Poppers and How They're Used in Gay Sex

Two Gay Men Kiss
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Poppers are a popular substance used by gay men and are often considered a party or sex drug. The name is slang for a variety of different alkyl nitrites solutions, particularly amyl nitrite. Poppers are available over the counter and come in small bottles that are typically brown. The nitrates are a yellowish, strong scented, and quite flammable liquid. When inhaled, the liquid vapors deliver right to your system.

How Poppers Are Used in Gay Sex

Poppers are primarily used as a recreational drug to increase sexual arousal, but they haven't always been used as a sexual stimulant. Today, poppers are a way for gay men to relax and get a little extra sexual stimulation. Specifically, orgasms may be perceived to last longer, and erections can feel stronger. However, some men experience issues with getting an erection after taking poppers.

They vary by strength, so it depends on how strong a dose each use will give. Poppers are often sniffed right from the bottle, although some individuals dip a cigarette into the popper bottle and inhale it that way.

Poppers also relax key muscles, like the sphincter of the anus, which can make anal sex less painful. They also cause blood vessels to dilate, which drops blood pressure and increases heart rate. As a result, users experience a warm sensation, flushed face, and increased sexual arousal.

The effect can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on its strength and dosage.

Amyl nitrites used to be found in everyday products like air fresheners and video head cleaners. In the 1960's, however, amyl nitrite was used as heart medicine and sold in capsules that could be cracked, or "popped" to release the chemical fumes for inhalation.

Thus, the name poppers. Today, they can still be found in sex shops as cleaners, nail-polish removers, and room odorizers.

Risks and Side Effects of Poppers

Although poppers can enhance sexual experiences, there are some side effects including headaches, sudden changes in blood pressure, and potential loss of arousal after a few minutes. First, poppers enlarge blood vessels and increase blood flow. They can also impair judgment, leading to unprotected anal sex, which can increase the risk of HIV transmission during use. Furthermore, a tear or fissure in the rectal walls during anal sex, combined with unprotected sex and increased blood flow, can increase the risk of transmitting the virus. 

Although poppers provide a rush during sex, the effect only lasts a few minutes tops. The headaches, which are common side effects, can in some cases ruin the mood. Similarly, it's possible to feel sick, faint, or weak. There have also been reported cases of burns if the liquid drops on the skin, and a rash and/or other irritation around the nose, mouth, and throat may develop. If the liquid gets on your skin, you should wash it off immediately. Heavy usage can also create crusty yellow skin lesions around the nose, lips, and mouth.

Death and Warning Signs

Those with heart problems or blood pressure issues should not use poppers. Poppers can injure red blood cells and reduce oxygen supply to key organs in people with heart issues, which can result in death.

Most importantly, poppers should never be swallowed. Consuming the drug directly or combining poppers with Viagra (which also lowers blood pressure) can stop the heart and kill you. Additionally, losing consciousness may lead to death from choking on your own vomit. Mixing poppers with alcohol may increase these risks.

You're taking a risk by engaging in this drug at all. Fatal "sudden sniffing death syndrome" has been reported in those who have taken poppers and experienced an abnormal heart rhythm. There have also been cases of Poppers Maculopathy, which is a temporary or permanent loss of vision.

According to the Volatile Substance Abuse mortality project, 23 deaths from poppers have been reported out of the 2,488 fatalities from 1971-2009. Volatile substances are tense and likely to change rapidly and unpredictably (usually for the worse).

Where to Find Poppers

Most often, people buy poppers from head shops and online stores. They are also found in modern gift shops, sex shops, bars, tobacco locations, music stores, and clothing stores. However, some countries have explicit laws concerning the sale and use of poppers. For instance, they're considered a drug in Canada, so sales are regulated by the Food and Drug Act (FDA). Health Canada is concerned about potential overdoses or misuses because it's hard to control inhalation (and alkyl nitrates could be fatal). In Europe, poppers containing isopropyl nitrite are sold, while isobutyl nitrite is prohibited.