The Victorian Condom

A very short book excerpt

A condom and manual from 1813 (Wikipedia Commons)

Prior to the 1820s, condoms enjoyed a long history, not so much as contraceptive devices, but as a means to prevent the transmission of disease. The late 18th century saw the establishment of two shops in London devoted entirely to the sale of condoms. Made out of sheep guts, these condoms were carefully soaked for a couple of hours before use, to make them pliable and easy to put on. A ribbon was tied around the base to fasten them securely, and once they had been used, they were carefully washed out, allowed to dry, and stored in a small box until they were wanted again. Such sheaths were convenient for the wealthy man who had an established mistress or attended a regular brothel and whose visits could be planned and leisurely. More-casual encounters rarely benefited from the protection of a condom.

I have attempted to make such condoms, but the handwork required is remarkably precise and complex. The sheep gut has to be thoroughly cleaned, soaked in an alkali solution, and stripped of all its adjoining tissue, to leave only the gut wall. Such washing needs to be administered with care if the sheath is not to have holes in it. The cleansed gut is then cut into lengths and put over a wooden former, where a ribbon is rolled into one end and the other end firmly tied with a length of thread. When mostly dry, the condom is removed from the former and allowed to dry completely before being boxed up.

—Adapted from How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life, by Ruth Goodman, published in October by Liveright