Contraception Then and Now

When it comes to contraception, one thing is for sure: We’ve come a long way! And while the future might have even better things in store, like reversible male birth control, superior condoms, or remote-controlled implants, a look into the past reveals that modern contraceptors have a bevy of fantastic options to choose from. Unlike couples who had to forgo contraception or obtain birth control from the black market, nowadays Americans wishing to prevent or postpone pregnancy can select from a variety of legal, effective, and increasingly accessible family-planning methods.


While the history of birth control is fascinating, today’s contraception is the very best.


Let’s look at some old-fashioned birth-control methods and see how they stack up to their modern-day counterparts.

Linen and Guts vs. Latex and Polyurethane Condoms

Most people think of female condoms as new inventions, but the first condom recorded in history was made out of a goat’s bladder and inserted into the vagina — way back in 3000 BC. Ancient civilizations, from the Romans to the Egyptians to the Japanese, made penile sheaths and caps with a variety of materials, including linen, leather, lubricated silk paper, intestines, and tortoise shells. Linen and intestines remained popular through the Renaissance era.

A condom, with a user manual, from 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

A condom, with user manual, 1813. Photo: Matthias Kabel

Charles Goodyear might be most famous for tires, but his discoveries in vulcanizing rubber also led to the development of rubber condoms in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the Comstock Act of 1873 outlawed the manufacture and sale of contraception, and condoms were driven into a shadow economy. In the 1880s, New Yorkers might have been lucky to find black-market condoms made from surplus animal intestines, which were manufactured by Julius Schmid, a German immigrant who otherwise specialized in sausage casings — before his business was shut down by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Condoms weren’t legal in the United States until the Crane ruling of 1918, just in time for the 1920 invention of latex, a form of rubber that was much stronger and more elastic — and with a shelf life of five years vs. rubber’s three months. By the 1920s, Schmid was once again on top of the condom game, peddling brands like Sheik, Ramses, and Sphinx.

Condoms made out of intestines are still on the market, sold as lambskin or “natural” condoms. However, they are not recommended for STD protection: Just as intestines need to allow nutrients to enter the body from digesting food, so too are viruses able to pass through condoms made from intestines. (Sperm, on the other hand, are thought to be too big.) These days, latex is the gold-standard material for condoms, while polyurethane can be used by people with latex allergies. Condoms constructed with these modern materials protect users from unintended pregnancy as well as many sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV and chlamydia. Continue reading

Ten Things Your Mother Never Told You About Condoms

holding condomThere are so many claims made about condoms these days that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Perhaps you first heard some of these things from your mother, who sat you on her lap one day and calmly demonstrated proper use, with guidelines for when appropriate. Yeah, right. She probably would have spanked you for even mentioning the word. As for your dad, get real.

Like most of us, you probably first heard about condoms in the locker room or from your friends. Or you read something in a magazine or on social media. As a result, your poor head is filled with various myths, rumors, half-truths, and bad jokes, interspersed with a few actual facts. So, herewith are 10 more half-truths or untruths to add to your noggin.

1 Condoms have a high failure rate. According to one website, “18 couples out of 100 who say they use condoms as their primary contraception method will experience an unintended pregnancy in the first 12 months.” Of course, this includes folks out of this same 100 couples who happened not to be using a condom at the time they got pregnant (or during the whole time) — which greatly reduces a condom’s effectiveness — as well as those who were not using the condoms correctly when they got pregnant. (By the way, though this informative website refers to condomology as “the study of condoms,” starting a sentence with “condomologically speaking” is probably not a good idea.) The failure rate decreases substantially, however, when condoms are properly used: “If used correctly every time you have sex, male condoms are 98% effective. This means that two out of 100 women using male condoms as contraception will become pregnant in one year.” Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Using Condom Sense — Safe and Sexy!

Photo: somethingstartedcrazy via Flickr

Photo: Flickr/ somethingstartedcrazy

Condoms. You know you should use them to protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, but somehow the thought of possibly reducing pleasure for that protection may stop a lot of people from using condoms as often as they should.

Originally made from animal skins or intestines, condoms have been used for centuries. Not much about them has changed for hundreds of years. The old one-size-rubber-fits-all mentality, however, is a thing of the past. The sheer variety of new condoms on the market can take your sexual enjoyment to a new level, while still keeping you protected.


Condoms can be flavored, colored, or textured. They can glow in the dark or vibrate, or be vegan or custom fitted. Above all, they protect against STDs and pregnancies.


Condoms now come in an assortment of styles, sizes, flavors, colors, and textures. They can be lubricated or non-lubricated and even made to custom fit. Whatever your pleasure, there is probably a condom for you and your partner that will protect your health and enhance your experience. What to choose? Let’s look at some of the options available today.

Most condoms are made of latex. These are probably the least expensive and they also protect really well against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and pregnancy. For those with an allergy to latex, there are polyurethane or polyisoprene condoms.  Continue reading

Celebrating Valentine’s Day – The Safe Way

The following guest post comes to us via Morganne Rosenhaus, community engagement coordinator for Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Valentine’s Day might be filled with red roses, chocolate hearts, and candlelight dinners, but there is one thing this celebration of love often forgets to include … the mention of safe sex!

It is no coincidence that Valentine’s Day and National Condom Awareness Week happen around the same time each year. In fact, it’s planned … no pun intended!

