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A range of air styles: A brief overview of inflatophilia

According to the online Opentopia encyclopedia, inflatophilia refers to a sexual fetish in which individuals derive sexual attraction to (or are sexually aroused by) inflatable objects and/or toys. Most people’s conception of an inflatophile may be rooted in fictional characters from popular culture. For instance, I remember very vividly listening to the track Be My Girl – Sally on The Police’s debut LP Outlandos D’Amour about a man who fell in love with an inflatable doll.

And then by lucky chance I saw in a special magazine

An ad that was unusual, the like I’d never seen

“Experience something different with our new imported toy

She’s loving, warm, inflatable and a guarantee of joy.”

She came all wrapped in cardboard, all pink and shrivelled down

A breath of air was all she needed to make her lose that frown

I took her to the bedroom and pumped her with some life

And later in a moment that girl became my wife

And so I sit her in the corner and sometimes stroke her hair

And when I’m feeling naughty I blow her up with air

She’s cuddly and she’s bouncy, she’s like a rubber ball

I bounce her in the kitchen and I bounce her in the hall

And now my life is different since Sally came my way

I wake up in the morning and have her on a tray

She’s everything they say she was and I wear a permanent grin

And I only have to worry in case my girl wears thin

A more literary (but ultimately similar) account was provided by Bryan Ferry when he sung on Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home A Heartache (and featuring the seminal concluding lyric “I blew up your body/but you blew my mind!“). However, inflatophiles are not restricted to blow-up dolls but may be sexually aroused and excited by one or more inflatable objects such as beach and swimming pool inflatables (beach balls, swimming rings, air mats, lilos, etc.) and animal inflatables (e.g., blow up dolphins). The Opentopia article claims that inflatophiles are most attracted and turned on by inflatables that are animal-shaped (although there is no supporting evidence for the claim).

The fetish appears to have psychological and behavioural overlaps with balloon fetishism (that I covered in a previous blog), and like ‘looners’ (i.e., balloon fetishists), inflatophiles have been categorized into one of three sub-types. According to the Opentopia article, these three groups are based on the activity preference related to the inflatable object(s) and comprise:

  • Poppers: These individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from ‘popping’ (i.e., puncturing) their inflatable objects and/ or trying to re-inflate the inflatable that has popped.
  • Inflators: These individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal while their inflatable objects are filled with air while sitting or lying on top of them.
  • Deflators: These individuals derive their sexual pleasure and arousal from releasing the air in their inflatable objects while sitting or lying on top of them.

These groups are not mutually exclusive and inflatophiles may belong to one or more of the three sub-types. The inflating or deflating may be carried out by the inflatophiles themselves or may be done by others (e.g., their sexual partners). The Opentopia article is the only article I am aware of that tries to theorize about the origins of inflatophilia. Personally, I feel that the behaviour is best explained through various behavioural conditioning processes that occur in childhood and/or adolescence (most notably, classical conditioning), but the Opentopia article claims:

“Likings for inflatable objects are generally both Freudian and Proustian and arise from an early age linked to associations with innocent happy experiences. These can extend as far as the first experiences of babyhood and childhood, associated with senses of texture and smell. The associated senses include the feel of mother’s skin, feel and smell of materials in early childhood (of blankets, sheets, satin, vinyl linings of perambulators), birthday parties with balloons, happy holidays at the beach, distinctive smells of inflatable toys merged with smells of brands of skin care worn by the mother. These take on a new meaning during puberty when other outlets for sexual needs are unavailable and preferences of interaction with inflatable objects develop”.

To me, the associations listed in the above quote could still form the basis of classically conditioned responses rather than some psychoanalytic explanation (in fact, I’m still not sure where the Freudian or Proustian perspective is in the quote as to me, it reads like classic associative learning). The Opentopia article also speculates on the differences between the sub-types of inflatophile. The article claims that”

“[The] division between ‘poppers’ and ‘non-poppers’ probably derives from associations of the event at which balloons were enjoyed or not enjoyed, or whether they were burst and caused excitement or whether they survived the party and were enjoyed for their ‘skin feel’ at a later time afterwards. The associations with memories of former happy experiences coupled with the intense pleasure of first sexual experience is a potent recipe for a lasting impression which will be carried forward into activity throughout adulthood. Many comment that the bouncing or changing shape of a balloon when squeezed, or other types of inflatable, gives the illusion of the object being ‘alive’ in some way, so the object is not merely inanimate. A predisposition to the fetish is enhanced by the packaging of lilos or beach airmats with photographs of attractive semi-naked bikini clad women displaying the object. This reinforces the concept of femininity with the object and allows a fantasy of substitution in the fetishist’s psyche in the absence of a real female”.

Again, the theoretical underpinning for the sub-types of inflatophile appears (from the above description at least) to be rooted in classical conditioning (i.e., associative pairing). Finally, the article also claims that inflatophiles are “usually open to non-fetish sexual activity, so their fetish does not generally get in the way of their involved relationships”. It also claims (without any supporting evidence) that:

“Partners of inflatable fetishists are more secure in the knowledge that their partner has a satisfying outlet for excess sexual needs during times of sexual unavailability of the partner rather than seeking additional or other partners. For this reason they usually make reliable and well-balanced life partners”.

