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Poppers and Viagra®: The history and science of the dangerous cocktail

Poppers and Viagra®, though often used in BDSM and kink, are a potentially lethal combination due to the way they interact in the same signaling pathway. They should never be used together, not even during the same day. I wrote this science-heavy article in an attempt to explain why they can never be used safely together. Trigger Warning: post contains references to enzymes and proteins.

The power of boners: Viagra is born

To understand the surprising link between Viagra and poppers, we need to take a trip back in history to how Viagra came to be the wonderdrug it is.

In the early 1970s, a group of enzymes called phosphodiesterases (PDEs) had been discovered, and by the late 1980s, science was investigating a newly isolated member of this group, PDE5, which was found to relax blood vessels. As human blood pressure is a function of peripheral resistance, relaxing the vessels would be an efficient way to reduce the pressure. Pfizer had discovered a new drug, then called UK-92480, that showed promising results in early studies. However, its effect was short lived, requiring three doses a day.

In addition to the problem of taking three pills a day, the research team at Pfizer also tested the drug in combination with nitrates, commonly used for chest pain, and discovered alarming drops of blood pressure. This was the first hint that this newly discovered drug would not play well with other blood vessel dilators.

Peculiarly, volunteers also complained of two side effects: muscle aches, and increased erections.

For the reasons above, UK-92480 never turned out to be a good blood pressure medication. The power of boners was irresistible though, and in 1997, Pfizer applied for approval for the drug, named sildenafil, as a boner pill, and started marketing it as Viagra.

The science of boners: why cGMP can make you hard (and make you blind)

The human body is an incredibly complex machine. Its actions are regulated by complex cascades of chemicals. Many drugs disrupt this cascade for your benefit. For example, when you take a pill of ibuprofen after a night of drinking, it inhibits cyclooxygenase, which in turn inhibits prostaglandins, resulting in reduced inflammation and pain.

The target of Viagra is cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), a chemical that among other things, relaxes blood vessels. Relaxed vessels mean stronger erections. It does this indirectly. cGMP is broken down by the phosphodiesterases, and by focusing on the subtype 5 (PDE5), Viagra is able to focus its effects on the corpus cavernosum (the little blood tank in your penis responsible for erections).

Messing with the PDEs comes with a cost, though. While PDE5 is mostly concentrated in the penis and the lungs (Viagra is also useful for pulmonary hypertension), the other PDE members are all around the body. PDE6, a sister chemical, is responsible for making the eye adapt to light, and Viagra mildly fucks around with this as well, resulting in the common side effect of seeing everything blue. This effect is related to the sometimes permanent eye damage caused by poppers

Poppers take a shortcut

While Viagra is a carefully selective and engineered chemical, with an excellent safety record, poppers are equivalent to moonshine.

Poppers, chemically members of the alkyl nitrite family, don’t really care about the regulation PDEs provide. Instead, they convert into nitric oxide (NO), and directly (well, technically via guanylate cyclase) stimulate the production of cGMP, the same chemical Viagra tries to carefully control in your penis. This reaction is rapid and strong, taking effect in a matter of seconds.

This combination of rapid poppers rush of cGMP, and Viagra inhibiting the breakdown of it, has disastrous consequences. Neither drug alone is particularly dangerous, but together they have pharmacological synergy, which means that they do together more than the sum of their parts: a dangerous relaxation of blood vessels, and a drop in blood pressure.

 Ok, I feel dizzy, but so what?

Blood pressure equals life. Even short disruptions in sufficient pressure cause dizziness and fainting, sometimes resulting in traumatic or even lethal injury. Sustained loss of blood pressure due to relaxation of blood vessels results in shock, and eventually starves the body of oxygen and life.

While a 100mg dose of Viagra will by itself cause no more than drop of 8 millimeters mercury (mmHg) of blood pressure, when combined with nitric oxide donors such as poppers, the effect is much bigger. In a 1999 study, healthy volunteers were given both sildenafil and glyceryl trinitrate (a.k.a nitroglycerin, the boom-boom thing, but also a nitric oxide donor with the same mechanism of action as poppers), and the largest reported drop in blood pressure was 51 mmHg. This is a huge drop, enough to be potentially life threatening.

But wait, there’s more! Blue people.

To make things worse, poppers have another way of starving your body of oxygen.  They convert the oxygen-carrying protein hemoglobin into methemoglobin, a version that is unable to carry oxygen. This condition, methemoglobinemia, literally turns you blue. While this in sufficient amounts (such as in an extreme poppers overdose) is lethal by itself, it further makes it more difficult for tissues to get the oxygen they need.

(Methemoglobin also distorts pulse oximetry readings in a very peculiar way, so if you ever meet a bondage top who has a $20 pulse oximeter from China and wants to keep you safe with it while giving you poppers, run away quickly.)

