Lust & Love

5 Things I Learned At IML That Have (Almost) Nothing To Do With Leather Or Sex

leather-walk-mktcastro-2014You’re not still having boring old vanilla sex, are you? That’s for amateurs. True lovers of naked fun time are like explorers, venturing out into the world in search of a bold frontier of sexual adventure. Last weekend in Chicago, thousands of such happy people gathered for International Mr. Leather, an annual convention for sexy garb and friendly schmoozing.

We traveled to IML last weekend to check out the scene, tweak a few nipples, and strike up a conversation with the assembled throng of nearly-naked men. We thought it was just going to be a raunchy hookup scene — but surprise! While there’s certainly plenty of sex to be had, there’s so much more to IML than sex.

1. Leather Conventions Are Like Adult Summer Camp (Very Adult)


On of the first things we discovered at IML is that, like summer camp, you get out what you put in. Hang back and hide shyly in your room and you’ll have a boring time. Sneak off into the bushes with a friend, and you’ll happen across some fun. And if you want to sidle up to some nerds and talk about comic books, you’ll find yourself able to do that as well.

We made this discovery on the first night of the convention, loitering around the hotel lobby. In every direction there were guys in jockstraps, in pup hoods, and leathery harnesses, and it looked like the only reason anyone was there was for penetration and ejaculation. But then we heard a bunch of people — all of whom were wearing next to nothing — talking about the new Captain America movie, and suddenly we were deep in a discussion of comic lore. The next day, we met a lawyer at the leather mart, and made some chit-chat about some much-needed reforms at the Social Security Administration. And on the final day, we learned from a bootblack what kind of lotion was the healthiest for our leather couch.

Lesson learned: IML is whatever you want it to be.

2. Rope Burns Take About A Week To Heal


A lot of IML guys arrive a few days before the convention, or live in Chicago year-round. We got there on the Tuesday before festivities started, and stayed a full week. It was on that very first night in town that we saw some other early celebrants at a bar: dressed up in their leather harnesses, they were gabbing about plans for going to the competition. Most were gesticulating and happily holding beers, but one couldn’t because he was bound up in rope with elaborate knots. It was pretty hot.

Related: Meet Five Heroes From The Leather Community

Fast-forward one week to our last day in Chicago. We went to the same bar and happened to run into the same group of guys. Most were now wearing normal street clothes, but the one who’d been tied up was shirtless. And he had very faint red bruises along the sides of his body that matched the knots we’d seen a week earlier. He explained that he was tied so tight that the rope left red marks, and he was marked as a rope slut for the entire duration of the conference. And that made him delighted.

3. The Leather Community Has Deep Respect for Sobrie


We’ve been to a lot of conventions, but we’ve never been to one that paid so much attention to sober living (the men at the bar notwithstanding). There were regular groups in the schedule to meet up and talk about being off booze and other substances. There were multiple mentions of recovery groups during the leather competition. And many of the men we met spoke openly about going to AA or rehab or detox.

What’s up with that? Maybe kinky people are more open about sharing experiences that other people might be to embarrassed to discuss openly. Or maybe the leather community is more susceptible to addiction for some reason.

There’s also the possibility that for some people, leather has taken the place of less healthy communities. For all the shortcomings of drinking and drugging, at least it’s something that you can do with other people. When a person gets clean, they might be look for better ways to meet people, aching for new companionship. That’s something the leather community provides.

4. Anyone Can Be Mr. Leather

band of leather brothers

One of the few structured events of IML is the actual International Mr. Leather competition. Men from all around the world work their way up through a pageant system that’s very much like Miss America, and then finally stand on stage in Chicago to compete for the title of the world’s best representative for the community.

Increasingly over the last few years, the contestants have been fascinating diverse. Men of different ages, races, and economic advantages all compete; and during this year’s competition, the stage was graced by contestants, guests, and judges of varying gender expressions and abilities. There was a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence sitting in the front row of the audience. Behind her was a guy in sports gear and a diaper.

You might think of just a generic tough-guy leather cop when you imagine Mr. Leather, but that’s certainly not the case anymore. There are still no women competing in the Mr Leather contest. but might some day change, too.

5. Leathermen Are Super Cuddly

fire island leather

Sometimes cuddling leads to sex, and sometimes it’s nice to just have a really long hug. We’ve never seen so many arms around shoulders, embraces, and heads leaning on shoulders as we did over this Memorial Day weekend. Who’d have guessed that beneath the gruff exterior, the cigars and bears, and the police uniforms, there might be a big soft huggy teddy bear?

As it turns out, a lot of leathermen are naturals at nurturing. Pups seem to have learned this lesson better than anyone else — we saw lots of dudes in dog collars on all fours, rubbing their heads against the legs of sirs so that they could get scratched behind the ears and tummy rubs. At the end of the night, some tired bears lounged in a cuddle pile against a pillar in an upstairs lobby. And when the crowded parties forced everyone to press together, nobody complained.

So sure, you can go to IML looking for the best sex you’ve ever had, and more power to you. But if that’s all you find, you’re missing out on a lot of the very best experiences.