A Sparse History of Male Contraception

Aaron Hamlin
4 min readJan 25, 2015

History has not been kind to male contraception. Take the two options available to men and compare them to the stack of contraceptive options available to women. Big difference.

Let’s start this short journey with the condom. We can date the condom back to Egypt before 1200 B.C.E (1). Technically, however, there’s no evidence Egyptians were actually using the condom for contraception. It was more for social status and protection from the elements. Think of it as a fancy penis covering that also happened to keep the sand away.

But if we want to talk about the first time the condom was used for contraception, we’d have to look to the Italian anatomist, Gabriello Fallopio (1)(2)(3). If his last name sounds a lot like a piece of women’s anatomy, it’s no coincidence. He also discovered the fallopian tubes.

Fallopio constructed the condom from linen cloth. He sewed it together so that it covered just the head of the penis. He also attached a ribbon which was used to tie the cloth tight around the shaft of the penis. Additionally, he soaked the condoms in a chemical solution which, as serendipity would have it, acted as a spermicide.

Fallopio didn’t realize (or didn’t admit) that his condom also prevented pregnancy. He mainly intended it as a way of preventing sexually transmitted diseases, particularly syphilis. But others caught on to the condom’s contraceptive potential, including the Jesuit Brother Tomas Sanchez; Sanchez was not a fan. He referred to using the condom as a “mortal sin against nature.”

Unfortunately, Fallopio wasn’t around to be interviewed on his work with the condom. He described the condom in a treatise he wrote on syphilis, published two years after his death in 1564.

Condoms have since seen a few upgrades. In the early 1700’s condoms made of animal intestines spread throughout Europe (4). In 1858 rubber took condoms to the next level (4). Then, in 1920, latex was introduced (1). Speed forward to 1994 and you have the introduction of polyurethane (2). While there appear to be new condom developments on the horizon, we’ll have to wait a bit.

And then there’s the vasectomy, which is a permanent method. Vasectomies can sometimes be reversed using expensive micro-surgical techniques, but the success of reversal surgery is only about 50%. For the vasectomy, we can thank Dr. Albert Oschner, who performed the procedure in 1897 (5)(6). He performed the vasectomy on two “habitual criminals.” He saw this as a more humane alternative to castration. Later, in 1974, doctors in China developed a “no-scalpel” version of the vasectomy. This procedure has since become the preferred approach (7)(8).

If you want to make sure you count absolutely every male contraceptive, then technically there’s withdrawal as well. That’s number three if you’re counting along. Among the reversible options, neither condoms nor withdrawal have a typical-use annual pregnancy rate of less than 1 in 6 — some bad odds (7).

Conversely, there are some dozen plus options for female contraception, more if you count all the variations. This isn’t to say that women shouldn’t have as many options as they do. Really, the more options the better. But it’s a mistake to ignore men, whom — lest we forget — also play a major role in the pregnancy equation. And we know from research that at least half of men are ready for a new male contraceptive right now (9).

We can’t rewrite history. Our state of affairs is what it is. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. We highlight five very promising methods on our site: Vasalgel, Eppin, JQ1, the “clean sheets pill”, and Gendarussa. Do you want a future that includes male contraceptive options? Add your voice and let others know that we need to prioritize male contraception. Help make male contraceptive history.

— — — — — — — — -

Infographic by Bianna Cruz.


[1] Collier, Aine. The Humble Little Condom: A History. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007. Print.

[2] Mindel, Adrian. Condoms. London: BMJ, 2000. Print.

[3] Youssef, H. “The history of the condom.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 86.4 (1993): 226.

[4] Tone, Andrea. Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001. Print.

[5] Ochsner, A.J. “Surgical treatment of habitual criminals.” JAMA 1899;XXXII(16):867–868.

[6] “The History of Vasectomy.”The History of Vasectomy. Web. 07 Sept. 2014. <http://www.vasectomy-information.com/moreinfo/history.htm>.

[7] Hatcher, Robert. et al. Contraceptive Technology (20th Edition.). Bridging the Gap Communications, 2011. Print.

[8] Jones, Richard E., and Lopez, Kristin. Human Reproductive Biology (4th Edition). San Diego: Elsevier, 2014. Print.

[9] Heinemann, Klaas, et al. “Attitudes toward male fertility control: results of a multinational survey on four continents.” Human Reproduction 20.2 (2005): 549–556.

Originally published at www.malecontraceptive.org on January 25, 2015.