By Liam Murphy | @liamwaterloo


Take a deep breath – literally in this case – as it looks like poppers will be banned from April 2016, swept up in the crackdown on ‘legal highs’ and the sale of ‘psychoactive substances’. The news is enough to make any anyone who indulges in anal sex to feel tense, which really isn’t what they need right now.

As some bottoms across the country cry out in despair (and in pain because they can’t use poppers to ease entry anymore), how will they cope without their hole-loosening fix? Or are some people happy to say goodbye to sporadic headaches and nostril burns?

I asked ‘Gay Twitter’ whether ‘will you miss poppers if/when they are banned?’ Of the 272 gay men who voted, 53% said no and 47% said yes. So this not so  scientific survey says that not all of you care about poppers, or I’m followed by lots of tops or some very accommodating bottoms.

Anyway. As we say goodbye (probably for a little while) to the randy room odouriser, we take a look at what you may or may not miss about poppers and other ways to make anal sex less painful.

First of all, what are poppers?

Poppers usually come in a small bottle and take the form of white or straw-coloured liquid that has an odour resembling industrial glue. Inhaling the liquid’s vapour causes users to get a high from feeling a sudden rush of blood to the head.

Heaven Scent

Many of you can’t get enough of poppers (amyl nitrite) and, as mentioned above, some of you need it to make getting fucked a more pleasurable experience.

“I can’t take a dick without using poppers,” Steven, 33, explains. “I just can’t relax enough without them to even get it past the ‘main gates’. It doesn’t matter how much lube I use – something about sniffing poppers allows me to open up and take it better.”

Steven doesn’t know how he will manage now poppers are illegal. “I guess I’ll have to give up bottoming! I’ll probably just stock up before the ban comes in – I’ll have a cupboard full of them.”

“They just make me incredibly horny and a little bit greedy,” says Joseph, 28. “I don’t actually use them much for fucking but I tend to bring out the poppers when I’m sucking cock. For some reason they increase my desire to do it and make me want it more. They just get me going and because I don’t do other drugs, it seems like a good, safer way to get a bit of a buzz on.”

But will he miss the horn-inducing aroma when they go? “I think I will miss poppers when they’re banned but I’ll survive. I just think it’s a shame as they’re relatively harmless, especially considering the rubbish some guys put in their body to get fucked.”

Oust the odour

Not everyone is a fan of the bottled bum expander, and won’t shed a tear if it were to depart the shelves of our sex shops.

“I can’t use them,” 25-year-old Owen states. “I tried them a few times and they just made me feel a bit woozy and left me with a massive headache. The first time I tried them was in a club with friends and it just made me feel a bit sick – although I was quite drunk. I tried them during sex too. It was OK at first but then a headache kicked in and I couldn’t keep it up. They seem to hinder sex rather than help it. Personally, I won’t be sad to seem them go.”

Sam, 41, has similar feelings towards poppers. “I hate them and I hate that people use them. I’ve hooked up with guys before who whip out poppers halfway through and it totally puts me off. The slightest whiff makes me lose my horniness and actually puts me off the guy. I’ll always check before going for a meet whether he uses poppers and, if he does, I’ll usually cancel. I detest them that much.”

34-year-old Leo has a much more specific reason for not mourning the potential passing of poppers. “I accidentally spilled some on my nose while I was laying down – this was back when they were really high strength – and it burned my whole nose. It was fun trying to explain that to my mum at lunch the next day.”

What do we do now?

Of course poppers aren’t the only way to ease the entry to the anal love hole (possibly the most hideous sentence I’ve ever typed). There’s plenty you can do to make the experience more pleasurable and infinitely easier. We consulted bottoming enthusiast, 25-year-old Mark, for his tips to make taking it top.

“The best thing you can do at the start is trying things to physically and mentally relax you: take a long hot bath, get your guy to massage you and so on. I’ve found controlling my breathing really helpful. The temptation is to take quick shallow breaths but that’s counter-productive. What you want is slow, deliberate breaths that help relax you. You can also use your breathing to help open up your arse. There are lots of meditation techniques that get you to tense and relax each of your muscles in turn. Obviously that will only sort of work with your external sphincter and isn’t going to work with your internal involuntary sphincter, but do it anyway - try visualising yourself relaxing and opening up. With every exhalation, you’re a little more relaxed, a little more open.

“Beyond the mental, there’s also plenty of physical things you can do to make your time getting fucked easier. Douching is important, mainly just so it’s one less thing to worry about. In terms of positions, do whatever you feel most comfortable in, but give cowgirl (boy) a try. It puts you in control of the pace if the other guy behaves and stays still, and it also straightens out your rectum and forces some of the muscles up there to relax. Lastly, there are two obvious ones: lube and time.

“However slow you think is too slow, go slower. Let your body get used to every sensation and every inch before moving on. If you go a little too fast too soon, just go back to where to where you were comfortable and wait until you feel OK then move on more slowly. Same principle with lube – whatever you think is probably too much, add more. But as well as using buckets of the stuff, it’s worth trying different kinds and brands. You might find that silicone based or something else works better for you than good old water-based, although obviously check that it’s condom safe.”