So how long do I have to wait to use poppers after popping some Viagra?

So far we have only talked about sildenafil (Viagra), but unfortunately other erection aids make timing more complicated. While sildenafil has a half-life of about 4 hours, tadalafil (Cialis) has 17.5 hours. Due to this, it is not safe to use erection aids and poppers during the same day, and in the case of tadalafil, perhaps not even on the next day.

Further reading
  • The history of Viagra: https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/how-i-discovered-viagra
  • How nitric oxide converts to cGMP: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109704004401
  • Drinking poppers will cause methemoglobinemia:
    •  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12510403/
    • https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1164/rccm.201806-1044IM
  • Cardiovascular risk profile of sildenafil: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S000291490000895X

 

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Guide: Travelling Internationally With Gear

Travelling with gear is fun! A lot of people overestimate the difficulties when it comes to especially airport security, so here I describe different precautions you should take while bringing interesting stuff with you for international trips.

The security restrictions here obviously apply to aviation, based on rules set by the IATA and ICAO, and adopted individually by countries. However, many places around the world regularly also screen train and bus luggage using similar standards, so it’s a good idea to always pack with this in mind.

Clothing

ItemRestrictions
Regular fetish clothing: rubber, leather, lycraLuggage: No restrictions in checked luggage or hand luggage.

Worn
: No restrictions, if you have the courage for it.
Heavy gear: motorcycling suits, hazmat gear, diving suitsLuggage: No restrictions in checked luggage or hand luggage.

Worn
: May need to be taken off for security screening. Wear something underneath, unless you are ready to go Finnish style.
UniformsLuggage: No restrictions in checked luggage or hand luggage.

Worn:
No restrictions if not containing insignia or appearance with legal powers (such as police).

Customs Warning: Carrying excessively realistic military uniforms with insignia may attract attention of local officials. Patches like “Pussy Patrol” or “Corporal Klinger” might be better choices. There are a few countries that completely prohibit possession of camouflage.
Gas masksLuggage: No restrictions in checked luggage or hand luggage.

Worn: You should probably not wear a gas mask while in an airport or onboard an aircraft. Except since corona, I guess it’s now fine.
Chastity beltsLuggage: No restrictions in hand or checked luggage.

Worn: metal belts should be taken off for security screening, or a thorough private search will follow. There are arguments that intentionally wearing chastity while being screened is forcing your private kinks on unwilling security screeners, but opinions differ. Use your own discretion.

Restraints, toys and other

ItemRestrictions
LubricantsChecked Luggage: No restrictions.

Hand luggage: Allowed in containers up to 100 ml/3.4 oz, in a clear plastic bag like all liquids.
Handcuffs and leg ironsChecked Luggage: No restrictions.

Hand Luggage: TSA explicitly allows handcuffs in hand luggage. Other countries will most likely not allow handcuffs or leg irons in hand luggage.

Customs Warning: Leg irons are considered instruments of torture in international law. Their import and export is subject to licenses. In the EU, Council Regulation (EC) No 1236/2005 forbids the import of leg irons. There is no exception for personal use.
Other restraintsChecked Luggage: No restrictions.

Hand Luggage: Restraints which are deemed a risk to aircraft safety are not allowed in hand luggage. TSA allows strait jackets in hand luggage, but use your discretion.
Butt plugs and dildoesLuggage: No restrictions, unless your plug is large enough to be used as a weapon, in which case you might want to ease a bit on the ass play.
Electro boxesNote about battery sizes: the largest electro box on the market, the Erostek ET-312, has a battery of 14.4 watt hours. The IATA aviation limit for 100 watt hours is obviously not relevant to most boxes, unless you are doing something absolutely crazy.

Checked Luggage: Electro boxes with built-in batteries of any kind (sealed acid, nickel, lithium ion) below 100 watt hours are allowed, but not recommended. Especially lithium ion powered devices should not be placed in checked luggage. If packed, must be protected against accidental power-on. Electro boxes without batteries are allowed without limitations.

In hand luggage: Allowed with batteries up to 100 watt hours. They should be taken out of bag for separate screening like all electronics. Should be charged to display functionality to security personnel if requested. May be trace swabbed for explosives. If asked about the nature of the device, describe it as a “signal generator”.
PoppersLuggage: Forbidden in both checked and hand luggage for flammability. Commercial x-ray devices, via multi-energy material discrimination, are able to detect abnormal liquids and may cause further scrutiny.
Shock collarsLuggage: No restrictions in hand or checked luggage.

Worn: should be taken off for security screening.

