Not long after the Renaissance doctor Gabriello Fallopio invented a silk prototype for the condom in 1564 (see “Columbus Discovers the Clitoris”), European men-about-town took to wearing so-called “gold-beater skins” woven from the dried intestines of sheep, calves, and horses. The learned scholar H. M. Hines speculates that it was a slaughterhouse worker who first came up with this technological advance, aiming for a more durable yet still sensitive sheath. The finest quality examples, produced by skilled Italian artisans, were hand-sewn at one end and tied by an elegant ribbon at the other; they were wickedly expensive, but could be washed, dried, and reused.

Acceptance of the invention was slow all over Europe. In 1671, the French noblewoman Madame de Sévigné warned her daughter that condoms were worse than useless in the bedroom, “armour against enjoyment, and… More…