The history of talking about condoms





The ACLU announced earlier this week that a California school district is being sued by parents and students over its abstinence-only sex education program. Among other affronts to the concept of comprehensive sex education, the program's textbooks never once mention condoms -- not even in the chapters on protecting oneself from STIs and unintended pregnancy. If the program is forced to introduce contraception into their literature, they can look to a long, awkward history of trying to figure out how to do it.

Manufacturers, health officials, and the public have found numerous ways to talk about contraception without really having to talk about it, as illustrated by a recent post from Collector's Weekly on the history of the condom in the U.S. Among the "creative relabeling" methods, condoms were marketed as "sheaths, skins, shields, capotes, and 'rubber goods' for the 'gents.'" Their packaging found artistic ways to evoke eroticism without specifically saying anything about sex:

Subtle hints at the tawdry or dangerous worked well for condoms, with brands like Devil Skin, Shadows, and Salome hitting the shelves in the '20s and '30s. One popular label, Merry Widows, was named after a long-standing slang term for condoms that implied a certain illicit pleasure.

Sarah Forbes describes early condom tins as very ornate, hinting at a kind of decadence as well as "masculinity, strength, and endurance." Many companies emphasized testosterone-fueled virility with names like Spartans, Buffalos, Stags, Pirates, Trojans, Romeos, or Knights. Other brands evoked an exotic, Far Eastern world of harems and belly-dancers that automatically triggered sex in many adult minds....




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