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Under pressure: A brief look at inflatable rubber suit fetishism

In previous blogs I have looked at various sexual fetishes that involve sexual arousal from being completely enveloped in some sort of outer garment such as rubberdolling and mummification. Another fetish that is (arguably) related is inflatable rubber suit fetishism (sometimes simply referred to body inflation fetishism – however, I think this term sounds more like people who actually inflate some parts of their actual body such as belly inflation and scrotal infusion that I have covered in previous blogs). Inflatable rubber suit fetishism was featured in a 2013 article by Elorm Kojo Ntumy on the Cracked website (‘The 6 Most Bizarre Safe For Work Fetishes’). In describing this fetish, Ntumy noted:

“Remember the scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where Violet Beauregarde eats some forbidden candy and blows up like a balloon? And then they have to just roll her out of the room? Well, apparently some people can’t watch that scene without becoming inexplicably aroused. This fetish is pretty similar to balloon fetishes, or maybe it’s the opposite, because instead of popping the balloon, you are the balloon. Researchers have yet to determine what exactly it is about inflatable rubber suits getting filled with air that turns people on, but we have to admit that putting one of those on and just bouncing around would be fun as hell…The suits are often double-layered and designed in such a way that the outer layer gets filled with air and expands, while the second suit compresses and squeezes against the unfortunate (or fortunate, we guess) person enclosed within. So maybe that’s it? It’s like a full-body air massage? Either way, thanks to the Internet, we know there are a whole bunch of people who are into it…Inflatable suits are quite expensive, but the guys on this [body inflation] forum are helpful enough to provide DIY tips on how to build your very own personal sex blimp. Now, if one of these springs a leak, do you go zipping around the room making that farting sound?”

Some online articles claim this behaviour is a form of inflatophilia but the online Opentopia encyclopedia refers to inflatophilia as a sexual fetish in which individuals derive sexual attraction to (or are sexually aroused by) inflatable objects and/or toys. To me, this is more about inflatable objects that are external to the person rather than the person actually being inside the inflatable itself. According to the Wikipedia entry:

“Body inflation is the practice of inflating or pretending to inflate a part of one’s bod, often for sexual gratification. It is commonly done by inserting balloons underneath clothes or a skin-tight suit and then inflating them. Some people have specially made inflatable suits, commonly made from latex rubber, to make themselves bigger all over. One of the best-known examples is Mr. Blow Up, who appears in [Katherine Gates] Deviant Desires book. He wears air-inflated double-skinned latex suits, and has made a number of TV appearances in the UK, including Eurotrash. Sometimes the body is actually inflated also, such as by enema or drinking large amounts of liquid. Other inflatable fetishists generate erotic stories, artwork, video, and audio files to indulge their fantasies. Sexual roleplay is also fairly common, either in person or via online conversation. The notion of the fantasy scenarios ending in popping or explosion is often a divisive topic in the community. The first inflatable fetish community organized online in 1994, in the form of an e-mail list; as the popularity of online communication grew, so did the online community”.

On the Dangerous Minds website, Paul Gallagher wrote an article about his 2000 television interview with Mr. Blow Up (MBU) for a documentary he was making about the rise of online fetish websites. Gallagher described MBU as one of the more interesting characters I met – alongside representatives from the wet and messy (‘sploshing’) communities, adult babies, furries and used panty-sellers”. According to Gallagher MBU was a Londoner and talked about “his love of being inside a latex suit that was pumped full of air”. MBU first became attracted to the idea of being enveloped in an air-filled rubber suit as a child when when playing with a beach ball. MBU often thought about what it would be like to be inside the ball as it bounced everywhere on the beach. Gallagher then went on to describe what happened in the documentary:

“Mr. Blow Up, with the help of his latex-clad wife, slipped into one of his talcum sprinkled outfits and sat on the sofa while she used a foot pump to blow-up his headdress. Just at the very moment I thought he might explode (like some sort of latex Mr. Creosote), Mr. B gave a thumbs up. He later explained how being so constrained made him feel happy, secure and excited”.

