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Popping Off

Joe Newton

I have an etiquette question for you. I’m a cis straight woman. I recently hooked up with a bisexual man I met online. In the middle of missionary position sex, he began to sniff what I can only assume was poppers. I have no experience with them. Should he have said something beforehand? Should he have asked if this was okay with me? Or offered me some? What if he spilled it on me? Missionary position can feel vulnerable and something about this man unscrewing a small bottle of liquid directly above me felt pretty weird.

Hoping Unimpressive Fuckboy Finishes Sniffing

“This guy should have said he likes doing poppers,” said Adam Zmith, “and he should have told HUFFS he wanted to do them with her.”

Zmith is the author of Deep Sniff: A History of Poppers and Queer Futures, an absolutely fascinating social...

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...of Poppers and Queer Futures, an absolutely fascinating social history of one of the world’s most popular recreational drugs. “If HUFFS didn’t know what poppers were, this man should’ve explained them to her,” said Zmith. “He should have told her how you do them, and what it feels like to do them, so she could’ve decided if she wanted to try them. And if she didn’t want to, he still could have sniffed himself.” For readers who don’t know what poppers are — for readers who’ve just entered the chat and/or readers who’ve just slept with the same inconsiderate bi guy HUFFS did — they’re a grouping of chemical compounds known as nitrites (amyl nitrate, butyl nitrite, pentyl nitrite, etc.) that come in liquid form and were once used to treat chest pain. Poppers originally came in tiny glass vials covered in cotton fabric; people broke the vials open under their noses and inhaled the odor; the vials made a popping sound when they broke open, hence the name. Now poppers come in little brown bottles; people unscrew the cap, take a sniff, put the cap back on the bottle, and promptly lose the bottle in the bedsheets. “When you sniff their vapor,” explained Zmith, “your blood pressure lowers, more oxygen goes to your brain, and your muscles relax. This makes you a bit high for a minute or so, and high in a very particular way that feels great during sex. A lot of men who bottom during anal sex like poppers because it relaxes their bum muscles — but honestly, a lot of people love sniffing poppers, whatever their body parts or sexuality.” A person who wants to use poppers in an enclosed space — or on top of someone they’ve just met — should always ask first. Poppers have a strong odor that can instantly fill a room; some people don’t like the way they smell, and people with chemical sensitivities or asthma can have a bad reaction to them. (Also, poppers and ED meds do not mix.) No one is obligated to run through a bathhouse or a sex club asking everyone for permission to open a bottle of poppers; if you’re in a crowded public sex environment, you’re going to catch a whiff. But failing to ask for an okay when you’re alone with someone in their bedroom (or body) — asking with your words or a gesture — is extremely bad sex etiquette. Now, popper use is common among gay and bi men of all ages, and it’s particularly popular with young gay and bi men. So, if this guy on the younger side and mostly has sex with other men, he may have assumed — incorrectly — that he didn’t need to ask because everyone loves poppers. That would be the most charitable read of his behavior. The less charitable read: this particular bi guy is an inconsiderate asshole who didn’t ask for your okay — or offer you a sniff — because he didn’t care about your comfort, safety, or pleasure. Or maybe he’s one of those guys who has become psychologically and physically dependent on poppers; the association between the head rush and climax can become so strong that some regular users can’t come without poppers. If he’s one of those guys, HUFFS, he may have figured it was better to ask for forgiveness after inhaling and blowing his load than to ask for permission and risk getting a no and not climaxing — also the actions of an inconsiderate asshole selfishly prioritizing his own pleasure. As for your concerns about a possible spill… “Because the liquid itself is pretty toxic and can burn the skin, you have to be careful not to spill it in bed or wherever you’re having sex,” said Zmith. “So, the way this guy opened his bottle above HUFFS wasn’t very cool.” That said, you probably weren’t at serious risk of being splashed with poppers; people who use poppers regularly are pretty good at opening and closing the bottles without spilling a drop, and many can do it with just one hand. (An asshole move, but a dexterous one.) Still, someone who opens a bottle of poppers without asking doesn’t inspire feelings of confidence or trust, whether they’re hovering over you or laying under you. So, while you probably weren’t in danger from the poppers, when this guy opened that bottle — already inside you — he was again making it clear that your safety, comfort, and pleasure didn’t concern him. He was the threat, not the poppers. “Like a lot of drugs, poppers can be great when you do them with another person, because you share the experience,” said Zmith, “and they can really intensify the sex you’re having together.” Follow Adam Zmith on Twitter @AdamZmith and learn