Condoms and contraception

Condoms and contraception

DISSECTING ROOM Terry Eagleton School of English and Linguistics, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK Websites in brief Online health-i...

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Terry Eagleton School of English and Linguistics, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK

Websites in brief Online health-information seekers More than two thirds of internet users in the USA, France, Germany, and Japan seek health information online, but how and why such information is sought varies by country, according to a report from Harris Interactive. For example, in the USA, medical journal websites are the most frequently consulted; by contrast, in Germany, sites of academic and research institutions are most popular. newsletters_healthcare.asp


Tools of the trade Condoms and contraception he origins of condoms are obscure, but one thing is clear—the medical profession took little interest in them until modern times. What we know of condoms before the 20th century comes largely from literature. James Boswell related how he enjoyed prostitutes while “clad in armour” and Casanova told of his distaste for being shrouded in “dead skin”—condoms used to be made from lamb’s


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Reusable “Paragon” condom (1948)

intestines. Equipped with a ribbon for tying in place, such items were luxury goods, and were worn for protection against sexually transmitted diseases, rather than for contraception. In the late 19th century, after the discovery of vulcanisation, rubber

Genes and genomes encyclopaedia Impressive slide shows, tutorials, manuals, computational tools, databases, and other materials related to genes and genomes are available on this robust site, which is an ongoing project of Kyoto University, Japan. Users can search for information on specific interactions (for example, glycolysis) in specific species (for example, animals, plants, or fungi), or browse metabolic pathways and gene sequences. Genome map comparisons and sequence similarity and prediction tools are also available.

Science and Society Picture Library

the Cape Governor, during a mysterious leave of absence. For the Medical Times of the day, the truth was self-evident: how better to account for Barry’s bolshie behaviour, his “petulance of temper, and unreasoning impulsiveness”, than by ascribing it to female hysteria? “A lady”, thundered the journal you are now reading, “has penetrated to the core of our hospital system to effect a permanent lodgement”, making her sound for all the world like a virus. More plausibly, Barry was a hermaphrodite, which, as Holmes shrewdly speculates, might account for his devotion to the cause of women and midwifery, as well as his life-long fascination with reproductive disorders. What looks like female hernia, the subject of his student thesis, can be a belatedly descended testicle. Holmes believes that Barry was really James Barry’s niece, not his nephew, but either way this makes him Irish. Indeed, Barry—rash, rebellious, sharp-witted, careless of convention, subversive— behaved like a veritable stage-Irishman. He even dyed his hair red. He should take his place, then, not only in a history of hermaphroditism, but in a venerable lineage of reforming, socially enlightened Irish doctors: William Wilde, Robert Graves, William Stokes, and their colleagues. Scanty Particulars, with its themes of gender-bending, the body, subversion, and the socially marginal, is a heady brew of all the most voguish postmodern ingredients. But it is also an illuminating tale of an extraordinary medical pioneer. It is, of course, inconceivable that such an exotic maverick, impatient as he was of deference and orthodoxy, would be greeted by today’s medical establishment with anything but cries of acclaim.

replaced lamb’s gut as the material of choice for condoms. Early rubber condoms were sturdily made and designed to last—they could be washed and dried after use (figure). These items were supplied, not by the medical profession, but by the rubber goods trade. Except in the forces, where military doctors recommended using condoms to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, contraceptive devices were taboo in many medical circles. But manufacturers catered for a growing demand in an organised way. Some maintained their own clinics, where nurses fitted women with rubber caps and diaphragms and women doctors attended by appointment. One such establishment, “for middle-class women”, was advertised in 1951 as staffed only by “married ladies”. Men were not allowed on the premises, but could “communicate for advice in strict confidence”. Those who did so might still be offered the “Paragon” sheath, introduced in 1891, and made of “strong cut sheet rubber”, although new disposable varieties were available. It took the social upheavals of the 1960s, and a prescription-only oral contraceptive, to bring birth control into mainstream medicine. Condoms remained a tried and tested alternative. As the 20th century progressed, the protection they offered against the spread of HIV-1 infection and AIDS made them increasingly attractive. Ghislaine Lawrence Clinical Medicine, The Science Museum, London SW7 2DD, UK

Science and sustainability site—a free-access, internetbased network that aims to meet the science and technology knowledge needs of developing countries—has launched a special section on science and sustainability in advance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Aug 26 to Sept 4, 2002, Johannesburg, South Africa). This new section features key documents, articles and speeches, and a moderated discussion group. Marilynn Larkin e-mail: [email protected]

THE LANCET • Vol 360 • July 13, 2002 •

For personal use. Only reproduce with permission from The Lancet Publishing Group.