Poppers — the slang term for chemical substances that have long been used by gay men to enhance sex — have found themselves a topic of conversation lately.
Not only did we recently discover they were used by one particularly famous TV star, but Australia been on a rampage to ban them since last year. The nation’s Therapeutic Goods Administration motioned to categorize them in the same drug schedule as cocaine and heroin, though any final decision was put on hold until this year, following public consultation.
While the “poppers craze” among gay men and the queer community started back in the mid-’70s, many younger guys aren’t all that familiar with poppers. What are they, how do they work, and what are their benefits and disadvantages?
To answer those questions, we went to Dr. Evan Goldstein, a leading LGBTQ sexual health expert and anal surgeon who founded Bespoke Surgical, a practice that specializes in gay men’s sexual health and wellness. Our go-to guy for anything butt-related, Goldstein has offices in both New York City and Los Angeles.
As a disclaimer, Dr. Goldstein would like to say that he doesn’t condone drug use. But also, whereas most physicians aren’t interested in even entertaining conversations like this, Dr. Goldstein considers it naïve to not assist people in making informed decisions, since we know gay men will continue to experiment with poppers and other substances.
Here are all of our poppers questions, asked and answered:
HORNET: First things first, what the hell are poppers?
DR. EVAN GOLDSTEIN: Poppers are a recreational drug with strong historical and cultural ties to the gay community. Due to their relaxing effect on involuntary smooth muscles, such as the anus, poppers are commonly used by bottoms prior to engaging in anal sex, as they relieve tightness and provide a heightened sexual encounter. We’ll get into the controversial pain part later.
So, what are poppers actually made of?
Poppers are chemical compounds, which specifically come from the amyl groups — amyl nitrate, amyl nitrite, alkyl nitrate and butyl nitrite. They were originally used to combat angina, other heart conditions and cyanide poisoning, as well being an additive to fuel. That’s why at the Shell station you can open your window and get a quick high. (We know there are people out there who do this!)
How are they used?
Poppers can be inhaled through the nose or mouth. The drug should take effect almost instantly, lasting only for minutes or even seconds. To avoid injury related to the potential loss of consciousness or muscle strength, we recommend using poppers while sitting or lying down, especially the first time you use them. We also recommend creating a safe space when exploring these enhancers.
What are the benefits of poppers?
As a bottom during anal sex, relaxation is key. The euphoric effects of poppers go hand-in-hand with sexual encounters, and also aid in masking pain in other areas. Some users have even reported an increase in sexual sensation and enhanced orgasms. While it’s important to remember that poppers are a psychoactive drug and should be used with caution, when used safely and with a trustworthy and experienced partner, poppers can be a fun and pleasurable addition to the bedroom.
Are there any disadvantages of poppers?
Whether you’re using poppers for their euphoric effects or to “loosen things up,” we caution users against treating poppers as a crutch rather than as a supplement. We only recommend bringing poppers into the mix if one can prove to themselves they are able to successfully engage anally without them. Unfortunately, while exhilarating, poppers can numb the user to pain associated with tearing and trauma, resulting in anal fissures, hemorrhoids and other anal pathologies.
We know that some guys in our community use enhancers, like mixing poppers and erectile dysfunction (ED) medication. But this combination doesn’t play well and can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, resulting in fainting, stroke or heart attack. If you’re going to mix them, against medical advice, we recommend halving the dosages of both at first to get a sense of their potential interactions. And, of course, please consult your doctor before experimenting.
Side effects of poppers include but are not limited to slurred speech, lack of coordination, nosebleeds, sores or a rash around the nose and mouth and red, glassy, watery eyes. Dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea and vomiting can also occur. Their extended use can lead to memory problems, confusion, difficulty concentrating and disorientation, as well as more permanent damage to the brain, bones, heart, kidneys and liver.
Thanks for your time, Dr. Goldstein!
So, there you have it.
Dr. Goldstein emphasizes that it’s important to do your own research into what you’re putting into your body, and to know your own body’s limitations before incorporating poppers (or any other substances) into your sexual routine.