The callous appetites of debauched readers: Edmund Curll and The Potent Ally

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The Potent Ally: Or, Succours from Merryland (1741), a small collection of erotic works containing three poems in praise on condoms, is it particularly useful to medical historians seeking information on the early history of contraception and prophylaxis. Many of the earliest, and by far the most detailed, accounts of condoms appear in works of literature. Only a few medical writers discussed them openly, and some of those few did so only to explain why they do not work, should not be used, or why it would be wrong to discuss them in detail. As well as offering an analysis of the poems themselves, the present study establishes the date and context in which the poems were composed and how, and when and where they circulated. An edited transcript of a previously-unpublished 1706 poem in praise of condoms is included in an appendix. The study of content and context provides valuable information concerning the way in which condoms were first used, and reflects the sexual practices, beliefs and values in the early eighteenth century. A major finding of this study is that there is a consistent Anglo-Scottish connection among all of the earliest references to condoms, supporting the claim that the word itself may have been an Anglo-Scottish coinage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–31
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of the History of Sexuality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Eighteenth-Century Literature
  • Erotic Literature
  • Condoms
  • Contraception
  • Medicine

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