What is 'Leather, kink and fetish'?

Leather is a style and culture that developed in the gay bars and motorcycle clubs of the 1950s and 1960s. There are as many definitions of Leather as there are Leatherpeople. Leather is a style, an identity, a community, and a subculture that celebrates kink, fetish, BDSM, and sex.

Kink is “unconventional sexual taste or behavior” and fetish is sexual enjoyment of a particular object or material, like high heeled shoes, leather, or rubber. Kink is anything that isn’t “Normal Sex.” It includes dominance and submission, all kinds of roleplay, sadomasochism, bondage, and many other activities like playing with food during sex or foot worship. At the same time, kink isn’t always sexual or part of sex. Many kinky people enjoy bondage as an art form, wearing leather, or roleplaying as animals and don’t consider them to be sexual activities. BDSM stands for “bondage, dominance and submission, discipline and sadomasochism” and is another term that includes all kinds of “unconventional” activities and relationships.

Reading Recommendations (non-comprehensive!)

Photograph of books on a table.


History and Theory

Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard von Krafft-Ebing, 1886.

Coming to Power: Writing and Graphics on Lesbian S/M edited by Samois, 1981.

Masochism: A Jungian View by Lyn Cowan, 1982.

S and M edited by Thomas Weinberg, 1983

Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality edited by Carol S. Vance, 1984.

Urban Aboriginals: A Celebration of Leathersexuality by Geoff Mains, 1984.

Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice edited by Mark Thompson, 1991.

Bob Flanagan: Supermasochist edited by Andrea Juno and V. Vale, 1993.

Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography, Power edited by Pamela Church Gibson and Roma Gibson, 1993.

Beneath the Skins: The New Spirit and Politics of the Kink Community by Ivo Dominguez Jr., 1994.

Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex by Patrick Califia, 1994.

The Valley of the Kings: Leathermen in San Francisco, 1960-1990 by Gayle Rubin, 1994.

Sadomasochism by Bill Thompson, 1994.

Saint Foucault : Towards a Gay Hagiography by David M. Halperin, 1995.

The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader edited by Patrick Califia, 1996.

Some Women edited by Laura Antoniou, 1997.

Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance & Submission by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame, and Jon Jacobs, 1996.

Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power by Valerie Steele, 1996.

A Defence of Masochism by Anita Phillips, 1998.

Post-Porn Modernist: My 25 Years as a Multimedia Whore by Annie Sprinkle, 1998.

The Development of Sadomasochism as a Cultural Style in the Twentieth-Century United States by Robert V Bienvenu, 1998.

To Love, to Obey, to Serve: Diary of an Old Guard Slave by V.M. Johnson, 1999.

Black Men in Leather by Cain Berlinger, 1999.

Governing Pleasures: Pornography & Social Change in England, 1815-1914 by Liza Z. Sigel, 2002.

In The Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification by Victoria Pitts-Taylor, 2003.

Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality by Patrick Moore, 2004.

More Dirty Looks: Gender, Pornography and Power edited by Pamela Church Gibson, 2004.

Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink: Educational, Sensual, and Entertaining Essays by Midori, 2005.

Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM & the Ordeal Path by Raven Kaldera, 2006.

In Praise of the Whip: A Cultural History of Arousal by Niklaus Largier, 2007.

Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer Vol. 1 by Jack Fritscher, 2008.

Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade by Justin Spring, 2010.

Life, Leather and the Pursuit of Happiness by Steve Lenius, 2010.

Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader by Gayle S. Rubin, 2011.

Leatherman: the Legend of Chuck Renslow by Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen, 2011.

Running the Gauntlet by Jim Ward, 2011.

Making Modern Love: Sexual Narratives and Identities in Interwar Britain by Lisa Z. Sigel, 2012.

The S&M Feminist by Clarisse Thorn, 2012.

Twenty-Five Years of Living in Leather: National Leather Association, 1986-2011 by Steve Stein, 2012.

The History & Arts of the Dominatrix by Anne O. Nomis, 2013.

The Bear Book: Readings in the History and Evolution of a Gay Male Subculture edited by Les Wright, 2013.

Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism by Amber Jamilla Musser, 2014.

The Black Body in Ecstasy: Reading Race, Reading Pornography by Jennifer C. Nash, 2014.

Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings by Juana María Rodríguez, 2014.

In Defense of Identity Politics: A Queer Reclamation of a Radical Concept by Rostom Mesli, 2015.

Cuts and Criminality: Body Alteration in Legal Discourse by Theodore Bennett, 2015.

The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography by Ariane Cruz, 2016.

Eric Stanton and the History of the Bizarre Underground by Richard Pérez Seves, 2018.

A Lover’s Pinch: A Cultural History of Sadomasochism by Peter Tupper, 2018.

The Erotics of History: An Atlantic African Example by Donald L. Donham, 2018.

Screw Consent: A Better Politics of Sexual Justice by Joseph J. Fischel, 2019.

My Leather Life: Early Years by Peter S. Fiske and Thomas V. Peterson, 2019.

Females: A Concern by Andrea Long Chu, 2019.

Bound Together: Leather, Sex, Archives, and Contemporary Art by Andy Campbell, 2020.

Tom of Finland: The Official Life and Work of a Gay Hero by F. Valentine Hooven, 2020.

A History of Leather at Pride: 1965-1995 by Aphyr, 2021.

Sadomasochism and the BDSM Community in the United States by Stephen K. Stein, 2021.

Kink and Relationships

The Leatherman’s Handbook by Larry Townsend, 1972.

On The Safe Edge: A Manual For SM Play by Trevor Jacques, 1994.

Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism by Philip Miller and Molly Devon, 1995.

Leathersex: A Guide for the Curious Outsider and the Serious Player by Joseph W. Bean, 1997.

SM 101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman, 1998.

The Mistress Manual: The Good Girl’s Guide to Female Dominance by Mistress Lorelei, 2000.

The Erotic Bondage Handbook by Jay Wiseman, 2000.

The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton, 2001.

Sensuous Magic: A Guide to S/M for Adventurous Couples by Patrick Califia, 2001.

Miss Vera’s Cross-Dress for Success: A Resource Guide for Boys Who Want to Be Girls by Veronica Vera, 2002.

Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage by Midori, 2002.

Slavecraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude, Principles, Skills and Tools by Guy Baldwin, 2002.

The New Topping Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, 2003.

Erotic Slavehood: A Miss Abernathy Omnibus by Christina Abernathy, 2007.

The Human Pony: A Handbook for Owners, Trainers and Admirers by Rebecca Wilcox, 2008.

Toybag Guide To Age Play by Lee Harrington, 2008.

Two Knotty Boys Back on the Ropes by Two Knotty Boys, 2009.

The Toybag Guide to Playing With Taboo by Mollena Williams-Haas, 2010.

The Age Play and Diaper Fetish Handbook by Penny Barber, 2011.

Playing Well with Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring and Navigating the Kink, Leather and BDSM Communities by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams, 2012.

Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge edited by Tristan Taormino, 2012.

The Complete leatherboy Handbook by Vincent L. Andrews, 2012.

Shibari You Can Use: Japanese Rope Bondage and Erotic Macramé by Lee Harrington and RiggerJay, 2015.

More Shibari You Can Use: Passionate Rope Bondage and Intimate Connection by Lee Harrington and RiggerJay, 2015.

Becoming a Kink Aware Therapist by Caroline Shahbaz and Peter Chirinos, 2016.

Spirit of Desire: Personal Explorations of Sacred Kink edited by Lee Harrington, 2016.

Better Bondage for Every Body: With Rope Bondage Experts From Around the World by Evie Vane, 2017.

Essence of Shibari: Kinbaku and Japanese Rope Bondage by Shin Nawakari, 2017.

Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships by Stella Harris, 2018.

The Dominance Playbook: Ways to Play With Power in Scenes and Relationships by Anton Fulmen, 2019.

Suffering for Spirit: Empowerment Through Ordeal by Thista Minai, 2020.

Women and Kink: Relationships, Reasons, Stories by Jennifer Rehor and Julia Schiffman, 2022.

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