The jimmy hat, wrapper, rubber, wetsuit, willie warmer, or condom, as it's more prosaically known, has aided many coital couples throughout history. In ancient China, men applied oiled silk paper. The Japanese turned to tortoiseshell sheaths. Europeans commonly used fish bladders or lamb intestines, washed, smoked, and steeped in lye. Although the oldest archaeological evidence of condom use dates to the seventeenth century--discarded remains discovered in a castle latrine outside Birmingham, England--Greek mythology contains the earliest condom reference. King Minos of Crete, cursed with semen containing poisonous snakes, scorpions, and woodlice, could not mate without causing injury. In order to eject the poisons, Minos fornicated with a lady of his kingdom who inserted a female condom made from a goat's bladder.
Condoms are now available in a wide assortment of sizes, colors, and flavors. An estimated 15 billion individual packets are produced each year. Widely considered a relatively effective and affordable device for birth control and controlling sexually transmitted infections, condoms are increasingly in demand as young populations across the developing world reach sexual maturity. The United Nations expects 18 billion condoms will be needed in 2015 for low-and middle-income countries alone.
Closing the Loop
Some condom producers are beginning to target ''green'' markets. For condom users in search of a biodegradable option, traditional lambskin varieties are still widely available, though infections are more likely given bacteria's ability to penetrate lambskin pores. For those looking for organic protection, Brazil's first national condom factory, opened in 2008, sources latex directly from rubber trees of the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve in Acre.
Condoms are also being used to promote greater awareness about the connections between sex, population growth, and environmental degradation. The Tucson, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity distributed 100,000 free condoms for Valentine's Day this year. Called Endangered Species Condoms, the packaging explains that overpopulation threatens to kill off tens of thousands of plants and animals. Decorating the boxes is artwork depicting threatened wildlife and slogans such as "Wrap with care, save the polar bear" or "Cover your tweedle, save the burying beetle."
Production and Impact