In my research for this article I came across many websites that sold inflatable suits as well as in-depth articles on how to put on such suits and how they are designed. For instance, the Latex Wiki (LW) website provided pictures and descriptions of inflatable catsuits, ballbody suits, and blueberry suits. The following descriptions are taken verbatim from three different pages of the LW website:

  • “An inflatable catsuit is a latex suit that has two layers so air can be pumped between them, expanding the outer layer and pressing the inner layer against the wearer. This gives the wearer a sensation of much greater tightness than is possible with an ordinary catsuit. If the latex is thick enough, this type of suit can be used for bondage because the wearer is immobilised when the suit is inflated sufficiently. Some body inflation fetishists also use inflatable catsuits as a fantasy device to imagine that the wearer is inflating, or that they themselves are inflating. It has also been known to cross into the furry scene as well with furry inflation enthusiasts.
  • A ballbody or balloon-body is an inflatable latex outfit that completely covers the upper body of the wearer and looks like a ball when fully inflated. It was invented and designed by SlinkySkin
  • A blueberry suit is a special latex costume designed to inflate into a ball with just the user’s hands, feet and head sticking out. It refers to the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when the character Violet turns into a blueberry”.

Unsurprisingly, there has never been any academic research on inflatable rubber suit fetishism so little is known about what the fetishists enjoy about the activity so much. However, I did find one enlightening article on the Body Inflation website by ‘funkyobrian’ written back in 2005. Again, the text below is taken verbatim from the website entry and written by someone who is only into ‘suit inflation’:

“I’m one of the few people who actually enjoys pure suit inflation. Here are some of the reasons why: 

  • Suit inflation is technically much more feasible in real life than actual body inflation. Sure, body inflation can be done and people out there actually do it, but body inflation in real life has much more potential to become something deadly or hurtful if proper precautions aren’t taken. This is not to say suit inflation itself is 100% safe either, but you can imagine many more things going wrong with real-life body inflation.
  • Half of the thrill of the fetish itself is the victim’s (or participant’s) reaction to what is happening…I have done some interesting discussions on the more erotic applications of a girl inflating their suit and ‘getting off’ on the whole experience. Plus in general. rubber and latex are considered to be one of the cornerstones of kinks, so inventive ways of stimulating oneself are quite plentiful. Photo studios like Fetisheyes and Rubber Eva have recently done more to explore inflatable suits and eroticism.
  • Inflatable suits are in a way a strange mix of symbolism and suggestion. There’s a bit of excitement in wearing something that makes one body look like its blowing up like a balloon. There’s a sort of psychological element in playing a cruel trick on someone who is particularly vain and sticking them into a suit that transforms their proud figure into something cartoonish and bloated.

I guess this is my convoluted and pseudo-shrink way of expressing my bizarre preferences. But I just want to clarify why when a cute girl’s rubber suit inflates, some of us want to believe it is the SUIT inflating, not her body”

Someone else on the Body Inflation website (‘Fukeruba’) responded to funkyobrian’s analysis:

“You are not alone! I also enjoy a good suit inflation. My whole attraction with suit inflations is that it is in the realm of possibility that a person might get stuck in a big inflated suit, whereas a big body inflation is…more resigned to fantasy. Plus, I’m intrigued by the strong bondage issues that being stuck in a big immobilizing inflated suit represents. I’m into the whole inflating dive-suit [thing] in a big way…although I’ve done space suits and some other unidentifiable types of suits….I’ve done a few drawings where the inflatee thought that they were in an inflating suit, only to have it revealed that their inflating body was in fact causing the suit to bulge. Pretty good opportunity to showcase the whole shock/surprise/horror element in that situation”.

I have no idea how representative these motivations are to the experiences of other inflatable rubber suit fetishists but these insights are interesting and not things I would have speculated as being reasons for engaging in the activity. Given the potential dangers of this fetish I’m surprised that there are no papers from the medical community reporting on accidents from suits bursting.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Gallagher, P. (2015). The inflatable rubber fetish of Mr. Blow Up, Dangerous Minds, February 11. Located at: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/the_inflatable_rubber_fetish_of_mr._blow_up

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

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

Ntumy, E. K. (2013). The 6 Most Bizarre Safe For Work Fetishes. Cracked, November 2. Located at: http://www.cracked.com/article_20691_the-6-most-bizarre-safe-work-fetishes.html