more about his books, podcasts, and other media projects at www.LinkTree.com/adamzmith. The times you’ve addressed the issue of whether a relationship is “lasting love” or merely transactional resonated with me. I’m an older man in a relationship with a camgirl who streams on commercial sites. She has said that she views me as a friend and not as a customer (and indeed does not press me for money), but she’s also started to push me away. She says she started to feel real love for me, but since we cannot marry (because I am already married) she does not want to risk her emotions. There are other issues and chief among them is the fact that she lives in a different country, so it is unlikely we will ever actually meet in person. I have tried to argue that we can make this friendship work, but she resists. Is she playing me, or is there something I can say to reassure her that a friendship between us can work? Sugar Daddy Asking Dan I couldn’t tell you whether she’s playing you or not — I don’t know whether she’s pulling away because you’re already married or because your checks aren’t clearing — but I can tell you she’s pulling away, SDAD, which is all you need to know. Even if you don’t understand why she’s pulling away, even if you never get an answer that satisfies you, she’s giving you a pretty clear “no” here, SDAD, and you’re gonna have to take that no for an answer. There are a million possible reasons why she might not want you in her life anymore. Maybe she has a new sugar daddy who’s fine with her camming but doesn’t want her connecting with other men on an emotional level… or maybe she isn’t comfortable taking money from you anymore because she found out you were sending more than you could reasonably spare… or maybe she never felt anything for you and didn’t feel comfortable pretending anymore. Whatever the reason, she’s decided to wind your connection down, SDAD, and any effort to force a friendship will make you less appealing as a friend, not more. She knows how you feel — if you hear from her again, great. If not, there are other camgirls out there. In addition to taking her no for an answer, SDAD, take the compliment. If she’s telling you the truth, i.e., if she caught feelings for you and she’s pulling back because she fears catching bigger feelings, well, that means you’re a good guy, SDAD, the kind of guy a camgirl could fall in love with. And if that’s true or it’s not the whole truth, well, that means she liked you enough to go to the trouble of making something up — she went to the trouble of telling you a face-saving, ego-sparing lie — instead of just blocking you, which would’ve been a lot easier. I am a 40-year-old woman and the mother of three. I work four days a week. For many years I have had several of what you call “FWB,” which started because I was looking for adventure. My husband, who is also the father of my children, has not been explicitly told, but he has some sense and chose to turn a blind eye and allow me this freedom. I do not want a divorce, because that will not better our shared situation. Most of my “affairs” are on a pause at the moment, as my main FWB just got divorced, which has changed things for us somehow, and my backup FWB can’t seem to get together anymore. Perhaps this would be the right moment to quit having adventures and go back to a normal married life without FWB. Do you think that’s possible? Or do you think I will fall back to my old habits? Regards From The Netherlands Possible, sure — anything is possible. But do you wanna give up your adventures? You assume your husband knows, and you’ve interpreted his silence as tacit approval. Which could be true… or it could be a self-serving rationalization… or it could be a floor wax and a dessert topping. (That’s a nearly 50-year-old pop culture reference, for those keeping track at home.) One or the other, both or neither, if you don’t have a trustworthy FWB at the moment and you don’t wanna go looking for one, why not give normal married life a try? If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, you can return to the old status quo. Most people would regard the old status quo — having a FWB or two — as a threat to your marriage, RFTN, but there’s a chance it’s a stabilizing force. Nothing succeeds like success… and here you and your husband are, still together after all these years, your kids still coming home after school to both their parents, under the same roof. That could be despite your adventures, RFTN, but it could be because of them. You’ve been able to have your cake and eat it too — you were socially monogamous, not sexually monogamous — because you weren’t forced to choose between marriage and sexual adventure. If you had been forced to choose (by yourself, by your husband, by your society, by religious hangups, etc.), it’s not a given that you would’ve chosen your marriage; lots of people who face that choice don’t choose their marriages. Oh, and congrats on the four-day workweek — to say nothing of the socialized medicine, the walkable cities, the frequent and reliable mass transit, and all those hot Dutch men. You have to put up with obnoxious British tourists barfing into your canals, I realize, but that’s a small price to pay to live in such a wonderful country. Got a problem? Everyone does! Submit your written question for “Savage Love” now! Or…

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