Feature

See ya, latex: Reinventing the condom

New Scientist

January 16, 2013

If I didn’t already know what they were, I would have difficulty identifying the objects in front of me. There are about 20, mounted on a rack of vertical wooden pegs and illuminated into ghostly shadows by a light box beneath. They resemble elaborate sculptures in translucent resin. One looks like a thin, hollow lemon juicer; others are like accordions or abstract spaceships.

Designers Danny Resnic and Ray Chavez joke that they used to keep these racks in the window since passers-by had no chance of guessing what they were. And it’s true; they share only the most rudimentary qualities with what most people think of when they think of a condom.

Despite being available in various colours, flavours and textures, modern condoms all follow a basic design that has been with us for more than 150 years: a rubber tube with one end sealed up. But perhaps not for much longer.

The first reference to condoms in the medical literature was by Gabriele Falloppio, a 16th-century Italian anatomist who is best known for describing the fallopian tube. In a posthumously published article in 1564 he claimed to have invented a linen sheath that could prevent syphilis, which he got 1100 men to try out. Linen was eventually supplanted by various animal skins, intestines and bladders. Casanova reportedly used, but did not like, them.

The invention of vulcanisation by Charles Goodyear in 1844 made rubber…

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