The Tool of Casanova’s Trade

casanova3.jpgLast month, I wrote about how women through the ages have used a variety of strange and not-so-strange contraceptive methods.  Today, it’s the guys’ turn.

In a word–condoms.

Following are a few fascinating facts about them.  Bear in mind, they came into use more as a way for the man to defend himself against disease than to keep his mate from getting pregnant.  Birth control was mostly considered the woman’s responsibility.

 **Egyptians in the Twelfth Dynasty donned them as protection against insect bites and tropical diseases, as well as for a show of social status and as an amulet to promote fertility.

**In the 1560’s, Gabriel Fallopius (discoverer of–you guessed it!–Fallopian tubes) wrote of men wearing linen sheaths soaked in an herbal concoction to prevent syphilis.

 **Early 18th century condoms were made from oiled silk, fish bladders, and the intestines of goats, lambs and calves.

casanova.jpg **Casanova, the legendary Italian lover, inspected each condom before use by blowing into it balloon-style to make sure it didn’t deflate or burst.  He then went on to moisten each one by dunking it into the canal to ensure a tight fit.

Due to the illegality of contraceptive manufacturing and advertising (remember the Comstock laws I told you about?), condom entrepreneurs set up shop in the kitchens and back rooms of emigrants, women and Jews.  They found their trade lucrative in spite of their lack of professional credibility.

Despite doing a brisk business in their trade, the contraband condoms were far from perfect:

**The skins were often thick and smelly, made worse because they were rinsed, dried, powdered and then reused until they cracked or tore.

**Lower quality skins were hand-stitched, which resulted in uneven and bulky seams that irritated genitalia during use.

**On the other hand, higher-quality condoms were chemically treated, which left skin welts and lesions.

pinkribbon.jpgMaybe you didn’t know:

**Early condoms were securied onto their wearers with pink ribbons–probably to appeal to the female.  Rings were also used to hold them in place.

**George Bernard Shaw declared the rubber condom (thanks to the accidental genius of Charles Goodyear in 1839 who discovered how to make rubber elastic and water-proof) as “the greatest invention of the nineteenth century.”  Evidently, he placed lower importance on the invention of the telephone, which occurred about the same time.

**Urban butchers, defying the Comstock laws, provided city-dwellers with intestine casings, of which one animal alone could yield dozens of condoms.

In the 1870’s, the devices were readily available from mail-order houses and first-class druggists through cleverly-worded descriptions to avoid prosecution.  (I always love the terminology from that era.  Where did they come up with these names?)  A few I’ve found:

Male Pouch

Male Shields



Love’s Preservative

And yes, condoms were available in brothels all over the world, from the classiest French parlor house to the primitive cribs on the American frontier.

Speaking of names, and brothels, and the prostitutes who inhabited them, the women took on a variety of nicknames to protect themselves and their families back East from their disreputable occupation.  Here’s a few of the more amusing, and definitely less romantic, ones I’ve read:

Crazy Horse Lil

Big Nose Kate

Squirrel-Tooth Annie

Rowdy Kate

Madame Moustache

Mustang Mae

Rocking Chair Emma

Sorrel Mike

So that wraps up my series of posts on Old West prostitutes.  Are you up to playing a little game?  Let’s name a fictional soiled dove by using your favorite pet’s name and your favorite vegetable.

Winner of the funniest name will receive an autographed copy of Western Winter Wonderland!    Or just drop in and let us know your thoughts!

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Pam has written 30 romances, most of them historical westerns, but her newest releases are contemporary sweet romances featuring the Blackstone Ranch series published by Tule Publishing. Stay up on the latest at

33 thoughts on “The Tool of Casanova’s Trade”

  1. first for the fictional name- Tinkerbell Potato

    I was wondering though…I heard somewhere years ago, I think on the old Rikki Lake Show, that Casanova used lemon halfs, with most the pulp scooped out as a contraceptive, like a diaphram. You reckon there’s any truth to that? I searched it and found a few references to it. Just wonder how true it is though.

  2. Uh….Dingo Darlin’
    That’d be an Australian courtisan.

    Your post was just full of…disturbing information.

    I can’t hardly pick one. Reused? Intestines? George Bernard Shaw and sex?

  3. Oh, my. It always floors me what people will do for sex. LOL! No wonder there were so many births back then, even with the homespun contraceptives. What woman in her right mind would let a man wearing any of that stuff near her? Genital irritation, indeed.

    Sam Broccoli (my prostitute sounds more like a muleskinner :o)

  4. Taryn,

    Um, I’m trying to figure out how–or why–Casanova would use the lemons. As a diaphragm? I’m wondering if it was something he asked of his lovers?


  5. Devon, I know what you mean. The urge has been, well, very strong through the centuries.

    They must’ve put a lot of thought and imagination into what they wanted to do, eh? And they could only use what they had readily available.

    Thank goodness for modern advances!!

  6. Rowdy Okra.

    The mind boggles at the lengths (ahem) that people would go to for a little bit. I am pondering the hero in my wip wearing a pink ribbon tied around his ‘little buddy’. ;0)

  7. For my prostitute: Tawny Yam.

    For Pam, great stuff here. Thanks. Reused condoms? Ick.

    For Terry: love the idea for your hero and his buddy LOL.

    I too have read that a halved lemon or lime was used as a diaphragm, which by itself is a dumb name, no?

  8. I have 7 cats lol – in order of age:

    Tabatha Turnip
    Little Guy Leek
    Baby Beans
    Ollie Onion
    Pita Pepper (picked a peck…)
    Kitty Korn (hehe)
    Lilystripe Lima

  9. Tonto Potato

    ROFL…yes, we have a cat named Tonto…had a Ranger and Silver, but they ran away. Oh, and I already have the book though so you don’t have to include me….I just wanted to play.

  10. Terry, loved your comment about the pink ribbon! Hard to imagine on something so . . . male , isn’t it?

    Tanya, yes, lemons, limes and even oranges were used by women as diaphragms because of the acidic juices. But Casanova himself? I’ll have to check that out more. 🙂

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