Condoms Before the Days They Were Rubbers!

posted by Madame Bubby

When I was in sixth grade (I didn’t go to a middle school or a junior high), the tougher boys were joking about rubbers. I did not make the connection to condoms until high school, climaxing in the time when, believe it or not, my dad gave me one to put in my wallet. He thought I needed one because I was hanging out with some girls (little did he or, most significantly, I know I was their gay friend, and one of the girls, nicknamed “Inch," was a lesbian).

I digress. Condoms weren’t always rubber. Before the invention of vulcanized rubber in the 19th century, condoms were made usually of some kind of linen smeared with chemicals or, ew, animal tissue or bladder. What’s interesting is that since ancient times they were used as both a means of birth control and a protection against STDs. (Ironically, usually birth control and/or abortion was the province of the woman, who was blamed for issues is in this area, even though, by the Middle Ages, the established view was that the woman was merely the physical receptacle of the life-giving, soul-containing male sperm.)

Some interesting facts about pre and early modern condoms and condom usage:

There’s a legend that the King Minos of Crete, subject to so many curses, used a goat’s bladder as a female condom to protect his partners because he suffered from a strange affliction; his semen was filled with snakes and scorpions.

Those short loincloths Greek and Roman guys wore (mostly those of the slave and laborer class), that in the sword and sandal movies showed off hot, muscular legs, often consisted of little more than a covering for the penis. If someone in a higher class wore one of these “lower class” outfits, some have speculated they may have served as form of condom.

Ancient Greek man in short loincloth
Ancient Greek man in short loincloth, Source: Pinterest

Sexual norms changed during the Middle Ages with the rise of Christian theocracies, and the emphasis on sex and procreation tended to put condoms under the radar, so to speak, and we also lost some knowledge of their substance and use during the ancient world. Some writings by Muslims and Jews, who during this period in some areas comprised the majority of physicians, mentioned soaking a cloth in onion juice or other perceived spermicides.

The syphilis outbreak that began among French troops in 1494 prompted an Italian guy named Gabriele Falloppio (from whence we get the name fallopian tube) to pretty much invent the first item we now can define as a condom. He invented a linen sheath sized to cover the glans of the penis, tied to it with a little ribbon, smeared with spermicide. He claimed to have saved the lives of 1100 sailors with the device. Sailors. And with that word, one I think can pretty much imply that these guys weren’t always going after the clichéd wenches.

Gabriele Falloppio
Gabriele Falloppio, Source:

During the Renaissance, condoms were also made of animal intestines or bladders. By the 18th century, they were available in all shapes and sizes; one could buy them especially at the ubiquitous barbershops, which weren’t just places for haircuts. The barbers performed various surgeries, dental work, and especially bloodletting.

Retro Durex condom
Condom made of animal intestine, Source:

During the above periods, the upper, and later the burgeoning middle classes, were the ones who used condoms. The lower classes couldn’t afford them, and they also lacked education on STDs.

Now the omnipresent and mostly all-powerful Catholic Church during this time wasn’t exactly keen on the use of condoms as birth control, of course, but it was yet to make its views on the subject official in the Pope’s encyclical Humanae Vitae with the advent of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

And in the early 19th century, after the invention of the rubber condom which increased usage and convenience considerably, the notorious Comstock Act pretty much made life miserable for anyone who wanted to use any form of contraceptive, much less educate oneself on the issue.

Retro Durex condom
Retro Durex condom, Source:

The deadly AIDS epidemic of course made the condom a matter of life and death, with the holy haters decrying what condoms had always been used for, saving lives, in favor of reviving the scapegoating of anyone with STDs.

By the way: there was no “Earl of Condom.” The etymology of the word is indeed unknown!

Source: mostly Wikipedia’s article on the History of Condoms, combined with some of my own knowledge of gender/sexuality history

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Alexander the Gay

Alexander the Gay

“326 BCE – Gay/bisexual military leader Alexander the Great completes conquest of most of the then known Western world, converting millions of people to Hellenistic culture and launching the Hellenistic Age.”

I found this on a gay timeline someone sent me, and it caused me to wonder.

No doubt Alexander managed to conquer most of the known world in record time (and he couldn't have done it if he didn't exert a special charisma over his male army), and he apparently did enjoy a close relationship with his friend, general, and bodyguard Hephaisteon.

