From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A chastity belt is a locking item of clothing designed to prevent sexual intercourse. They may be used to protect the wearer from rape or temptation. Some devices have been designed with additional features to prevent masturbation. Chastity belts have been created for males and females.
The term "chastity belt" is also used as a metaphor in modern English to imply overprotectiveness. 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. When the knight left for the Holy Lands on the Crusades, he would force his Lady to wear a chastity belt to preserve her faithfulness to him. There is no credible evidence that chastity belts existed before the 15th century, 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.
Chastity belts were used as anti-masturbation devices from the 1700s to the 1930s. Nowadays chastity belts are used in some forms of BDSM play. They are also used on television and in movies as humorous props.
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 Anton 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. Many designs for anti-masturbation devices were filed in the US Patent Office until the debunking of masturbation as a mental health problem in the early 1930s.