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“ I was expecting to just sit down and have people telling me about everything, and then be like oh we already know this, but it wasn't...like, the history.

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Presentation on theme: "“ I was expecting to just sit down and have people telling me about everything, and then be like oh we already know this, but it wasn't...like, the history."— Presentation transcript:

1 “ I was expecting to just sit down and have people telling me about everything, and then be like oh we already know this, but it wasn't...like, the history and everything, it was really interesting. I had no idea about any of it.” Student participant Sex and History Talking sex with objects from the past

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3 Key Questions What is this? What was it used for? When might it have been made? How would it work? Who would wear it and why?

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5 Historical Information 1 This chastity belt a metal gusset made of two panels hinged together, designed to be fitted to a waist strap to prevent sexual access to the genitals. The two openings allow the woman wearing it to urinate and defecate. It has been dated to the 15th or 16th centuries. Today we associate chastity belts with Medieval knights and the quest to ensure that their wives remained faithful while they were away at the crusades...

6 Why might someone want to control sexual access to a woman? Would a woman be happy to wear this? Key Questions Who would have held the key? What difference does it make? Why might someone want to control sexual access to a woman? Why does society place value on fidelity and virginity? Do you think people ever really wore these?

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8 Historical Information 2 The belt is almost certainly a fake made in the 19th century, and never worn. The whole idea of the chastity belt was probably an 18th invention. The concept of the “chastity belt” is found in medieval literature, but only as a metaphor for women’s virtue and virginity. You’d say: “she still had her girdle of chastity intact”. Only in the 18th century was it thought of as a real object that someone might wear, and fakes were made pretending to be from the Middle Ages or Renaissance.

9 Key Questions Does the idea of the chastity belt seem very alien today? Or are there modern day parallels we can think of? Why might someone want to invent the idea of the medieval chastity belt?

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11 Key Questions What is this? What was it used for? When might it have been made? Can you think of words to describe this depiction of sexual intercourse? How does this depiction of sexual intercourse compare with modern day depictions in the media?

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13 Historical Information 1 This is a small ivory model of a couple embracing. It dates from 19th century China.

14 Key Questions Where is this sexual intercourse taking place? Who are these people? How do they feel about each other? Would you describe it as pornographic? Why or why not? What if the figures were orientated another way? Is it a man and a woman? Two men? Two women? What difference does it make?

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16 Historical Information 2 Historians don’t know exactly who made this and what it was for. However, we do have some context. In 19th century China a successful sex life was seen as the key to leading a long and healthy life. An elderly person was assumed to have had and be having an excellent sex life and be an expert on sex technique. Doctors also saw instruction in sex as an important aspect of their job in keeping people healthy, and would teach people about sexual pleasure and sexual positions. An object such as this might have been used in such instruction.

17 Key Questions How might this object have been useful in this way? How does this differ from attitudes today?

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19 Historical Information 3 It might have also been used as something known as a “trunk-bottom”. This was a sexually explicit object that parents would place at the bottom of the suitcase of a young woman as she was about to embark on her marriage. As she unpacked her possessions in the marital home she would find this object.

20 Key Questions Why would a parent want to give such an object to a daughter on this occasion? Why would they hide it at the bottom of the trunk? Do you think they would have given such an object to a son as well? Why or why not?

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22 Historical Information 4 If you look closely you can see that one figure is female and that she has had her feet bound. Until the early 20 th century in China high class women’s feet were bound in order to stunt their growth. Small feet were regarded as a mark of great beauty. It was also a very painful process that resulted in the deforming of feet and meant that women couldn’t walk comfortably.

23 Key Questions What do you think footbinding was for? Is this something we would do today? Can you think of any cultural practices that might be seen as similar? Does this affect the way you might think about the relationship between the two people having sex in this object?

24 Image Credits: Wellcome Collection/Science Museum A With kind permission from the Science Museum. This slideshow should be used in conjunction with the University of Exeter’s Sex and History teaching resource guidance document. For more information please see:


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