Customs Warning: Shock collars are illegal to import in some countries. There is generally no exception for human use only.
MedicineViagra and other erection aids are usually prescription medicines. Standard rules for posession and importation of personal medicine apply.
Military equipmentMilitary equipment and parts of them are subject to international controls. In the US, International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulates the movement of such goods. There is no exception for personal use. The list of items controlled is surprisingly large, and found in the United States Munitions List.
Whips, crops, batons, stun guns, other weaponsChecked luggage: No restrictions.

Hand luggage: Weapons or objects potentially usable as weapons are not allowed.

Customs Warning: Stun gun possession is illegal in many countries around the world.

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BDSM Film Review: Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (2019)

The visually and thematically stunning Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (Helsinki Filmi, Finland/Latvia 2019) directed by J.-P. Valkeapää has been universally applauded by critics, as it’s easily the finest Finnish film of the year, and not just because of it’s realistic handling of BDSM and the psychology therein, but for the high production values and cinematography that is so often lacking in Finnish cinema.

BDSM gets a bad rap in media. It’s either a backstory for horrific deaths (in style of C.S.I.) or an abusive, superficial pastime (in style of Fifty Shades of Grey). Very rarely do we see it set in its rightful context — an exploration of the dark side of the human mind, with people who have real and normal lives when they are not wearing skintight latex.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants breaks this stereotype, by showing us vulnerable people, leading normal lives, enriched and interrupted by short moments of absolute pain — or pleasure. The banality of the daily grind, in this case a surgeon and a physiotherapist, is juxtaposed with the dark underworld we choose to enter, either by choice or by obsession.

The hallmarks of a good screenplay are non-predictability and not reaching for too much. Written by Juhana Lumme and the director, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants excels in both, for its plot outline is rather simple and when written out, not that interesting. It deftly avoid all the usual cliches, keeping you guessing what will be the endgame for the two characters involved. This is not a movie for a sequel or promotional tie-ins, it’s a one-time affair. Like many great movies, there is no reason to see the movie again once you’ve gone through the rollercoaster.

From a BDSM and kinkster standpoint, the portrayal of BDSM is above average in realism. While some minor details irritate an experienced kinkster (a $10 Aliexpress dog mask makes an appearance in the background; a fetish party is filled with extras in gear you wouldn’t really see in a real party), the activities are fleshed out in detail with remarkable realism, including hardcore breath control with some intelligent safety controls depicted.

Pekka Strang (previously having excelled in Tom of Finland) and Krista Kosonen deliver top-notch performances full of nuance, understatement and desperation. Pietari Peltola’s cinematography makes each shot an unique composition, and leads you to its dark undertones with selective focus, migraine-inducing visuals and tight close-ups.

As a final piece of unintended irony, me and LeatherSamFin went to see the film on its opening night in Finnkino’s Tennispalatsi while wearing our awesome dog masks. Of course, this being Finland, the country of the bland and context-free rules, the security at the theater asked us to remove our masks. After this, the director publicly tweeted that yes, you can watch this film with a dog mask on.

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Situational Awareness in BDSM

Situational awareness is perceiving, understanding, and predicting the situation you are currently facing. While traditionally used in fields such as aviation and emergency response, most of its principles are easily adapted to the special needs of a BDSM session as well.

First Part: Pay Attention

The human sense system, while adaptive and quite resilient, is also fairly limited. Especially in stressful situations, our focus becomes narrower and concentrated on the most threatening thing we observe. While this evolutionary trait is useful in the jungle, it can be dangerous in a complex situation requiring rational action.

Maintaining attention of your surroundings is hard work, which is why most of us drift through routine without thought. This is dangerous in BDSM, as a lot of scenes have a potential to turn lethal fairly quickly. While we are unable to see everything all the time, some key thoughts should be going through your mind on a repetitive cycle:

  • Is my sub alive? Is he breathing? Is he moving?
  • Has anything changed in my sub’s behavior seemingly without reason?
  • Has anything changed in my environment, even slightly? Do I smell smoke? What is that noise outside?
  • How long have we been playing? What’s my energy level right now? Am I losing concentration?
  • Am I affected by feelings? Am I pissed off about something that has nothing to do with my sub?

Perceiving is not just using your five senses. It’s also using your intuition from past experience. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s a good chance it isn’t.

Second Part: Understand What You See

Seeing is nothing without understanding. Once you notice something unusual, you must interpret what you see and judge it in the context of a session. You must use your experience and rational thought to pick out the important from the noise. Some examples of this are:

  • Did my sub stop moving because he fell asleep, or because he stopped breathing?
  • Is that sling creaking normally, or is it about to break?
  • Am I so pissed off about work that I can’t concentrate on my sub?
  • Is my sub making all that noise because he loves it, or because something is wrong?

