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Aug 8, 2011

Medieval Mondays: The oldest condom in the world

This picture shows the oldest condom in the world. It dates to 1640 and was found in Lund, Sweden. It's made of pig intestine. Before latex, condoms were often made of sheepskin or intestine. These natural condoms survived into the latex age because some people are allergic to latex, but they've all but died out since they don't protect against HIV.

This condom was reusable and came with an owner's manual written in Latin. The instructions recommend washing the condom in warm milk to stop from catching a disease. This is an interesting detail because it shows the manufacturer realized sheepskin condoms weren't very good at stopping sexually transmitted diseases. Apparently in the 17th century condoms were only seen as a way to avoid pregnancy.

By 1640 condoms had been around for some time. They may have been used in the ancient world, and they were certainly in use in the 16th century. In 1564, Gabriello Fallopio wrote a treatise on syphilis and advocated using a linen condom of his own design to prevent the spread of the disease. He claims to have run a clinical test of 1100 men who used his condom and didn't catch syphilis. Considering that no condom is 100% proof against STDs, his test subjects were pretty lucky, or made good choices in their sexual partners.

In my fantasy novel Roots Run Deep, the heroine, Kip Itxaron, uses a concoction of herbs to keep from getting pregnant. This was common in ancient times. There was a plant related to Queen Anne's Lace that when ingested worked as a relatively safe and effective abortificant. The Greeks and Romans used so much of it, however, that they made the plant go extinct!

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