After reading about inflatophiles, I went in search of inflatophiles online and came across numerous self-confessions to engaging in the fetish. Here are a few typical examples that seem to confirm some of the claims made in the Opentopia article:

  • Extract 1: “Anyone else have a Inflatables fetish? [Such as] riding or having sex with inflatable things like vinyl pool toy animals, blow-up dolls, kids’ swim floaties, etc. I am one of these fetishists, how many of us are there?”
  • Extract 2: I have been humping beach balls since I was a kid I have humped the head rest of inflatable rafts also. If we went swimming at someone’s house and they had a beach ball I would always sneak off with it, hump it and never got caught though the possibility of getting caught was part of the thrill. I also have an exercise ball that I have humped. Next is a blow up doll. I just have a fetish for inflatables”.
  • Extract 3: So all of you men help me out here, my husband has this fetish and I’ve done my very best to go along and have fun with it to excite him the best I can…but I know that he had dolls in the past and wants one but has made me feel like he enjoys the feel of a doll or inflatable more than me??? He’s actually very shy about it, I even asked for suggestions. Is there a way I could make myself feel like the doll does??”
  • Extract 4: I’m a teenage guy and inflatable stuff feels like heaven to me! Anything soft and shiny, pool toys mostly. Beach balls, air Mats, inner tubes, when my body comes in contact with it I get all aroused and hard and can really get freaky with them. I also like inflating and deflating them…I know weird”

Another article that explored inflatable fetishism was a journalistic account by Daniel Rolnik in the Los Angeles based After Dark magazine. Rolnik wrote that:

“My discovery of this strange sub-cult [of inflatable fetishism] began when I innocently favorited a photo of an inflatable horse toy on a popular art website. I simply thought it looked hilarious and judging by the user’s other pics, it didn’t seem like anything “alt” was going on. But that all changed when I got a message from the photographer featuring a link to the blog Hollow Paws, which had a discrete sentence in the upper right hand corner that made it all clear: A website for furries who love inflatable critters…I asked the blogger what people exactly did with the inflatables featured in [the featured articles]…Moments later I received an answer: ‘…Sometimes they hump them’. Horrified, yet intrigued, I began to uncover a secret world of anonymous patrons who do everything from wear full motocross gear and aggressively hump vinyl Shamu pool rafts until they explode, to fabricators who design prosthetic vaginas for plastic dolphins”.

Rolnik also observed that inflatophiles can be differentiated into sub-types (‘poppers’ and ‘non-poppers’) but claimed the two types “detest” each other based on the very specific online forums devoted to various inflatable fetishes (such as the Blow To Pop website). Rolnik also interviewed psychiatrist Dr. Soroya Bacchus about the psychology of inflatophilia, and Dr. Bacchus was quoted as saying:

“When I heard about this fetish, they didn’t seem too different from the people who have intercourse with blow-up dolls. They both suffer from a sexual function disorder that is categorized in the realm of paraphilia — meaning a love of some object, whether it’s an inanimate one or a non-consenting partner. The basic component is arousal, so sometimes there might be actual ejaculation on the toys, but oftentimes in cases of paraphilia it happens afterwards during masturbation. These kinds of disorders tend to feed on themselves”.

Dr. Bacchus appears to castigate all inflatophiles as suffering from sexual function disorder. However, my anecdotal reading suggests that most inflatophiles use inflatables as an adjunct to their ‘normal’ sex life rather than as a replacement. If this is the case, I personally don’t see the person as suffering from a sexual function disorder. As with many idiosyncratic fetishes, there has been no empirical or clinical research on inflatophilia, so nothing is known about how prevalent the behaviour is. The existence of more than a sprinkling of dedicated online forums and websites certainly suggest there is a small and committed inflatophile community. It would appear that the fetish is relatively benign and of little problem to its participants, which probably explains why there has been little interest from psychologists and clinicians.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Abel, G.G., Coffey, L. & Osborn, C.A. (2008). Sexual arousal patterns: normal and deviant. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 643-655.

Brundage, S. (2002). Fetish Confessions: Telling loved ones about your fetish is as easy as solving fractured quadratic equations. The Wave Magazine, July 31. Located at: http://web.archive.org/web/20071110095616/http://thewavemagazine.com/pagegen.php?pagename=article&articleid=22026

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Malfouka (undated). So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners. Maximum Awesome. Located at: http://www.maximumawesome.com/pervfriday/looners.htm

Rolnik, D. (2012). Exploring the looner fetish – People who f*ck inflatable pool toys. After Dark LA, July 17. Located at: http://blogs.laweekly.com/afterdark/2012/07/people_actually_hump_inflatabl_1.php

McIntyre, K.E. (2011).  Looners: Inside the world of balloon fetishism. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, 27 April. Located at: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/40c3h6kk

Opentopia (2013). What is inflatable fetishism? Located at: http://encycl.opentopia.com/term/Inflatable_fetishism

Wikipedia (2012). Balloon fetish. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon_fetish

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