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: Sciencemuseum.org

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: mirror.uk

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: sexinfo.soc.ucsb.edu/article/history-condom

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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The Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, Still There in Chicago!

posted by Madame Bubby

Lucky Horseshoe exterior

Yes, it is still there. I had to ask, especially now that that the area around it is gentrified and homogenized in so many ways since the last time I was there, early 1990s.

Why was I there? The Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, known to its regulars as the “Shoe,” is a gay bar yes, but one that features dancers. Not strippers (no nudity), and they usually are already stripped down to something skimpy that barely covers up the cock.
 

Lucky Horseshoe dancer in jockstrap

Jason Heidemann, a while ago, wrote a piece in the Chicago Reader describing his experiences in detail, and he also makes the point that the place actually seems to be evoke a feeling of “shame-based resistance” for many gay guys. Like, oops, why are you there? What's really going on with you? Or even, in an online exchange, a LOL.

It's an exotic dance club, and I am thinking perhaps there could be a couple underlying cultural stigmas. First, the whole go-go girl men's club business that caters to heterosexual men contains some obvious structurally exploitative/misognynistic dynamics. Whether this dynamic strictly applies to what goes on gay male strip clubs is open to question, and I also think it ties closely into the stigmas associated with sex workers in general.

Secondly, in the gay community itself, there's a stereotype that the types of customers the place attracts tend to be “dirty old men” desperate for copping a feel on a young, lithe body. Heidemann makes the point that the place for many couples serves “as a compromise between one partner who wants monogamy and the other who has an insatiable libido.”

That dynamic reminds of me of my experiences there in the early 90s. I was involved with the LGBTQ Catholic group, Dignity, and I sang tenor in its amateur choir. After church, the choir director, the priest, one religious brother who sang in the choir, and whoever else wanted to tag along, hit the Shoe. (In fact, we were at the Shoe when the Bulls won their famous “threepeat” game!)

It turns out, that Sunday night at the Shoe was called “priests' night out.” One could say that in many cases, sticking dollar bills in the lush baskets of the dancers was a way of not literally violating a promise of celibacy or a vow of chastity. The choir director I think just liked the dancers, a lot, and I also think, because he was partnered, he would hang out there to “blow off steam.” (I'm not sure if he ever hooked up with one of the dancers, but I vaguely remember hearing he did invite one over to his house.)

I must admit, most of the dancers were too thin, smooth, and “twinkish” for my taste, but one night, an anomaly. A particularly beefy muscle guy wearing heavy boots appeared, and I was smitten. I not only got to touch his basket, but we even made out a bit. We had one date. He worked in sales at Marshall Fields full time, days. In real life gear he looked much less imposing. Too “nice” for me, alas.

And I did hook up with a real hot number, beard, blue collar, cowboy boots, there one night, an out of town guy on a conference. A weekend romance ensued. I looked him up on the internet. He is still working at the same job he did in the 1990s. He looks older and grayer. It happens to everyone, even the dancers.

Overall, I'm glad the place is still there, and given its longevity, I gather it has probably adapted to the bachelorette party culture, which has created some controversy lately in gay male bars. In fact, given the vicissitudes of social and cultural change, it's perhaps an even more unique space that still keeps the dancers dancing and a diverse array of customers coming/cumming.
 

Lucky Horseshoe dancer
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