Condoms used to be illegal in the US, believe it or not, but it’s true. Even more surprising was the length of time that condoms were illegal in the US, over 50 years. It may seem fairly illogical in todays world to ban such a vital piece of health protection, but that’s just what happened in the US. The law prohibiting condoms was the Comstock Act, which was enacted in 1873. The Comstock Act was a federal law which made it illegal to ‘send obscene, lewd and/or lascivious’ material through the mail. The law was written in such a way that it also included any material regarding contraceptives. When we say any material, we mean any material. It was not only information that was illegal, but also the physical objects too.
When the law was introduced it effectively made the sale of condoms illegal, along with all other forms of contraception. Obviously the law had some pretty unhealthy side effects. The ill effects of the condom ban reached a pinnacle during WWI when troops were sent abroad without them. The absence of condoms lead to widespread sexually transmitted infections.
Why were condoms illegal in the US?
The Comstock Act specifically targeted pornography and contraceptive equipment, as well as any educational material that could contain instructions or methods describing how to use them. Additionally, any publications that contained reproductive health-related materials were also banned. This posed significant difficulties for medical students as even some anatomy textbooks were prohibited from being sent to them through the postal service.
The Comstock Act was finally repealed in 1936, finally making condoms legal once more, after a period of 53 years. It wasn’t repealed for the health benefits, but for legal reasons when the courts ruled the laws unconstitutional. An architect shipped a box of diaphragms from Japan on purpose with the intent of suing the US government.