A chastity belt is a locking item of clothing designed to prevent sexual intercourse and possibly masturbation. The purpose may also be to protect the wearer from rape or temptation. Devices have been created for males and females.
The term "chastity belt" is also used metaphorically in modern English to imply over protectiveness. The term carries a derisive connotation and may also imply that the subject is antiquated, or is cumbersome, or provides unnecessary or unwanted protection.
According to modern myth the chastity belt was used as an anti-temptation device during the Crusades, that when the knight was away from his young wife, he would force her to wear the belt day and night. However, there is no evidence or any documentation of such use. On the other hand, it has been used as an anti-masturbation device for children in modern times from the 1700s to the 1930s. Nowadays it is sometimes used as BDSM equipment.
Chastity belts are surrounded by myths. The most common of these myths is that they were first used by crusading knights on their wives. There is, however, no evidence of the existence of chastity belts until the 15th century during the Renaissance, more than one hundred years after the last Crusade. The actual use, if any, of medieval chastity belts would have been very limited, as the metalworking of the times would have made it difficult to fashion a belt safe for long-term wear.
The first known mention of what could be interpreted as chastity belts in the West is in Konrad Kyeser von Eichstätt's Bellifortis, a ca. 1400 book describing the military technology of the era. The book includes a drawing that is accompanied by the Latin text: "Est florentinarum hoc bracile dominarum ferreum et durum ab antea sic reseratum." ("These are hard iron breeches of Florentine women which are closed at the front.") The belt in this drawing is described by Dingwall as "both clumsy and heavy", having "little in common with the later models which served the same use". The Bellifortis account is not supported by any evidence or corroborating documents.
In 1889, a leather-and-iron belt was found by A. M. Pachinger—a German collector of antiquities—in Linz, Austria in a grave on a skeleton of a young woman. The woman was purportedly buried sometime in the 16th century. Pachinger, however, could not find any record of the woman's burial in the town archives. The belt itself, along with most of the rest of Pachinger's collection, has been lost.
Two belts have been exhibited at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. The first, a simple velvet-covered hoop and plate of iron, was supposedly worn by Catherine de' Medici. The other—said to have been worn by Anna of Austria—is a hinged pair of plates held about the waist by metal straps, featuring intricately etched figures of Adam and Eve. There are other such belts at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg and the British Museum in London. Most have been removed from display to avoid any further embarrassment because the authenticity of these belts as Renaissance devices has since been called into question.
From the 1700s through the 1930s, masturbation was widely regarded as harmful in Western medicine. Numerous mentions can be found in medical journals of the time of the use of chastity belt-like devices to prevent masturbation in children and adolescents.
Today, chastity belts are sometimes used in BDSM play and in consensual relationships. They are a means for the wearer to surrender control over their sexual behavior either for sexual play, or as a long-term method of preventing infidelity or masturbation. They range from simple leather or plastic toys commonly sold by adult stores to expensive high-security stainless steel devices made by a handful of specialist firms.
Most modern chastity belt designs are descended from Hal Higginbottom's designs from 1956. Sometimes modern Florentine-style belts are described as "Tollyboy-style" or "Tollyboy-type" belts as references to his company's original design.
Human anatomy varies very widely from person to person and steel belts intended for long-term use are bespoke items. The manufacture of such belts is necessarily a cottage industry. Many firms have come and gone over the years. Notable amongst those who have stopped manufacturing chastity belts since the 1980s are:
Although no reliable statistics are available on the use of chastity belts, anecdotal reports from manufacturers suggest that most belts sold in Europe and the US are for men, and that of the female belts ordered, relatively few are used as rape prevention devices.
Modern chastity belt designs generally follow the basic "Florentine" pattern (named after the Bellifortis reference), with a band around the waist or hips and a "shield" running between the legs to cover the genitals.
On belts intended for long-term wear, this shield must accommodate the wearer's hygienic needs:
Most modern belts fasten with padlocks. Some high-security designs nest the lock within a shroud to make it more difficult to attack with bolt cutters. A handful of manufacturers, however, do offer higher-priced models with integral locks for a sleeker profile.
In a real life example of why correct fitting and safe play is vitally important when using metal devices, in July 2008, a man had to be rescued from his chastity belt by firemen when he locked himself in it without access to its key. The fit around his genitals was too tight which caused "severe swelling in the area".
Chastity tubes or chastity cages are similar devices designed for males for use without a supporting belt, although such devices are nevertheless frequently described as "chastity belts".
Most chastity tubes have two parts: a ring seated around the base of the penis behind the ball sac and a capped tube, into which the flaccid penis is inserted. The tube is perforated to allow fluids to drain easily. Some designs have a curved or angled tube to make erections uncomfortable. The two parts mate together on hinges or pins and are held fast with a padlock, holding the testicles in a gap close enough to prevent the penis from being pulled out.
A popular example was the CB-2000, introduced in 1999 by A. L. Enterprises, which was an attempt to make a secure and affordable device which could be mass produced.
In April, 2002, the Uwe Koetter Jewellers company of Cape Town, South Africa completed and delivered a spectacular diamond and pearl-encrusted chastity belt made of gold to a British customer. The belt reportedly cost R160,000 and was a wedding gift from a husband-to-be for his bride to wear at their wedding.
On February 6, 2004, USA Today reported that at Athens airport in Greece, a woman's steel chastity belt had triggered a security alarm at the metal detector. The woman explained that her husband had forced her to wear the device to prevent an extramarital affair while she was on vacation in Greece. She was allowed to continue her flight to London on the pilot's authority. The incident was said to have happened just before Christmas in 2003. The incident was also reported by Weekly World News.
In November 2006, photographs of Lucio Gubbio's hand-wrought iron chastity belts were published in newspapers including the Seoul Times, and CRI Online. Although Gubbio's company, MedioEvo, claims that their chastity belts' designs are from the Middle Ages on their website, a company spokesperson acknowledged that there is no proof that devices such as these were actually used.