The condom is the simplest barrier method of artificial contraception and the only reversible contraceptive so far developed which is used by men. A condom is a thin rubber sheath that is placed on the penis before penetration. When the man ejaculates, the sperm are held in a reservoir at the tip.
Condoms have the advantage that they are cheap and readily available. They are not completely foolproof because the rubber can tear or they can come off, but if they are used in accordance with instructions they are very effective. Used with a spermicide, the failure rate has been estimated as only 3%. Condoms have the further advantage that they not only protect the woman against becoming pregnant, but they may also protect both partners against some sexually transmitted diseases. Since the prevalence of the AIDS virus, anyone engaging in sex with a partner who is not long-term and well known to them should use a condom.
Some men complain that the rubber lessens the sensation (“like showering with a raincoat” is a common analogy), but modern ultra-thin rubbers reduce this disadvantage considerably and the risks of engaging in unprotected sex in this day and age make such objections foolish in the extreme. On the other hand, men who suffer from premature ejaculation may be helped by a thicker condom as it reduces sensation slightly.
Condoms are not new. In eighteenth century France, the renowned philanderer Casanova used a thin pig’s bladder as an early condom or “French letter”. Prior to this there were similar devices made from leather or gut, which were far less comfortable.
The condom is named after Lord Condom, the court doctor to England’s King Charles II who was a renown philanderer. He had requested his doctor to develop a way of protecting his royal member from syphilis. The eponymous doctor devised a closed sleeve of sheep intestine for the king.
As an historical curiosity, in the 1920s condoms were considered a danger to the wellbeing of a woman as it was considered necessary for a woman to absorb semen from her vagina on a regular basis to maintain good health.