Being utilised by the male sex, the role of the condom (from the Latin condus, a receptacle) as a contraceptive was very much a secondary concern. James Boswell, a firm supporter of the condom, referred to the device as "armour". However, Lord Hervey, an aristocratic purveyor of gentlemen's perquisites, told a friend in 1726 that he was sending him "a dozen preservatives from Claps and impediments to procreation". Eulogised by the saucy poet, John Gay, the condom was a vital tool for the libidinous librarian Giovanni Casanova. This great lover used a model made of sheep-gut tied at the business end with pink ribbon.
Luxury condoms made of animal skin continued to be sold in continental Europe until well into this century. Birth-control pioneers advised French housewives how they could make baudruches from intestines bought at butchers. In 19th-century Japan, the preference was for a device called kabutogata which was somehow fashioned from tortoiseshell, or appropriately enough, horn. The Japanese love of the "johnny" continues unabated and the country is currently responsible for a quarter of world sales.
The condom as we know it appeared following the invention of vulcanised rubber by Goodyear and Hancock in 1843. Crepe rubber came to be replaced by the far more comfortable liquid latex in the Thirties. Polyurethane condoms, claimed to be stronger and offering greater sensitivity to the wearer, were a more recent introduction, in the mid-Nineties.
Novelty items aimed primarily at the youth market have been another recent innovation. As well as a wide variety of colours and flavours, unlikely shapes include a Christmas tree, a jellyfish, a Santa Claus, a cow, a motorcycle and a chimney sweep.
Did you know...
n After leaving the Small Faces, the late Steve Marriott led a band called Packet of Three.
n During the war, Winston Churchill agreed to supply condoms to Soviet troops with the proviso that each box should be stamped with the words "EXTRA SMALL".
n The film-makers who inflated hundreds of condoms by mouth for the TV adaptation of Porterhouse Blue forgot to order supplies without a spermicidal coating.