History of the Condom

The first version of the female condom made a weird noise, fell out, and was expensive, too. Now public health experts are pushing a new and improved version in American cities. Can it overcome stigma?

Courtesy of Museum of Sex,

Courtesy of Museum of Sex

Shadows Condom Tin

As detailed in the Museum of Sex exhibit Rubbers, condoms—made of bladders, animal membranes, sheaths, and salve-coated cloths—have been used as prophylactics for centuries. Young's Rubbers Corporation manufactured this condom tin in the 1940s.

Courtesy of Julian Murphy

"Safety Matches”

The condom shape has become iconic. Pop artist Julian Murphy has incorporated condoms into several of his pieces.

Courtesy of Graeme Mitchell

"Used Condom"

Used condoms have also found their way into many pieces of art, like this one by photographer Graeme Mitchell.

Museum of Sex Collection

Condom Dress

TLC's Left-Eye Lopez made accessorizing with condoms fashionable in the early 100s, when she wore won as an eye patch. Today, Adriana Bertini’s cocktail dress, modeled on a sixties-era Valentino dresses, is made from 1,200 hand-dyed condoms.

Museum of Sex Collection

Vintage Condom Machine

Ah, the good old days, when you could buy a cup of coffee, a slice of pie, a condom, and still get change back for a dollar.

Courtesy of the Michael Stich Organization

“Blow Job” Photographed by Oliver Lassen

As part of a 2007 German safe-sex ad campaign, photographer Oliver Lassen produced a controversial series of images equating unprotected sex with death. Germany is one of several countries to try the shock-and-awe approach to promoting safe sex.

Museum of Sex Collection

Pharmacy Condom Store Display

Long before the days of “family planning” aisles, pharmacies kept their condoms discreetly concealed. This wooden cabinet held Sheik brand condoms in 1930s New York pharmacy.

Courtesy of Julian Murphy

“Grater Protection”

Julian Murphy combines contraception and kitchenware for the sake of a pun.

Courtesy of Keith Haring Foundation

Safe Sex T-Shirt, 1987

Until his death from AIDS-related complications at age 31, gay New York artist Keith Haring became a prominent activist for condom use and safe sex.

Courtesy of the Catherine Clark Gallery

“Kanzashi Pond” by Masami Teraoka

The final panel in Masami Teraoka’s 2008 AIDS series depicts a Western man slowly loosening his grip on the giant condom being held up by his Japanese lover as he ogles a sickly blonde.

AP Photo

First Generation Female Condom, 1993

Made from polyurethane, which is less pliable than latex, the female condom could be uncomfortable and resulted in a less-than-intimate sexual experience. Users complained of a "crinkling" or "squeaking" noise—not to mention a tendency for the condom to slip out if not inserted properly.

Noah Seelam, AFP / Getty Images

Second Generation Female Condom, 2009

Approved by the FDA last year, the FC2 is made of nitrile, and the crinkling and squeaking have been nearly silenced. It costs 30 percent less than its predecessor.