The idea of the chastity belt was popularized during the Crusades when men would leave their wives to fight in wars.
The idea and portrayal of chastity belts has been seen in everything from medieval texts to movies like Robin Hood: Men In Tights. But, what’s myth and fact when it comes to these genital torture devices?
Chastity Belts are metal devices that lock around a person’s genital area, preventing sexual intercourse and masturbation, with a small hole to allow waste excretion. These devices are thought to date back Medieval times when men would lock up their wives or daughters to ensure their virginity and fidelity.
They are thought to be most commonly used during the Crusades when men would leave their wives to fight in wars. While they were gone, their wives would be outfitted with a chastity belt to prevent temptation and preserve their faithfulness until their husbands returned with the key.
References to chastity belts have been found in texts dating from as early as the first century, but according to Albrecht Classen, a Medieval historian, the existence of these items may be little more than a myth.
The earliest descriptions of chastity belts are mostly found in religious texts, and, upon closer reading, seem to be simply metaphors for living a chaste life. There are few clues that indicate the texts mean to imply that women should literally wear a metal belt to prevent sex.
The first drawing of a belt was depicted in a book called Bellifortis, written in 1405 by a German military engineer named Konrad Kyeser. However, historians have noted that Kyeser’s writing was often comical, and the book included several jokes and references to things that were not meant to be taken literally. With this in mind, it’s possible that the drawing of the belt was another one of his wisecracks placed throughout the book.
It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that references and depictions of chastity belts became commonplace. Even then, the references don’t show the actual usage of the belts. Instead, they seem to be comical references to the specific male fear that their wives would cheat on them with other, younger men. While this may have been a common worry, there is little proof that men actually forced their wives to lock up their bodies to assuage their fears.
However, there is no denying that chastity belts were made at some point since there are many of them on display across the world. But the chastity belts we see in museums may be forgeries, or, at the very least, created much later than tradition says.
Rather than being implemented in the middle ages, they were more likely created in the late eighteenth or nineteenth century. According to Classon, these devices were most likely created as jokes, never intended to be taken seriously and never actually used.
While chastity and fidelity have been widely valued virtues throughout history, women’s bodies were most likely not kept under lock and key at any point in time. While the belief that women should remain chaste is not a myth, the idea that chastity belts were employed to physically lock them up probably is.