A popper is a type of drug used for recreation that creates an instant high when inhaled. It contains amyl nitrate, and is often marketed to gay men as “liquid gold,” “buzz” or “rush.” The drug is sold in small bottles at many adult novelty stores. It can be a sex enhancer and contribute to sexual arousal, but it also relaxes anal muscles, which can make it easier for someone to have unprotected anal sex.
Amyl nitrate can cause dangerously high blood pressure and eye pressure, especially if scented poppers are used. It can also cause chest pains, nausea and dizziness. Moreover, using poppers can increase the amount of fluid in the eyes, which could lead to glaucoma.
However, despite the risks, poppers are widely used in the LGBTQ community, particularly among gay and bisexual men. According to a 2020 report, one in five male-identified LGBTQ people reported having used poppers in the previous year. In addition, those who use poppers are more likely to have unprotected anal ejaculation.
It’s hard to think of queer culture without hearing the name “poppers.” Those little blue bottles are visible in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos and are referenced in classics like Hannibal and Fight Club. But it wasn’t until the AIDS epidemic struck that the public became aware of the dangers of poppers. It triggered something of a moral panic, and many started to question the safety of these drugs that they had been using for years. In his new book Deep Sniff: A History of Poppers and Queer Futures, author Adam Zmith aims to recast poppers not as a symbol of hyper-masculine gay identity but as a way for LGBTQ men to sample bodily liberation.