Apparently his grief when Hephaisteon died was boundless, and the writer Aelion compared it to the grief of Achilles upon the death of Patroclus (another male couple whose relationship has been interpreted as sexual).


But, here's the rub. Gay sex or no gay sex, Alexander married twice: Roxana , daughter of the Bactrian nobleman Oxyartes, out of love; and Stateira II, a Persian princess  and daughter of Darius III of Persia, for political reasons. 

He apparently produced two sons, Alexander IV of Macedon of Roxana and, possibly, Heracles of Macedon from his mistress Barsine. He lost another child when Roxana miscarried at Babylon.

He also kept a harem, Persian-style, perhaps more for show. He was more concerned with consolidating his newly vast power base. But it was part of the culture, a culture where a conqueror was entitled to the women previously owned by the conquered king.

The parallel with Achilles exists, even though Achilles dates from a much earlier period. Achilles wanted Briseis, a captured woman, as concubine. He couldn't have her, because she was the pick of Achilles' superior, the general Agamemnon. Achilles, insulted by this affront to his status (and he may have actually fallen in love with Briseis, but that's unclear), decided to sit out the war sulking in his tent (with his “friend” Patroclus). Yet, par for the course, women were deemed property, essentially child-producing livestock.

It's interesting that in the case of Alexander, there is mention of a love relationship with one of his wives. Why? It seems that the deeper emotional (not necessarily sexual) relationships in Greek culture in the period before Alexander were male on male, especially in both Athens, where married women were confined to the home (at least in aristocratic circles), and Sparta, where the sexes were rigidly kept separate because of its birth to death military culture. Sanctioned female-male relationships in both cultures were directed toward one end: procreation.

b2ap3_thumbnail_olympiasandzeus.jpgAnd to add a possibly Freudian twist to Alexander's relationships with both men and women, his mother, the formidable Olympias, insisted her son was the son of the king of the gods, Zeus, not her husband. Olympias later ordered Eurydice and her child by Philip II to be murdered, in order to secure Alexander's position as king of Macedonia.  She did not get along with her husband, Philip of Macedon, Alexander's father, and supposedly had him murdered. That is one Greek woman who managed to wield power, but only by denying that her connection to it was via a man.

Alexander may not have been totally gay in the sense we know it (perhaps more bisexual), but he seemed to understand the fraught relationship between sexuality and power, and in his case, his intense emotional reaction to the death of his beloved Hephaisteon may have contributed to his early death.


You can't conquer the world like Alexander did if you are guided not only what makes you hard, but the feelings that produce and enhance that sensation.


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Gay, "Greek" Olympics


Whenever the summer Olympics, in fact, any type of major sporting event occurs, someone always asks if I am watching.


I always say no (I'm probably one of the few people in the world who is not at all interested in competitive sports (even the Gay Games); in fact, I used to be known as the "I hate sports guy"), but the reasons one friend gave me for watching it were typically gay.


He especially enjoys synchronized diving, especially the hot guys lined up in skimpy swimming trunks. And if one looks closely, one does notice their … bulges. 


Tom Daley


Of course, the Olympics is a major turn-on for gay men, but you should also remember that the Greeks who originated the games approved of homosexuality (and they played the games naked).


And don't forget all those statues of muscular gods like Apollo and Hercules. 

Much later, after millennia of social repression, gays in the 1950s started to gingerly make their presence known through homoerotic muscle magazines like Grecian Guild Pictorial. 


The Amazing Colossal Latino


"I seek a sound mind in a sound body," was the Grecian Guild Pictorial's credo or mission statement. The word "Grecian," however, could easily be read as an underground code for "gay." Grecian became a coded word for gay during the time period of this magazine (1950's-1960's): those guys who like the male body, the "body beautiful," resembling the "Grecian ideal in its muscularity, symmetry, and grace." The association with the more openly homoerotic and bisexual culture of ancient Greece (and not just the physical aspects, but the emphasis on art and health as well as physical strength) was intentional. 

In fact, several issues of Grecian Guild in late 1960 and early 1961 devoted contained articles specifically on the history and culture of the Olympics.


 Perhaps it's time for me to explore my Grecian identity. I'll start with those athletic bulges.   







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