The chastity belt: thick, iron underwear fastened with a sturdy padlock, impenetrable without a key. But what about chafing? Peeing? That time of the month? (Yes, women had alternatives before tampons, but still). The whole thing sounds like one of those grotesque, painful torture devices. Were chastity belts ever used?
For centuries, the chastity belt was a myth used to tease insecure husbands and joke about lustful women. That is, until the Victorians grabbed hold of the concept. Were chastity belts real? It turns out the ones shown in museums were Victorian forgeries – which isn't surprising, considering the Victorian obsession with sex.
The true history of chastity belts is about sex, anxiety, and misogyny. And it’s filled with insecure men, topless women, and some inventive solutions to the problem of pooping through metal.
Did The Crusaders Really Lock Up Their Wives With Chastity Belts? Spoiler: No
The myth of the chastity belt claims that they date back to the 1100s, when anxious Crusaders locked up their wives before they rode off to the Holy Lands. Women’s sexual appetites were legendary, and no husband could expect his wife to remain faithful for years, so the knights only had one choice – a sturdy, iron chastity belt.
There’s only one problem: chastity belts never existed in the medieval period. So why does the myth of the medieval chastity belt have such a strong hold on our imagination? The blame goes to the Victorians, whose sexual perversions turned the mythical chastity belt into a reality.
The First Drawing Of A Chastity Belt Called It A Joke
In 1405, Konrad Kyeser wrote Bellifortis, a book about military technology, catapults, and interrogation devices. He also snuck in a drawing of a chastity belt.
The chastity belt might seem out of place – but Kyeser’s book also included fart jokes, a fanciful elevator, and invisibility devices. Plus, Kyeser introduced the chastity belt as a joke for noble youth. In the 1400s, chastity belts weren't real – they were jokes.
Chastity Belts Made Medieval People Look Backward And Stupid
One of the favorite past-times of folks in the Renaissance was laughing about the ignorance of the medieval period. After all, Petrarch, who helped spark the Renaissance, came up with the term “dark ages” to describe everything before his birth.
As historian Sarah Bond argues, “The truth about chastity belts is that they are largely a fiction constructed in the Renaissance and Early Modern periods in order to conjure a more ‘barbaric’ middle age that had come previously.”
Chastity Belts Would Actually Cause Infections, Sepsis, And Death
Let’s set aside the physical impossibility of a metal belt intended to block intercourse but allow urination, defecation, and menstruation. Instead, let's focus on the inherent health risks posed by such a contraption. As the Semmelweis Museum points out, a metal chastity belt would doubtlessly cause “deep and gradually more and more infected cuticular wounds within a few days, vaginal or anal infections, serious sepsis, and eventually death.”
Images of chastity belts evoked the male fear of cuckoldry – that their unfaithful wives would make them into mockeries instead of manly men.