Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Psychology of leather & kink


San Francisco author and sex therapist David Ortmann. (Photo: Scott Brogan)
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David Ortmann is a San Francisco-based psychotherapist, sex therapist, and author. His areas of clinical focus and study include the sexuality of the BDSM, kink, fetish, and leather communities, concepts and theories of masculinity, and the processes of human attachment and differentiation. He speaks locally and nationally in an effort to promote leather and BDSM community visibility and improve clinical psychotherapeutic interventions for these populations.

Scott Brogan: I've noticed that many people I meet in our community have vocations in mental health or some type of psychology. Is there a correlation?

David Ortmann: It's funny, I haven't noticed that. Maybe I don't see it because I'm a member of these communities and a mental health professional. Perhaps I take it for granted or just see it as normative. What I will say is that what we manipulate, exploit and use in the leather/kink/fetish/BDSM communities (power, roles, gear, levels of dominance and submission, etc.) requires a person to have a certain level of healthy self-reflection and a sense of responsibility that can really only be found in someone who has an awareness of their own psychological makeup. This kind of sexuality isn't meant to be undertaken thoughtlessly or unconsciously.

How do you see the acceptance of the leather/kink community today compared to 10 to 40 years ago?

Our communities are certainly more normalized in San Francisco in the past 10 years. I'm not sure that could be said of other cities or towns, because I don't live there. I understand the trend is moving more toward more mainstream acceptance in American urban areas. We're more "out." But even in urban areas like San Francisco, it hasn't always been safe, professionally or personally, to be out as kinky or BDSM or leather. Being a boy who came out into leather in his early 20s and now looking back, as a man in his early 40s, I see a wide diversity of interests, genders, ages, and ideas. It's heartening to watch a broadening of the freedoms of erotic expression around me. I can only hope it continues.

How do you think the AIDS crisis impacted the leather/kink community in the long run?

Wow. How many leathermen did we lose? An entire generation. Two, even. It devastated the community. But it also brought us and greater San Francisco together: leather men, drag queens, lesbians, even our straight allies came together in the face of AIDS. We raised money, consciousness, created institutions and we put aside our differences to act . Crisis forced us to grow. But we lost a lot of people and a lot of history. Some of our sexual abandon and innocence was lost, too. Maybe we're getting some of that back. Maybe not.

An ongoing issue is the debate over online vs. in-person hook-ups. What is your take on that?

It's that age-old paradox: progress gives, and progress takes away. The Internet has connected people all over the world, and quickly. Websites exist for every possible sexual passion. You can connect with so many. Perhaps this is crucially important to people in isolated areas who need the Internet to connect, but the Internet also can also isolate us. It can make us lazy. It's infinitely easier to hide behind an online persona than approach someone in a bar and say, "I think you're hot. What are you into?" I caught the tail-end of the pre-Internet, dark leather bar, hanky-code tradition of cruising. I loved it! I miss it. I wish we had more of it. There was a mystery to it that was arousing. I'm not sure it's the same online. It's not for me.

In recent years, part of the community has been moving from "old guard" to the newer "anything goes kink/fetish." Some say it's a youth rebellion. Do you agree?

Well, yes and no. It's incumbent on the younger generation to question and challenge the values of the generations that came before. That's how we learn and grow. At 42, I'm sandwiched somewhere between what we perceive (and I say that with emphasis) as "I'm-in-my-20s-and-anything-goes" and "I'm-in-my-60s-and-it-was-better-and-more-real-in my-day." I talk to kids in their 20s who want to know about leather traditions. I talk to people who think that having sex in their wrestling singlets isn't all that kinky. I talk to my leather elders who debate what "old guard" was, or whether it even existed. This is not my opinion, this is what I've seen and heard. My opinion is that I like to sit at a table where everyone is welcome and has something to share and learn, regardless of age. That's dynamic to me. That's interesting .

(To be continued, June 2 issue.)

Information about Ortmann's work and practice are available at

Coming up in leather & kink

Thu., May 19: Underwear Night at The Powerhouse (1347 Folsom). 10 p.m. Wet undie contest and drink specials. Go to

Thu., May 19: Locker Room Thursdays at Kok Bar SF (1225 Folsom). 9 p.m.-close. Jockstraps, gear, singlets, etc. Free clothes check. DJ Hotwire. Go to:

Thu., May 19: Seeing Red - Cutting & Blood Play with Stefanos & Chey at the SF Citadel (1277 Mission). 7:30 p.m. $20. Go to:

Thu., May 19: Northwest Leather 2011 Kick-Off Cigar Social at The Renegades Bar (501 Taylor, San Jose). 8 p.m.-12 a.m. Free. Go to:

Fri., May 20-Sun., May 22: Northwest Leather Celebration & Northwest Master/slave Contest Weekend at the Doubletree Hotel (2050 Gateway Place, San Jose). Go to:

Fri., May 20: Who's Your Mama? Mama's Birthday Celebration at The Edge (4149 18th St). 9 p.m.-12 a.m. No gifts, just bring yourself and a donation of any size for the SF Leather Pride Contingent 2011. Go to:

Fri., May 20: Truck Wash at Truck (1900 Folsom). 10 p.m.-close. Enjoy the live shower boys and drink specials. Go to:

Fri., May 20: Urge - SF's Only Play Party for Guys Under 40, at the SF Citadel. 8 p.m.-1 a.m. $25. Membership required, available at door for $10. Go to:

Sat., May 21: AIDS Emergency Fund event at Kok Bar SF. Starts at 9 p.m. Go to:

Sun., May 22: IML Send-Off Party for Mr. SF Leather 2011 Darren Bondy at The Powerhouse. 7-11 p.m. Go to:

Sun., May 22: Beer Bust Fundraiser for AIDSLifeCycle Team XXX at Kok Bar SF. 5-8 p.m. $8 beer bust. Raffles, Jell-o shots, and more. Go to:

Sun., May 22: Castrobear presents Sunday Furry Sunday at 440 Castro. 4-10 p.m. Go to:

Sun., May 22: PoHo Sundays at The Powerhouse. DJ Keith - Dollar Drafts all day. Go to:

Sun., May 22: Flogger-works - Guided by Daddy Darin and Jerry at the SF Citadel. 8-9:30 p.m. Doors open at 7:30. $10. Go to:

Mon., May 23: Dirty Dicks at The Powerhouse. Starts at 4 p.m. $3 well drinks. Go to:

Tue., May 24: Busted at Truck. 9 p.m.-close. $5 beer bust from 9-11 p.m. Great music, and the notorious Truck boys. Go to:

Wed., May 25: Leathermen's Discussion Group upstairs at Blow Buddies (933 Harrison). 7:30-9:30 p.m. Free, open to all genders. This edition: Jim Ward - Running the Gauntlet. Go to:

Wed., May 25: Leather Buddies at Blow Buddies. This is a male-only club. Doors open 8 p.m.-12 a.m. Play til late. Go to:

Wed., May 25: Bear Bust Wednesdays at Kok Bar SF. $6 all you can drink Bud Light or Rolling Rock drafts. Go to:

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