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The back of a box of Amyl Nitrite poppers I got in 1979 with one still unused

BAMMER47: Poppers! Some gay men love their stimulating properties for sex and dancing, while others can’t stand that they may leave you with a headache, are disorienting, and “smell like a locker room”. What’s your relationship to this chemical stimulant?


Amyl nitrite (or nitrate) is a vasodilator invented in 1937, still prescribed by doctors to treat and prevent chest pain (angina). By the 1960s, gay men had discovered that amyl helped enhance sexual pleasure AND distract the passive partner during anal sex from the initial discomfort that accompanies penetration.

Willie Wilson in LA in July 1976, 3 months after our affair in DC

I met Willie Wilson in DC in March 1976 and we had a glorious 2-week affair, my first such experience. In that short time frame, he educated me about so much in the gay world, including amyl, nicknamed poppers because they were packaged in silicon ampules that had to be “popped” to release their powerful aroma.

Immediately after Willie returned to his home in the SF Bay Area, he sent me a box of poppers, only available by prescription. The accompanying photos show the package in which Willie mailed me the box of poppers and his note instructing me on how to use them. As you might expect, they were put to good use!:-).

The wrapping from the box of poppers Willie mailed me after he returned to California following our affair in 1976

I nursed the ampules parsimoniously, but, by early 1979, I’d used the dozen I’d been given by Willie. I was somehow able to obtain a prescription for amyl nitrite in January 1979 and I used them sparingly over the years, including one 10 years or so ago. I actually have one ampule left and I suspect it’s still potent, 41 years later! I may pop it someday to confirm my suspicion. Or, I may hold onto it as another bit of memorabilia from the 70s.

By 1979, Willie was ensconced in a new relationship and living in LA with Cliff, a former military guy who’d invented an offshoot of amyl nitrate, isobutyl nitrate,

Willie's adorable instructions in his note on how to use the "little fellows".

The front of my box of poppers prescribed in 1979

A current internet meme about gay men using poppers for sex (still the same after 45 years).


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