The Life & Times of Mr. Condom

It’s not easy being a condom. You’re pressured to protect against STIs and pregnancy and get mega-blamed when you don’t. You plunge head-first into some shady places and then you’re tossed aside like common trash. And at your distinguished age! Condoms have been the world’s most popular contraception method since the 19th century. But this hardly means that Abe Lincoln was all, “Hmm, Trojan or Durex?”

In pre-15th century Asia, there were “glans condoms” which only covered the head of the penis and were made from materials like oiled silk paper in China and, in Japan, the vaginally- and anally-terrifying tortoise shell.

Some 16th-century Italian lothario named Gabrielle Falloppio wrote an olde sex columne about syphilis in which he described one of the earliest condoms —a chemical-soaked linen sheath that was tied on with ribbon. Personally, I’m imagining a red, wide-cut, silky variety with scalloped edges.

In 1839, Charles Goodyear created the “rubber vulcanization” process that makes rubber condom-perfect—not too stiff when cold, not too soft when warm but just Goldicocks-right—stretchy but not easily torn. So the first rubber condom came to be in 1855. It had a seam and was as thick as inner tubing, so quit your “sensation-killing” whining.

No one knows the real origin of the name “condom,” but in the 1850s, it was called “capote” in French because of its resemblance to a woman’s bonnet, also called “capote.”

Haha ? your penis dresses like a girl!

Thank you-know-who that latex (rubber suspended in water) was invented in 1920. That led to today’s seamless, thinner and stronger condoms. With latex came the sad ditching of the red, silky, scalloped-edged ribbon and the current commercialized three-stage process of condom-making.

First, latex is collected from rubber trees, tapped like sap for maple syrup. How New England-quaint! Latex is a natural material that can curdle like milk. (Curdled Condoms—disgusting nightmare or amazing band name?) The latex is stabilized with preservatives in a process called “compounding” and checked for consistency before it even comes close to being your love glove.

Then glass formers (read: boring glass dildos on an assembly-line machine) are dipped into a tank of “compounded” latex, picking up a near-invisible latex layer. This layer is dried with filtered air to avoid “atmospheric contamination,” dipped again and re-dried. One end is rolled into a bead to form the condom’s tip. Still on the glass dildos, the latex is “vulcanized” in an oven, hosed off, then dried.

Then every condom is stretched onto a metal former and shocked by an electric current that checks for microscopic flaws. An intact condom won’t allow electricity to pass through it, so if it does, it’s instantly rejected. Please, please don’t stick your condomed member into an electrical outlet. It doesn’t work like that.

Random samples from each batch are subject to air inflation and water tests, during which they are pumped full of air until they burst (for example, the average Durex condom can hold 40 liters of air, equal to 9 gallons of water) or are filled with 300 milliliters of water and then suspended for three minutes to check for leakage. In the U.S., if five randomly sampled condoms per 1,000 fail any test, the whole batch is thrown out. This goes for all condoms—thick, lubricated, textured, and even the ultra-thin, so indulge without fear of easier breakage!

However, that all condom brands must pass the test doesn’t mean they all got A++s on their final exams. Though I’m hard-pressed to find valid information about which brands were teacher’s pets and which skipped class, the vague research rumor is that not all brands were Valedictorians. Yikes.

Also, your penis doesn’t spout 300 milliliters of water, nor can it shoot electric currents. So, you’ve got to wonder, how accurately do these tests reflect the actual rigors of a roll in the hay? I don’t know, but a 98 percent effectiveness rate, mass availability and protection against STIs/HIV has got to be better than tying a thick rubber bonnet onto your junk with a piece of ribbon, right?

Yana Tallon-Hicks

Author: Yana Tallon-Hicks

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