Chastity has been around ever since the birth of organised religion, I imagine, and I suppose the reasons for it are sound enough in theory. Much like people of all faiths fast at one time or another as a way of cleansing the body, starving oneself of sex is seen as a way of purifying the mind, so that, through abstinence, one’s thoughts may be redirected from ‘earthly’ desires to something more spiritual and beneficial to one’s soul. Personally, I believe these are healthy and sound practices, if done, like all things, in moderation.
It’s difficult to look at mediaeval European views on sex and chastity, however, and not concur with Nietzsche and his views on Christianity, that the religion was antithetical to all things instinctual and natural to humans as a species. It’s hard not to be repulsed by the dogmatic and righteous dictates of religion, fundamentalist in nature, proponents of which are still alive and active today (with the same mediaeval attitudes as those who lived three hundred years ago, just with a different name and different mad headgear), which presume to decide on and dictate the sexual needs and habits of others. Personally I’m not religious, and my own feeling is that religion is the single major stumbling block to our further evolution as a species, but I have no gripe with those that do believe, and in fact, I respect them deeply, so long as they stop short of presumption and proselytising.
But when religion assumes to make choices for others, that’s when my blood begins to boil. Naturally, the book-thumping boogeymen of today (and let’s not jump on Islam, because let’s face it, there are just as many dangerous nutjobs in the more hard-line Christian and Jewish cults out there) make me fume. My personal solution to the whole issue would be to gather them all up, drop them on an island (shall we give ’em Australia?), and film the resulting chaos with drones, making a dedicated entertainment show and pumping it pay-per-view into living rooms around the world. Can you think of anything more cathartic?
What set me off on this current rant was a recent trip to Ischia (which I spoke about in in last week’s post on Death), where in the Aragonese castle, I viewed a vast and impressive array of sexual torture devices, some of which I’ll share with you now. The word ‘mediaeval’ has perhaps become synonymous with those whose views on sex and sexuality tend to conservative in the extreme, but it might be useful to remember just why that is. Chastity is more of a niche thing today, found not only in religious orders but in certain bizarre corners of the sexual-kink spectrum. But several hundred years ago, they were pretty psycho about it. Have a look at the following. To say that the mediaeval spin on the chastity belt is frightening would be an understatement:
Ignoring the flash artwork (which was clearly knocked up by a comic aficionado), yes, the device is diabolical. The imaginations that dreamt this up were sadist in the extreme. They were canny enough to leave a hole just big enough for a small prick, but they serrated the edges of it, as if to say: You can try to stick your penis in, and it might just work, but when you pull it out you’re gonna tears strips out of it.
Now, tell me that isn’t the product of a sick mind? Have a look at the male one:
I have to say, I’m impressed with the metalwork –– it’s not a million miles away from cock cages today, and for the period, I’d say it’s pretty high-tech. What gets me is that it’s not designed to prevent an erection. In fact, it’s so built that you can get a hard-on, but you are absolutely unable to do anything about it. If you were really concerned with chastity and not torture, why would you conceive of a device to allow an erection in the first place? It’s sick, no two ways about it. And don’t tell me they didn’t consider this. These things are very clearly designed to inflict maximum psychological suffering as well as denying the most basic human urges.
The last one, which was a new one on me, was the mouth chastity belt:
The translation of the Italian is: “For use with men and women. When worn on the mouth, it prevents speaking or screaming in pain”. One doesn’t have to wonder too deeply what ‘screaming’ they’re referring too, given it’s clear these were a people with a penchant for inflicting cruel and barbaric torment.
It’s important here to recognise the distinction between the ascetic or monastic tradition of chastity, and the prohibition of sex (except within a rigorously controlled framework) by an organised religious body. The former is a pursuit designed to further one’s mental, physical and spiritual robustness, and crucially, chosen for oneself and not imposed upon one; the latter is a system of control designed to inflict physical pain, humiliate, stigmatise and control. I would say, and I urge you to contradict me, that there is nothing spiritual or ‘religious’ about the latter at all. It is sadism, pure and simple.
Obviously, I can’t say whether those priests or persons of religious authority inflicting this suffering upon their flock got any sick and twisted pleasure from it, but I would hazard a guess that they did. Just as I’m sure there are those today who take gratification from, say, throwing gay men off buildings in ISIS-held Syria or Iraq, or those in Africa (or elsewhere in the world) engaged in female genital mutilation. These are people for whom the pleasures of sex are dirty, a sin, an abomination, and their methods no different from attempts two or three hundred years ago to impose a self-righteous, archaic, morbid way of living upon others.
I have no problem with those who wanna sit at home and self-flagellate with a cat-o-nine-tails because they glimpsed a naked elbow, or dangle breeze blocks from their testicles with cheese wire to calm their wayward willies. Fine. Whatever it takes to get right with themselves. But I have no time for sermons. Today, in many respects and in many corners of the world, religion is little advanced from the days of sexual torture, and what Nietzsche said 150 years ago remains as valid now as it was then:
“It was Christianity, with its heartfelt resentment against life, that first made something unclean of sexuality: it threw filth on the origin, on the essential fact of our life.”
Fanatics of all stripes all over the world, please accept this one-way ticket to Hall’s Creek, Australia… we’ll be watching.
‘Sex, Chastity and Nietzsche’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.