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

Wikipedia (2015). Body inflation. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_inflation

Crossing the see: A brief look at ‘strabismusophilia’

Some time ago I came across a 2012 online article entitled ‘18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not)’ on The Date Report website. Of the 18 fetishes listed, I knew about 17 of them (15 of which I have written articles on for this blog including emetophilia [sexual arousal from vomit], dendrophilia [sexual arousal from trees], pyrophilia [sexual arpusal from fire], taphephilia [sexual arousal from being buried alive], and arachnephilia [sexual arousal from spiders]). The one that I had little awareness of was ‘cross-eyed fetishism’ (although I was aware of the sexual paraphilia ‘oculophilia’ in which individuals are sexually aroused by eyes and which I also covered in a previous blog). The article contained only one sentence relating to cross-eyed fetishes which read “Not sure what the scientific name for this fetish is, but this is good news for Dannielynn Birkhead, Anna Nicole Smith’s cross-eyed offspring”. If such a fetish exists, I would name it strabismusophilia (as strabismus is the medical condition of having non-aligned eyes).

Having already written my previous blog on eye fetishes more generally, I would argue that strabismusophilia is a sub-type of oculophilia as the condition manifests itself in a desire for actual physical contact and interaction with the eye (albeit a very particular type of eye). An online article at the Page Pulp website about sexual fetishes of famous authors alleged that F. Scott Fitzgerald had a foot fetish, James Joyce had a fart fetish, Lord Byron was a sex addict, Marquis de Sade had a fetish for “anything and everything”, (the most notable being sadomasochism), and that the philosopher Rene Descartes had a cross-eye fetish.

Descartes’ sexual fetish for cross-eyed women is well documented including the work of psychiatric sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Descartes himself wrote that:

“As a child I was in love with a girl of my own age, who was slightly cross-eyed. The imprint made on my brain by the wayward eyes became so mingled with whatever else had aroused in me the feeling of love that for years afterwards, when I saw a cross-eyed woman, I was more prone to love her than any other, simply for that flaw…The impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others, simply because they had that defect; and I did not know that was the reason.”

Descartes’ passion for cross-eyed women was also discussed in a 2011 paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, (by Alex Voorhoeve, Elie During, David Jopling, Timothy Wilson, and Frances Kamm). In one of the passages by Dr. Voorhoeve, he discussed Queen Christina of Sweden asking Descartes what causes us to “love one person rather than another before we know their merit”. According to Voorhoeve:

“Descartes replied that when we experience a strong sensation, this causes the brain to crease like a piece of paper. And when the stimulus stops, the brain uncreases, but it stays ready to be creased again in the same way. And when a similar stimulus is presented, then we get the same response, because the brain is ready to crease again. And what did he mean by all this? Well, he gave an example. He said that all his life he had had a fetish for cross-eyed women. Whenever he came across a cross-eyed woman, desire would enflame him. And he figured out…after introspection, that this was because his brain had been strongly creased by his first childhood love, who was cross-eyed”.

This classical conditioning type explanation was also alluded to in a 2011 article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév that examined ‘Why Did Descartes Love Cross-Eyed Women?’ Dr. Ben-Zeév noted:

“It would appear that when Descartes fell in love with the young girl, he loved her whole Gestalt, which included other characteristics, but her crossed eyes were the most unique. This feature of the girl distinguished her from most other girls. It is as if he subconsciously thought that every woman who shared that distinctive feature would have the other positive characteristics of the girl with whom he had originally fallen in love and would therefore generate the same profound love. This attitude makes him perceive these women as beautiful…However, the fact that the girl he fell in love had the distinctive feature of crossed eyes did not mean that her other characteristics would be shared by other women who have the same feature. In fact, however, this mistaken association set off a feeling of love when he encountered this characteristic in other women…It is a kind of Pavlovian response which makes us more likely to love this person”.