According to a statistic from Lifestyles Condoms (released last year), there are, on average, 87 condoms used every second during Valentine’s Day. That’s more than 125,000 condoms on Valentine’s Day alone.

So the question isn’t, Are people having sex on Valentine’s Day? The question is, Are people having safe and healthy sex on Valentine’s Day?

As a trusted health care provider, Planned Parenthood Arizona knows firsthand the important role education plays in helping people make healthy decisions when it comes to sex. So here is your safe sex “lesson” for Valentine’s Day:

The first priority for being sexually healthy is using protection. Condoms are a popular method of contraception and can be anywhere from 82 to 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. And, when used correctly, condoms also offer added protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as HIV, chlamydia, HPV, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

But, before getting too carried away with all the benefits of condoms, let’s take a moment and talk about “correct condom use,” because if you aren’t using the condom correctly, you aren’t getting all of its benefits. Continue reading

6 Myths About HPV

This is what HPV might look like if you were shrunk down to the size of a virus. Image: University of Arizona

When I was a high school student in the 1990s, human papillomavirus (HPV) didn’t get a lot of screen time in our sex education classes. They slapped a few scary pictures of genital warts on the overhead projector and called it a day, neither mentioning that other strains of HPV could cause cancer, nor elucidating the connection between the virus and Pap testing.

Since the introduction of the HPV vaccine, awareness of the virus has skyrocketed — but with that increased awareness has come a flurry of myths and misinformation.

1 Myth: Condoms are useless in protecting against HPV.
Fact: The consistent use of condoms decreases the risk for HPV transmission.

Many people claim that condoms are worthless protection against HPV, reasoning that because the virus lurks in skin cells and condoms don’t cover the entire genital region, HPV transmission can still result from skin-to-skin contact. There is a kernel of truth here, but it is an exaggeration that condoms are useless. Although latex condoms don’t necessarily cover the entire affected area, using them consistently and correctly lowers the risk of contracting HPV. While latex condoms are even more effective in protecting against fluid-borne sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV and chlamydia, they can still reduce the spread of HPV.

One study found that over an eight-month period, females whose male partners used condoms each and every time were 70 percent less likely to acquire HPV than were females whose partners used condoms only 5 percent of the time. This is hardly a case against condoms!

Other studies have shown that condom use can promote the regression of both cervical-cell abnormalities and penile lesions, as well as increase the speed at which HPV is cleared by the immune system. Put in plainer English, even if you’re already infected with a cancer-causing strain of HPV, using condoms can decrease your chances of developing cervical or penile cancer.

2 Myth: If you abstain from sex until marriage, you don’t have to worry about STDs, including HPV.
Fact: Even if you only have had one sexual partner, you can still acquire an STD. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Female Condoms, Another Contraceptive Choice

Are you or your partner allergic to latex? Does your male partner not like to use condoms, or does he want to try something that may feel less restrictive? Would you like to decrease the risk of skin-to-skin transmission of viruses, such as those that cause genital warts or herpes? Do you feel that putting on condoms distracts from the spontaneity of sex? You might be interested in learning about female condoms.


September 12 is Global Female Condom Day.


The female condom, available as the brand name FC2, is a barrier contraceptive that was developed with the dual purpose of allowing women contraceptive control and providing  protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

You do not need a prescription or to see a health care provider to get the FC2 — it’s available for sale just like male condoms.

As with other contraceptive methods, it is not foolproof, but when used properly and consistently it is 79 to 95 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Also, its shape and design allows less skin-to-skin contact where diseases may spread.

The first female condoms were made of polyurethane. The new FC2 is now made of a thin, flexible nitrile sheath with an open ring at one end that covers the outside of the genital area and a smaller closed ring on the end that is inserted in the vagina. Inside the sheath is a silicone lubricant. Because the condom is not latex, it can also be used with any kind of additional lubricant and by those allergic to latex. Continue reading

Allergic to Latex? You Can Still Have Safer Sex

Condoms offer fantastic protection against STDs and reduce pregnancy risk. Most are made from latex, to which some people are allergic.

Latex condoms are a well-rounded form of birth control: Not only are they great for preventing pregnancy, but they reduce the risk of passing on or receiving a sexually transmitted disease (STD). When used consistently and correctly, they offer fantastic protection. Although condoms have been around for centuries, their modern construction from latex is a vast improvement over the silk and viscera of yore. A product of the industrial age, they are manufactured by dipping a porcelain mold into natural rubber latex, a material that originates from a tree.


Latex is tops, but other options include polyisoprene and polyurethane. Beware: Lambskin isn’t effective STD protection.


Because of latex’s many advantages, the majority of condoms are manufactured from this material. However, up to 6 percent of the population is allergic to latex. There is a range of symptoms associated with latex allergies. Most people with latex allergies experience only a localized reaction on the vulva or penis (contact dermatitis); systemic reactions (like asthma or anaphylaxis) are rare. Allergy tests can be performed on people who suspect they might be sensitive to latex.

Luckily, even if you have a latex allergy you can still find condoms to facilitate your safer-sex experiences, including condoms made out of polyurethane and polyisoprene. Not all condoms protect against pregnancy or STDs, so read the label carefully. In the United States, if the packaging doesn’t explicitly state that the condoms are made to prevent disease, they haven’t been approved by the FDA for that purpose. Continue reading