Poppers and your health

If you are someone who depends on poppers you’re probably going to stock up or seek alternatives online. So to make sure you know how to use poppers safely here comes the science bit.

Poppers are highly acidic and will burn surfaces, especially skin and around your nostrils if you sniff them too close to the nose. Poppers are sometimes linked to risky sexual behaviour and, because of the intensity which you will feel when sniffing them, you may get too ‘lost in the moment’ and forget to use a condom. As poppers expand the blood vessels inside your arse, the chance of anal bleeding increases and makes it easier for HIV to enter the bloodstream. Poppers can also influence you to have rougher sex, like fisting, which also increases the chance of bleeding.

Mixing poppers with Viagra add extra strain to your heart which may be dangerous. Many people don’t experience this but it’s important to know that there is a risk when mixing the two. Some side effects include headaches, dizziness and nausea.

Poppers can give you an incredible head rush and intensify the passion when you have sex. It’s known to relax your arse muscles and make it easier to get fucked. If you are going to sniff them, make sure you leave regular intervals so that you give your body time to rest. Don’t put the bottle too close to your nose because the liquid and fumes can burn your skin, and don’t get the liquid in your eyes or other body parts for the same reason.


For more information on poppers and drugs used for sex, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/alcohol-and-drugs. 

For more information on how to better your sex life, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/better-sex.


How risky is fucking without condoms?

Most gay men who have HIV caught it from getting fucked without a condom. As far as gay sex goes, getting fucked without a condom, and having your partner cum inside you, is the riskiest thing you can do. This is because the lining of the arse can absorb liquids directly into your bloodstream. If there’s HIV in his cum, and it goes up your arse, that will be absorbed too. Getting fucked without him cumming inside you is lower risk but, as there is HIV in pre-cum too, there is still a risk of HIV transmission.

In group sex it’s theoretically possible to catch HIV from getting fucked even if your partner is HIV-negative, if he has fucked someone who is HIV-positive and then fucks you immediately afterwards. This is because there could be traces of HIV-infected anal mucus or blood on his cock.

Getting fucked is also high risk for most other STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, syphilis, warts, hepatitis B and it is now thought that you can catch hepatitis C as well. Condoms provide an effective barrier against most STIs, including HIV, although some STIs, such as syphilis and warts, can still be transmitted if the condom does not cover the entire infected area, such as the base of the cock. If you are infected with an STI in your arse, it will increase the chances of you being infected with HIV if you are HIV-negative. If you are HIV-positive and have an STI, it is likely that there will be higher concentrations of HIV in all of your body fluids, including blood and anal mucus, and so you will be more infectious.

If the person doing the fucking is HIV-positive and has an undetectable viral load the risk of transmission will be greatly reduced.

What if I fuck without a condom?

Fucking someone without a condom is less risky than getting fucked without a condom, but it is still one of the riskiest sexual practices that gay men do. If you are HIV-negative, fucking someone bareback is more likely to lead to infection than sucking cock. This is because the anal mucus that lines the arse (we all have it) can contain a very high concentration of HIV. The mucous membrane just inside the tip of the penis and the foreskin can absorb liquids, like anal mucus, directly into the bloodstream. HIV experts used to think that infection from the receptive partner (bottom) to the insertive partner (top) was as a result of bleeding in the arse. Although it’s possible that blood is responsible for transmission in some cases, we now think that anal mucus is the body fluid that enables the man doing the fucking to become infected.

Other infections in or around his arse, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, syphilis, warts and hepatitis B can be passed to the guy fucking through his urethra (the tube you piss through). Condoms can prevent most of the infections that you can get from fucking, although it’s worth remembering that some STIs can be transmitted even if you use condoms.

If the guy getting fucked is HIV-positive and has an undetectable viral load the risk of transmission is greatly reduced, however the levels of virus in anal mucus may not match the level of virus in the blood (which is how viral load is usually measured).

How risky are fucking and getting fucked with condoms?

While it is rare, condoms can break during fucking and this could make it possible for HIV or other STIs to be transmitted. Condom breaks usually occur because condoms are used incorrectly or are used for long sessions without changing them. If you use condoms correctly with plenty of water-based lube, it will greatly reduce the chances of them breaking. If you are having group sex, it’s also important to change condoms for each partner. This is because it’s theoretically possible that traces of HIV-infected anal mucus or blood could remain on a condom after a guy with HIV gets fucked. This is also true for other STIs, including hepatitis C. While condoms offer protection against HIV and most STIs, they cannot prevent them all. Even if you always use condoms for fucking we recommend that you get regular sexual health screens at a GUM clinic and continue to test for HIV on an annual basis.

For more information on sex, sexual health, STIs and HIV, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/sex.


THE GMFA GUIDE TO STIs