Dear Cecil: Have chastity belts ever been used on men? Judy C., Washington, D.C.
We live in an egalitarian age, my sweet. The Pleasure Chest, a New York-based chain of erotic appliance stores, makes and markets a tasteful little item it calls a “Male Chastity Device,” which consists of a metal tube that is slipped over the penis and fastened around the testicles with a chain and padlock. As you can imagine, this makes tumescence decidedly unpleasant.
But there are earlier, much cruder methods of enforcing male chastity as well. Take male infibulation, for instance, which ranks up there with female circumcision on the list of quack medical procedures once (and in some places, still) practiced in this world. Infibulation basically involves pulling the foreskin down over the tip of the penis (obviously you have to be uncircumcised for this to be feasible), drilling a couple holes in it, and clamping the whole thing in place with a ring or thread. This prevented sexual activity, and from the sound of it it probably made the more prosaic bodily functions rather problematic as well.
The history of the procedure stretches back some two millennia. Enforcing the celibacy of one’s spouse was only an incidental application, although there is a medieval story about a Frenchman who woke up to find his penis padlocked and his Portuguese mistress in possession of the key. In ancient Rome infibulation was most common among comic actors and musicians, who believed that discouraging erections would help them preserve their voices. In that respect it was certainly an improvement over the alternative, castration, in that it wasn’t permanent.
Infibulation fell into disuse until the early 19th century, when it was resurrected by one Karl August Weinhold, a professor of surgery and medicine at the University of Halle. He came up with the notion of rounding up all the poverty-level bachelors between the ages of 14 and 30 and infibulating them with a soldered lead wire, in hopes of keeping the population down. A novel feature of his plan was the proposed addition of a lead seal, which the authorities could inspect from time to time to make sure you hadn’t availed yourself of a wirecutter on the sly.
Understandably the Weinhold plan did not go over in a big way with the unmarried males of the day, but it later found limited application in the treatment of masturbation, which, among other things, was believed to cause “fatuity.” (Maybe they were on to something there.) At any rate, one could read in the medical journals such testimony as the following, written in 1876 by a fearless medical pioneer by the name of D. Yellowlees: “The sensation among the patients was extraordinary. I was struck by the conscience-stricken way in which they submitted to the operation on their penises. I mean to try it on a large scale, and go on wiring all masturbators.” If you think your life is rotten now, be glad you weren’t alive in 1876.
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