Tuesday, March 6, 2007

For the curious amongst us



How on earth can I follow a post about mantitty?
In my quest for accuracy in all things erotically historical, I did a bit of research about the condom, which I thought I'd share with you lovely readers. Apparently, all my historicals are obsessed with the idea of fertility and contraception. I didn't notice this until one of my critique partners helpfully pointed it out. Thing is, she was right. Perhaps it's the result of being brought up as a Catholic and having four kids.

Anyway, let me share some fascinating details I found at the BBC h2g2 site, which is a bit like a mini Wikipedia, so potentially inaccurate (g), but bear with me! The ancient Roman men solved the problem of contraception by using goats bladders. The Egyptian used linen sheaths, the Chinese, oiled silk-all fairly predictable until we get to the Japanese- who used leather and tortoiseshell-ouch.

The earliest proof of animal gut condoms discovered in England was during excavations at Dudley Castle in the West Midlands where the garderobe (the loo) was known to have been filled in 1647. Now personally, this leads me back to Jane's sausages-how could they tell the difference? And if they could-do I really want to know the details?

Anyone brought up in the UK probably watched a children's show called 'Blue Peter' which was kind of a junior chat show, educational, sometimes funny and not to be missed. They were very keen on diy projects such as make your Mother an xmas gift using an old can, sticky back plastic and a tube of glue, kind of thing-but I digress. Here is my very own diy project for those of you willing to make a considerable effort.

How to make a sheep gut condom (1824)

Soak a sheep's intestine caeca in water for a number of hours, then turn inside out, and macerate them again in weak alkaline, changed every 12 hours. Scrape them carefully to remove the mucous membrane, leaving the peritoneal and muscular coats, and expose them to the vapour of burning brimstone. Then wash them in soap and water, inflate them, dry them and cut to a length of seven to eight inches. Finally, border the open end with a ribbon to tie round the base of the penis, and before use soak the condom in water to make it supple.

(See? it's easy when you know how!)


The two most famous London condom sellers in the mid nineteenth century were Mrs Phillips and Mrs Perkins, who produced competing pamphlets to promote their shops. Mrs Phillips also had a wholesale company on Half Moon Street off the Strand. For those who could not afford the services of Mrs Phillips and Mrs Perkins, Miss Jenny did a roaring trade in washed, second-hand condoms.

Oh Miss Jenny, how could you?

13 comments:

Robin L. Rotham said...

Second-hand condoms!?!? (I just woke Mr. Robin with my screeching laughter -- thanks, Kate.) I can't even think of anything to say to that.

Lenora Bell said...

Thanks for the history lesson! It's interesting that the condom shops were run by women. I'd like to read a biography about Mrs. Phillips or Mrs. Perkins--I'm imagining bawdy mid-Victorian versions of Emma Goldman.

Jane Lockwood said...

I love the idea of the ribbons. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "tie one on."

Celia May Hart said...

Way to go, Kate!

I wonder if the ribbons also had the effect of making the guy "last" longer. You know, like a cock ring? Presumably one had to tie it on so that it'd actually stay and not slip off during intercourse.

Hey, I bet if modern condom manufacturers boasted that it'd make you last and last better than Viagra, the AIDs epidemic in the Western world would shrink. (As I doubt very much advertising gets to those parts of the world where it rages unchecked)

Pam Rosenthal said...

Great post, Kate, and great comments, ladies. And Kate, where did you get the graphic? What period is it from?

Kate Pearce said...

Pam, I found the graphic on the Beaumonde del.iciou.us site links. The labeling was a little vague-it just says "date made-1801-1850, source Science Musueum NMSI"

Robin-apparently in portraits of Casanova, in the background there are images of condoms drying out, ready to be used again-but I haven't actually seen these!

Jane Lockwood said...

One thing you didn't mention, Kate, is that condoms weren't used as birth control but as prophylactics--quite honestly I don't see how they'd do either. Apparently Boswell used one for birth control only once and was deeply ashamed, because he--and his contemporaries--saw it as a sin. Flying in the face of nature, etc.

As far as I can remember from his London journal, Boswell's idea of birth control was to offer to support a child that might result.

Jane Lockwood said...

What would you call second-hand condoms? Retreads?

Kate Pearce said...

Jane, you're so right. Men used condoms to protect themselves from disease rather than contraception-and that's a whole 'nother topic.

I did think of an answer as to what used condoms are called but I decided it was too rude to post on this blog :)

Shelli Stevens said...

Okay now that's just some fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing!! Very cool :D

Ellen said...

Great post, Kate! I love to see folks handled daily, er, issues throughout history. Recycled condoms sound a bit icky, but at least they were trying. :)

Janine Ashbless said...

In the Tutankhamun exhibit in Cairo Museum there are, among the many grave-goods, some objects that really really looked to me like condoms. They were made of linen. Rather sweetly, they were labelled as "finger bandages"!

Thanks for confirming my wicked suspicions!

And now I have your blog to add to my regular list of visits. Oh dear. Is there a cure for blog-addiction?

Kate Pearce said...

Finger bandages? Wow those Egyptians must have had big...hands