When an Italian woman lost the key to her chastity belt–yes, chastity belt–she turned to local firefighters for help.
Local privacy laws prevent the media from identifying the woman, but the incident took place at the fire station in the city of Padua.
Il Matino di Padova, an Italian newspaper, reported that she walked into the station and told the firefighters present: “Hello, I lost the keys to a lock and I can’t open it.”
The firefighters asked her for her address, assuming that she was referring to the key to the door of her house or other building.
But, instead of answering the question about where she lived, she lifted up her clothing, and the firefighters soon saw that she was wearing a chastity belt with an iron padlock, as firefighters were shocked to see.
The firefighters kept their cools and happily worked on undoing the lock in order to free her from her self-imposed chastity device.
However, since a metal chastity belt isn’t a device often seen in this day and age, the firefighters were sure to ask her whether she was in trouble. Perhaps she was a victim of sexual violence or was engaging in a dangerous sex game that she was trying to quit.
She insisted that wasn’t the case, and that she had put the belt on herself voluntarily to prevent engaging in any sexual activity. She had desperately searched for the key, but it was lost somewhere in her home. She only headed to the fire station after she had exhausted all other options for help.
Once they established the woman was not in any danger, the firefighters, although quite embarrassed by the situation, quickly resolved it and sent the woman on her way, Il Matino di Padova reported.
Chastity belts were said to have been used during the Renaissance to protect the wearer from being raped or violated, or to prevent them from having sex altogether. They especially gained popularity during the Crusades, when knights left to fight for the Holy Lands were said to have given them to their wives to ensure they would be faithful during their absence.
Although chastity belts have been the butt of jokes over the years, recent research shows that they were never as prevalent during the Middle Ages as we think, and maybe started out as a joke even then. As German writer Albrecht Classen describes in his book “The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process,” the belts were more likely to be the subject of myth-making in the 19th and 18th centuries than anything that was commonly used.
For instance, a German print from the 1500s at The British Museum, depicts a young, barely clothed woman wearing a locked belt around her waist. She hands her departing husband a key, but we can see hidden behind the bed another man with a second key. It’s in art like this that we can see that even in the 1500s, the idea that one could use locks and keys to ensure a wife’s fidelity was seen as subject of fun.
“In other words, even in the 1500s, no one took the idea of locked-up metal underwear very seriously as an effective anti-sex device,” writes Sarah Laskow at website Atlas Obscura. “When chastity belts were depicted, it was in the Renaissance equivalent of Robin Hood: Men in Tights—and the audiences for those pieces of art probably thought the idea of a metal chastity belt just as giggle-worthy as late 20th century teenagers did.
On the British Museum’s website, the description reads: “It is probable that the great majority of examples now existing were made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as curiosities for the prurient, or as jokes for the tasteless.”
Still, chastity belts have experienced somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, as this example shows. People like the unfortunate Italian woman who lost her key choose to wear them as part of sex games or merely to curb their own impulses. Next time, however, she’ll be more careful with where she leaves her key.