Once upon a time, there was a belt that safeguarded the . . . well . . . private parts of women. These devices were called chastity belts, and they were used so that husbands would be ensured that they return home to an unadulterated wife. However, were they really used in the way that we think they were made for? Let’s go ahead and find out.
Now you’ve probably seen what a chastity belt is from movies and pictures circulating around the Internet. They are these metallic or leathery undergarments equipped with a padlock to safe-keep a women’s genitals. It is believed to prevent women from cheating and having any sort of sexual relationships from other men.
David R. Reuben also described it as an “armored bikini.” But what was truly their purpose? Did they really do the things we thought they were made for? Or were they just stories that ran across our barbaric minds?
Albrecht Classen, a professor at the University of Arizona’s German Studies department, sought to find the truth behind these medieval chastity belts. He poured all of his effort and time on a research about the topic, and he eventually found out the truth. In reality, there were no belts to ensure that a woman was faithful. So chastity belts never existed.
Classen found out that when it comes to pure evidence, there’s really not much to prove the existence of chastity belts. There are no actual physical specimens, and the accounts or photos of women wearing them are little to none.
He also discovered that all the books focusing on the topic of chastity belts use the same examples, and they all depend on each other’s accounts. Classen says, “You have a bunch of literary representation, but very few historical references to a man trying to put a chastity belt on his wife.”
To further debunk the myths about the chastity belts, the earliest known drawing of it appeared in 1405. Ironically, it was found among meticulous designs for torture devices, catapults, armor, and other tools of strife, in an illustrated manual about military engineering called Bellifortis.
However, there were items in the book that seemed to be a little too far-fetched. Konrad Kyeser, author of Bellifortis, made the manual when he was exiled from Prague and sent back to his hometown, Eichstatt, between 1402 and 1405. The details that were depicted of the chastity belt are remarkable, but physical samples from the medieval period were never uncovered.
Woodcuts, engravings, and illustrations about the chastity belt began to appear regularly around the sixteenth century. The usual scene in these illustrations would often be about the husband departing for an excursion.
The wife would be drawn as this half-naked woman with a metal undergarment on. However, the wife’s lover can be found somewhere in the illustration, holding a key in his hand, hiding, and waiting for the husband to depart.
Classen concluded that the idea of a chastity belt, based on the details of the story, came from fear. Specifically, the fear of having an unfaithful wife. He further explained that even during the 1500s, nobody took the concept of having a padlocked undergarment seriously as it was always portrayed and told in the stories that the lover already had a duplicate key.
Although it is true that there are physical chastity belts found in glass confinements in museums, they are believed to be made in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It is believed that these belts were made around the middle ages and were created simply as fantasy objects from a past that didn’t really take place.
The British Museum also says, “It is probable that the great majority of examples now existing were made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as curiosities for the prurient or as jokes for the tasteless.”
So why has the myth circling around the chastity belt survived for so long? Or in the words of another historian, “How could such a mechanism have been designed to permit the normal activities of urination, evacuation, menstruation, and hygiene, yet prevent both anal and vaginal penetration?”
The myth survived the same way the old theory about the Earth being the center of the solar system endured: once an idea has been embedded onto people’s minds, it is an idea that is very hard to disprove.
Classen explains it in a more straightforward way, “It’s a fantasy. People delight in delving into sex. They can say they only have a historical interest, but in reality, they have a prurient interest.”
With no solid proof, it will be impossible to confirm the existence and usage of chastity belts during the medieval times.
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