Called the Hotshot, the condom has been produced after government research showed 12 to 14-year-olds did not use sufficient protection when having sex. A standard condom has a diameter of 2 inches (5.2 cm) in comparison with the Hotshot's diameter of 1.7 inches (4.5 cm). Both are the same length – 7.4 inches (19 cm). According to a German study of 12,970 13 to 20-year-olds, a quarter of those surveyed said a standard condom was too large. Family planning groups and the Swiss Aids Federation campaigned to have the Hotshot produced after a number of studies, including the government study researched at the Centre for Development and Personality Psychology at Basel University
Etymology and other terms
The term condom first appears in the early 18th century. Its etymology is unknown. In popular tradition, the invention and naming of the condom came to be attributed to an associate of England's King Charles II, one "Dr. Condom" or "Earl of Condom". There is however no evidence of the existence of such a person, and condoms had been used for over one hundred years before King Charles II ascended to the throne.:54,68
A variety of unproven Latin etymologies have been proposed, including condon (receptacle), condamina (house), and cumdum (scabbard or case).:70-1 It has also been speculated to be from the Italian word guantone, derived from guanto, meaning glove. William E. Kruck wrote an article in 1981 concluding that, "As for the word 'condom', I need state only that its origin remains completely unknown, and there ends this search for an etymology." Modern dictionaries may also list the etymology as "unknown".
Other terms are also commonly used to describe condoms. In North America condoms are also commonly known as prophylactics, or rubbers. In Britain they may be called French letters. Additionally, condoms may be referred to using the manufacturer's name.
Most condoms have a reservoir tip or teat end, making it easier to accommodate the man's ejaculate. Condoms come in different sizes, from oversized to snug and they also come in a variety of surfaces intended to stimulate the user's partner. Condoms are usually supplied with a lubricant coating to facilitate penetration, while flavored condoms are principally used for oral sex. As mentioned above, most condoms are made of latex, but polyurethane and lambskin condoms are also widely available.