Probably everyone knows what chastity belts are - those devices that look like iron underpants with a lock. Well, the story goes that the chastity belt was invented in the middle ages by some paranoid Crusader who didn't want to leave his wife 'fully functional' at home while he was busy butchering people in the Holy Land.
Naturally, all his Crusader pals thought this was a good idea, and had chastity belts manufactured for all their mistresses, daughters and wives (in that order, most probably).
As plausible as it might sound, the chastity belt is not however a medieval invention - the romantic stories outlined in the paragraph above are nothing but a product of the over-active 19th Century imagination.
There are, in fact, no genuine chastity belts dating from medieval times: all known 'medieval' chastity belts have been produced in the first half of the 19th Century...The concept of a chastity belt itself is a lot older, but it was usually used in poems in a metaphorical sense.
Despite the common misconception, the use of the chastity belt was not usually imposed by men on women in order to force them to be faithful. If we use medieval poetry as a reliable source, we discover that the use of chastity belts was often in consensus between both parties. The use of the chastity belt in these poems is a metaphor for a pledge of fidelity. No locks or iron parts are ever mentioned - these metaphoric 'chastity belts' are usually made of cloth.
Real chastity belts became available later, and the majority of chastity belts were bought in the 19th Century, in England, by women. Often they would use the apparatus to avoid the consequences of sexual harassment in the workplace. Furthermore, the chastity belt was not imposed on people to avoid sexual intercourse.
Medical reports describe the prescription of chastity belts (or similar devices, which might have no resemblance at all with a chastity belt1) to prevent youngsters (of both sexes) from masturbating (alternative link), which in the 19th Century was thought to be both physically and morally harmful.
Women's History Magazine