Third Part: Predict And Act

As a top in a BDSM scene, you have ultimate control and usually no-one to negotiate with. This also means that you are obligated to act decisively based on your understanding of what is about to happen. These decisions can be for example:

  • Something is not right with my sub. I’ll untie him and we’ll figure out then what’s going on.
  • I feel I can’t concentrate on this session, so we will take a break right now, regardless of what my sub thinks.
  • That sling sounds like it might break. I need to stop fucking and get my sub out of it.
  • I don’t know where this smoke is coming from, but it’s getting hard to see my sub. I’ll untie him.

Playing with multiple people at the same time

Situational awareness becomes a lot more difficult when there are more people in the scene, regardless if they are dominants or submissives. This also applies when you play in social situations, such as parties. You must maintain a clear picture of everything that is happening around you, including what other dominants are doing.

To maintain control of a situation, there should never be more than one person in charge of a sub at any given time. While multiple people can of course handle a sub simultaneously, only one person is in charge of the scene and safety. This is not usually automatically clear, so it should be pointed out explicitly while having a scene.

Case Study: Interrupting another top’s scene

While attending a fetish room party in a group of about 20 people, I noticed a sub, immobilized and gagged, seemingly dominated by multiple people on the hotel room bed. As the party went on, and people came and went, several times I noticed I was the only person in the room along with the sub. As it was not my scene, I inconspicuously monitored him while people were coming and going.

Eventually, as I was having a chat with another unrelated person, I noticed the sub making gagged pleading noises. As there was no top in the room, I went to the sub, removed the gag and asked if everything was alright. He said it wasn’t, and he wanted out. I proceeded to untie him, and finally found the top in another hotel room, unaware of his sub’s plight. The top was under the assumption that someone else was in charge of the sub, which clearly wasn’t the case.

Leaving a person unattended while gagged is always potentially lethal. This was highly unprofessional of the top.

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Gearblast USA 2018: Event Review

A few participants chilling at the pool

Executive Summary: Gearblast US is a unique gear-intensive weekend, straddling nicely between social and sexual, and providing a wide variety of gear interest to cater to most gearheads. While the venue is a bit out of the way, it’s perfect in size and layout for an event of this nature. Strong, professional volunteerism provided excellent practical arrangements from good food to an excellent play space.

Gearblast US, one of the three Gearblast event franchises in existence, took place May 3-7 in The Dunes Resort in Douglas, Michigan. Being the fourth incarnation of the US franchise, this was my first visit to it. Having previously done both the UK and EU versions of the event, I was curious to see how this 4-day event compared, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Venue

The Dunes is a gay-resort, hosting other sexual events as well, so the venue and staff are well-equipped to deal with special clientele. As the venue itself did not have capacity to host all 150+ participants, some were in overflow motels within walking distance. While there’s nothing luxurious about the Dunes, the rooms were clean, housekeeping efficient, and security present; that’s all you need for a great weekend.

Concept

Gimp waiting for lunch

The concept of Gearblast is somewhat loosely defined: get together in gear. This is probably intentional to cater to the fact that not everyone goes to it for sexual purposes, and you can get a lot out of the weekend purely on a social basis. Also, due to US legal issues, genital exposure is forbidden in public; however, bondage play and other mild forms of touching took place all around the venue. It’s also perfectly fine to wear any gear at any point during the weekend.

Talking about gear, all forms of gear were present during the weekend, from American football to full-on furry costumes. There’s no reason to fret your particular fetish isn’t compatible with the weekend.

The volunteers paid particular attention to the non-sexual aspects, with add-on events ranging from a gear walk and lacrosse match to Pup Olympics. 

Playspace

Me getting into some trouble at the playspace

The playspace was well designed, with some unique pieces of furniture, providing ample facilities and space for bondage play, or just sex in gear if that’s your thing. It was also continuously monitored by volunteer Dungeon Masters, providing an additional level of safety. I volunteered for a DM shift, and the training was thorough and professional. Also, several workshops, from saline play to electro, were organized in the play space, providing an interesting educational aspect as well.

Arrangements

This is technically not public genitalia exposure, but I’m not a lawyer…

Registration, food, and information flow were all professionally organized. A Telegram group kept everyone up to date. It’s a sign of heavy volunteer effort that you don’t really notice that everything just works. Food was standard American fare, with enough calories to keep you energized for the whole day.

GBUS also has a no-nonsense photo policy: just don’t be a dick and ask everyone in the photo before you take one.

Comparison to GBEU and GBUK

It would be unfair to really compare Gearblast US to its UK and EU counterparts, the latter two being essentially club nights in city clubs. What was truly remarkable about GBUS is the fact that being stuck in rural Michigan for 4 days forces you to chill: there’s no rush to do anything, so you end up socializing and having deep, philosophical late night discussions in the parking lot, which would be impossible in the other franchises. Also, the venue is perfect to stay in gear all 4 days, though this is by no means obligated: the only place with a dresscode was the playspace.