Queering poppers literature: A critical interpretive synthesis of health sciences research on alkyl nitrite use and Canadian policy


BACKGROUND: Poppers (alkyl nitrites) are vasodilators used by many gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) to relieve pain, enhance pleasure, and facilitate penetration during sex. In 2013, the Canadian government cracked down on the sale of poppers products, however prevalence of poppers use among GBMSM in Canada remains high. Poppers have been studied by medical researchers since the 1980s, yet qualitative and community-based research to inform federal policy, remains somewhat less common. METHODS: We conducted a critical interpretive synthesis (CIS) to better understand poppers health literature using the medical model of health as a point of reference. Analysis was performed using inductive and deductive methods including reflexive note-taking, mind-mapping, and close coding. 153 publications were identified to inform this review of which 5 were chosen for coding based on a purposive sampling framework. RESULTS: Our findings are unified within a theoretical construct we term responsibility. Responsibility is a construct we use to describe the bias we identified in health sciences literature regarding poppers use that tends to exaggerate the necessity for poppers cessation, and devalue both the benefits of poppers use and the perspectives and experiences of people who use poppers. The emphasis on individual behavior change within the literature appears to be motivated less by objective measures or assessments of health risks and outcomes, and more by harmful stereotypes that position gay men and people who use drugs as inherently irresponsible. CONCLUSION: We conclude by discussing how these findings have important implications for the review of current policy on poppers sales in Canada which remains influenced by a literature base prejudiced by factors such as homophobia, heteronormativity, and drug stigma, and recommend areas for future work.


Schwartz C, Tooley L, Knight R, Steinberg M




  • Population(s)
    • Men who have sex with men
    • General HIV- population
  • Prevention, Engagement and Care Cascade
    • Prevention
  • Prevention
    • Sexual risk behaviour


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