What Does Chastity Mean? And Does Anyone Need a Belt for It?

Chastity belts arrived just after the religious wars and are still going strong.

Even though most of us think of chastity belts as bizarre medieval anti-sex devices, there are more of them now available than at any other time before in Planet Earth’s history.

After all, there are plenty of websites out there selling modern day ‘chastity belts’ for the BDSM crowd, some of them pricier than others. For each of these sites, there is a pile of these belts in boxes waiting to be shipped out the door. That means thousands of them, in all sorts of shapes and sizes, made from various materials and combinations of materials, for both men and women. Of course, chastity belts weren’t originally meant for sex play (at least not according to the Wikipedia page on the subject), they were to keep women safe from rape (and temptation) during the Crusades.

Except for the fact that this isn’t true.

The first evidence of the belts weren’t found until 100 years after the religious wars. But they were worn by men and women during the Renaissance – or at least there are devices that exist that date from that time. Evidence is hard to come by, but there is this chilling tale: “In 1889, a leather-and-iron belt was found by Anton Pachinger, a German collector of antiquities in LinzAustria in a grave on a skeleton of a young woman. The woman was reportedly buried sometime in the 16th century. Pachinger, however, could not find any record of the woman’s burial in the town archives.”

But looking through the wide variety, not to mention the close similarities between the post-medieval devices and modern ones, I got to thinking about what chastity belts were ultimately supposed to do, which is to create a physical barrier between a person getting their sex on, usually with another person. While some of the men’s belts are meant to prevent erections altogether, and therefore masturbation (they were actually used in the 1930’s to keep kids and teens from onanism), the majority of them are to keep women from having sex.

These days of course, the whole thing is more about playing with power roles in sexual relationships, and chastity belts are the way that some people enact those parts. But it got me to thinking: In 2011, what does chastity mean, anyway? In these days of psuedo-virginity and born-again virgins, teens being encouraged to masturbate (as parents are realizing that it’s safer than sex), vaginal “rejuvenation” surgery, and an ever-growing acceptance of sexual nonconformity and openness (drugstores are selling dildos, swingers’ clubs are as suburban as Chevy Suburbans), does anyone really care about chastity anymore?

Image: Arcadius

Starre Vartan

Starre Vartan has been covering eco fashion, natural beauty, ethical travel, and sustainable design for over a decade. She's written for magazines (Whole Living, Metropolis) and online (Huffington Post, MNN, Elle.com, Inhabitat) and she has been honored as a thought leader by Glamour and Self magazines, as well as quoted in the New York Times (thrice). She's the author of "The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to Be Fabulously Green" (St. Martin's Press) which was based on her longrunning blog, Eco-Chick.com. Starre was born Down Under in Sydney, Australia and has dual citizenship with the United States, as she grew up and was educated in the Hudson Valley of New York. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in Geology from Syracuse University and a Master of Fine Arts in Nonfiction writing from Columbia University. She splits her time between the Connecticut coast and Manhattan and loves to read, hike, snowboard, horseback ride, travel, and she will swim in almost anything (from lake to sea, cenote to mountain swimming hole).