A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

How do chastity belts work?

August 3, 1979

Dear Cecil:

A three-month trip I'll be making this fall prompts the following question: how do chastity belts work, and how do they interfere (or not interfere) with going to the bathroom? This wasn't answered in Everything You Always Wanted to Know . . .

Dear Henry:

Of course not. At the Straight Dope we don't trouble ourselves with what you want.  We deal with what you need.

There were--are--basically two types of chastity belts, or "girdles of chastity," as they are sometimes called. The first covers only the pudenda (the part in front) with a plate made of metal or bone. The second covers both front and back--or "anterior and posterior regions," to put it in clinical terms--the two parts being connected by a hinge.

Typically, a narrow vertical slot was provided in front to enable the wearer to urinate.  Often it was fitted with metal teeth (sometimes spring-loaded) to discourage exploration by so much as a fingertip. In the duplex models, you had a somewhat larger aperture in the back to permit defecation while preventing anal intercourse. Supposedly a woman could wear a belt for extended periods without ill effects, although an examination of the apparatus involved makes it clear that going to the bathroom must have been a pretty messy procedure.

Despite all the tales about European lords locking up their wives before going off to fight the Crusades, it seems likely that the Crusaders did not actually learn about chastity belts until they had traveled around the East picking up local customs. Some Asian and African cultures practiced female infibrillation, in which a woman's labia were bound together with rings or wires or the like. Compared to this barbaric system, chastity belts must have seemed like the height of civilization. Knowledge of the belts was widespread during the Renaissance, although they seem to have been most popular in Italy, then as now a highly macho culture. 

Although chastity belts figure in many ribald tales of the period, it's not known how many were actually used. Several hundred specimens reside in various museums and private collections, but many of these are suspected to have been made just to satisfy the curiosity of some deve collector. There are, however, several instances of women's remains being disinterred with chastity belt still in place.

In any event, the use of chastity belts was not considered a crime.  A woman's body was thought to belong to her husband and he could equip it as he liked.  Men who did outfit their wives with such devices were targets of ridicule, though. In stories about the belts, the husbands are generally jealous old men married to lusty young wives who remain faithful until the old crock decides to take extreme precautions, whereupon the insulted wife goes out to find a friendly locksmith and some handsome swain to fornicate with.

Chastity belts were advertised as late as the latter part of the 19th century.  In 1848, a Scottish doctor advocated their use to limit masturbation. Bondage-and-discipline enthusiasts still use the belts today, although hardly with the idea of ensuring fidelity. In fact, I'd guess more belts have been manufactured since 1950 than previously existed in the history of the world, so if nothing else you'll get a nice selection. One tip: if it comes with a valet key, you've been had.

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