The Covert History of the American Condom

condom packaging

The condom industry in America, which had been quite robust to that point, was pushed underground after the country went full prude and the Comstock Act of 1873 outlawed the sale of contraceptives by mail. People still bought them, but advertising had to be very creative to get around the law.

Carol Queen says, “What’s interesting about that moment historically, as far as ads for any product that had a sexual purpose, is that there’s a cryptic language being used that made people think about the real function without ever actually saying it.”

Still, venereal diseases (VD, now called STDs) were a big problem. What turned the condom industry around was the U.S. military, which in World War II was determined to avoid the VD problems of the first World War.

By the time the U.S. entered World War II, American soldiers were much better prepared for VD. The military stopped focusing only on prevention through abstinence and post-infection treatment, incorporating condoms on its approved list of prophylactics. Troops could purchase sets of three condoms for ten cents at “pro stations” placed for easy access, day or night. The military also created an aggressive advertising campaign promoting safe sex through prevention, combining images of sexy women with the not-so-sexy effects of VD.

Read the rest of the story at Collector's Weekly, along with many photographs of clever historical condom packaging. Link


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