by Freddy Zylstra
A soldier stands in the damp hallway of Dudley Castle, the mist creeping in through the cracks in the cold stone wall. The year is 1642. He is there to meet a chambermaid working for 6th Baroness Dudley Frances Sutton. When the young woman arrives, hiding in the shadows to avoid discovery, they quickly embrace. The soldier removes a tube from his uniform which has been made from a sheep bladder. After placing it on his penis, the two have sex quickly before the chambermaid kisses him and scurries back to her station. Smiling, the soldier removes the bladder and discards it in the castle cesspit before returning to guard the castle.
The oldest condoms ever excavated were from a cesspit located at Dudley castle, thought to have been used by the soldiers who were protecting the castle from being overtaken by Cromwell’s army in 1642. It was around that time the English Civil War began; Dudley Castle was considered a stronghold.
But those sheep bladder condoms were by no means the first. Paintings in the Grotte des Combarelles, a cave in Dordogne, France, depict what appear to be condoms on some of the men. These paintings date back around 15,000 years. Historians think that they had made the connection between disease and ‘unprotected’ sex, and began fashioning penis sheaths as a means of prevention.
They weren’t always made from relatively comfortable material, either. In 16th century Italy, ‘sheaths’ made from linen were used as condoms. The material was soaked in a chemical – thought to kill disease – and then allowed to dry. These maintained popularity for some time, although it was said some men complained about their comfort. (There are no anecdotes about how women felt about these linen condoms, but we can guess they were a bit like sandpaper) Later in the Renaissance period, the use of animal intestine or bladder to make condoms became more popular. Just some of the other materials tried over the centuries were leather, oiled silk paper, tortoiseshell and horn.
In 1494 Syphilis was rampant, and some physicians were very outspoken about the need for protection. The first known reference to condoms and the prevention of pregnancy wasn’t until 1605.
Today’s condoms are mass-produced from a variety of materials including latex, polyurethane, lambskin, or non-latex natural rubber. They are still the best line of defense against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) if used correctly.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), STI’s can be significantly reduced if condoms are used consistently and correctly. STI’s are transmitted via two primary exposures:
- Through infected secretions from the vagina or urethra (men and women) which come into contact with mucosal surfaces (urethra, vagina, cervix, anus or even oral mucosa) The following diseases are primarily transmitted in this manner:
- HIV / AIDS
Because condoms provide an impermeable barrier between secreting surfaces, they are an excellent choice in prevention of the above diseases.
- Contact with infected skin or mucosa. The diseases transmitted in this way are:
- Genital Herpes
- HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)
Condoms are also highly effective in preventing disease transmitted via skin contact, though cannot prevent transmission in areas that aren’t covered by the condom.
Are all condoms created equal? In order to give yourself the best protection, here’s what to look for on the label:
- Latex or polyurethane, including the female condom
- Disease prevention claim on package label
Chlamydia is by far the most prevalent STI in Nevada County, with almost 10 times the number of cases compared to Gonorrhea. It’s preventable.
There’s no excuse for not using condoms.
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Need help learning the safest method of using a condom? (You’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know.) The Clinic! , located at 140 Richardson St., Grass Valley, offers friendly, non-judgmental instruction on the proper use of condoms, prevention of STI’s, and many other aspects of reproductive health.
The soldier meeting his lover in Dudley Castle back in 1642 valued his health enough to wear a condom. Today, condoms are more comfortable and even better at preventing disease. So, no more excuses. Love your body and enjoy it in good health.