Neither Legal Nor Illegal: Poppers as ‘Acceptable’ Chemsex Drugs Among Men Who Have Sex with Men in the Philippines

Document Type


Publication Date



Our article provides the first qualitative inquiry into the use of alkyl nitrites or poppers in the Philippines. Drawing from thematic analysis of 13 semi-structured interviews; we illuminate the role of poppers in the lives of men who have sex with men (MSM) in the country; arguing that the popularity of these substances is embedded within multiple; occasionally conflicting sexual and chemical ideologies. More than their multifunctionality as drugs that fulfill many roles and are used in various sexual settings; it is their ideological acceptability that largely explains their popularity. In the contexts of the ongoing Philippine drug war and of Philippine society's long history of stigmatizing people who use drugs; poppers are widely regarded as biomedically; sociopolitically; and legally ‘harmless’ and ‘acceptable’; especially relative to other substances used for chemsex. In constructing poppers as chemsex drugs; we depart from definitions of chemsex established mainly by the Global North and provide a glimpse into how MSM who use poppers situate themselves in a particularly hostile sociopolitical milieu. We consider the implications of our findings against the country's drug paradigm; reflecting on the nature of poppers as substances located in the gray area of legality; and what they mean for sexuality; drug use; and the localized; cultural taboos of our time.