Kink: A History

Kink has long been part of human sexuality. It’s defined as any ‘alternative’ sexual practice, what’s considered ‘alternative’ changes over time and location. From ancient Greek orgies to genital piercings in the Kama Sutra, people have always been interested in things that may not be marked as ‘normal’ today. 

LGBTQ+ culture and kink have been intertwined throughout modern LGBTQ+ history. So, for LGBT History Month, we wanted to pay tribute to the influence that kink has had on LGBTQ+ life as we know it. 


While connected to sexual practices, kink isn’t only limited to finding erotic pleasure, it can be a way of life and a connection to a community. Some kinks have entire cultures of their own.  

One kink-based subculture that has been influential throughout modern gay history is Leather. Thought to come from post WWII biker culture, the leather kink is characterised by leather clothing such as jackets, harnesses, and boots. Gay leather bars emerged around the world from the mid-1950s onwards, and since then leather has been a prominent kink community within LGBTQ+ circles.  

One tradition of the Leather community is Mr & Ms Leather competitions, where leather men and women compete to be role models for the leather community and embody their values (while also looking the part). 

The UK has hosted its own Mr. Leather Competition since 1988, and Mr. Leather international has been going on since 1979. The competition aims to be a space for all men to express themselves, and welcomes both cis and trans men. The first trans International Mr. Leather, Tyler McCormick, was crowned in 2010. He also made leather history as the first disabled winner of the competition. 

Tyler McCormick, International Mr. Leather 2019 Leather Life: 2010 (leathercolumn.blogspot.com)

During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, there was heightened stigma around sex, and a focus on ‘morality’, which shamed and demonised LGBT+ people for having sex for pleasure rather than procreation.  Activists reminded their communities that sexual liberation was still a right that needed to be protected. In fact, prominent figures within kink communities were often prominent AIDS activists as well. Alan Selby, a UK born leather man who was said to have introduced a rubber scene into London and created the first hanky code (a code used to signal sexual preferences to other gay men), raised over a million dollars for the AIDS Emergency Fund.  

Alan Selby (right), prominent figure in the leather community and HIV+AIDS activist (Photo: photographer unidentified; collection of the GLBT Historical Society. Bay Area Reporter :: News Brief: Exhibit to highlight leather daddy Selby (ebar.com))

Cynthia Slater was an activist and professional dominatrix who campaigned for the importance of kink-friendly safer sex education. She advocated for S/M (Sadism/Masochism) safety as well as AIDS education, delivered safer sex workshops in bathhouses and BDSM clubs, and created the first Women’s HIV/AIDS information switchboard.

Today, gay leather bars and fetish clubs remain a place for LGBTQ+ individuals to express their sexuality with like-minded peers. And the internet, through chatrooms, forums, community groups, etc., has become another way for kink communities to stay connected and pass on their knowledge. Kink is ever present in queer art as well. Local transfeminist DIY press, Easter Road Press recently published and quickly sold out of a ‘Trans Kink Zine’ that celebrates kinky trans joy! 

The tradition of sex and kink positive activism is one that we at SX hope to continue. SX provides space for people to ask questions about sex, kink, mental health, and a range of other topics without being judged. There is nothing shameful about kink, and in fact, it has been involved throughout modern history in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.  


Want to know more about the history of kink? Or learn tips on how to practice certain kinks in a safer and more pleasurable way? Here are some resources you should check out!