It appears there are modern day adherents to cross-eyed fetishism as I found these extracts in online forums discussing the fetish:

  • Extract 1: “I get insanely turned on when I see a girl crosses her eyes. I go on video and image sites to see girls crossing their eyes. I have requested custom videos of girls crossing their eyes. I am not sure how to break this fetish. It is something that is hard for me to talk about and I recently revealed it to my girlfriend in a text. I have asked her to cross her eyes for me but she cannot do it. In fact my last two girlfriends have not been able to cross their eyes. I feel like if maybe we could play out that fetish in my personal life it would deter me from looking online at stuff. I am not sure what to do”
  • Extract 2: “I am attracted to people that have lazy eyes. The more lazy their eye, the more attractive it is to me.
It’s a huge turn-on, especially eyes that turn outward (e.g., exotropia)”
  • Extract 3: Them cross-eyed girls drive me wild! I’m a lazy eye man myself. I like when one gets a lil’ googly after they’ve had a few drinks”

Although there is no academic research on cross-eye fetishism, I did come across two other types of fetishistic behavior that overlaps with being cross-eyed. The first is in relation to balloon fetishism (i.e., individuals that get sexually aroused from inflating, deflating and/or popping balloons). I came across online sex videos that were tagged ‘cross-eyed balloon inflation’ comprising women blowing up big balloons where they were also cross-eyed (and to which male ‘looners’ found this both erotic and arousing. After watching one of these idiosyncratic videos, one looner commented: “I for one really enjoyed this [cross-eyed woman inflating a balloon] – makes it looks like she’s really concentrated on the inflation, which I like to see. And variety is nice; I, for one, get tired of clips that are too alike”. Perhaps more worryingly is the association of being cross-eyed with sexually sadistic acts of women being strangled on film on hard-core BDSM videos. As the blurb on one sex video available online noted: “There are women that are strangled, and sometimes become cross-eyed. It’s the stupid impression somehow, you will not ever afford to worry about such a thing is the person being strangled. Your beauty is one of [being] cross-eyed”.

I also wonder whether cross-eyed fetishism is a sub-type of teratophilia – typically defined as being sexually aroused by ugly people? According to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, teratophilia is defined as those people who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from “deformed or monstrous people”. The online Urban Dictionary defines it as “the ability to see beauty in the unusual [and] clinically described as a sexual preference for deformed people”. Being cross-eyed could arguably fit these definitions (particularly the one from the Urban Dictionary of seeing beauty in the unusual).

From my own research, I have come to the conclusion that cross-eyed fetishism (that I have termed ‘strabismusophilia’) probably exists but is very rare with an incredibly low prevalence rate among the general population. It may be a sub-type of both oculophilia and teratophilia but further research is needed to confirm such speculations.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Ben-Zeév, A. (2011). Why did Descartes love cross-eyed women? The lure of imperfection, Psychology Today, November 29. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-name-love/201111/why-did-descartes-love-cross-eyed-women-the-lure-imperfection

Descartes, R. (1978). His Moral Philosophy and Psychology (translated by John J. Blom). New York: New York University Press.

Divine Caroline (2012). 18 Sexual Fetishes That Sound Made Up (But They’re Not). The Date Report, September 20. Located at: http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/sex/sexual-fetishes-emetophilia-tree-sex/

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129). New York: The Disinformation Company.

Page Pulp (2014). Sexual fetishes of famous authors. Located at: http://www.pagepulp.com/2091/sexual-fetishes-of-famous-authors/

Voorhoeve, A., During, E., Jopling, D., Wilson, T., & Kamm, F. (2011). Who am I? Beyond “I think, therefore I am”. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1234(1), 134-148.

Wikipedia (2014). Oculophilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oculophilia

The hold of rolled gold: A brief look at wedding ring fetishes

In January 1995, the Channel 4 television documentary programme Equinox examined sexual paraphilias in a programme called ‘Beyond Love’. One of the many experts interviewed for the programme, Dr. Gene Abel, talked about a man with an unusual fetish. His sexual turn-on was gold wedding rings. In recounting the individual’s story, Dr. Abel said that the fetish was very specific and that the ring had to be of a particular width (6mm to 10mm if I recall correctly) for it to be sexually stimulating to the man in question. The roots of the fetish were established in childhood and arose from the time that the man was a boy and used to sit on his baby-sitter’s knee and play with the ring (twirling it around on her finger). The playing with the ring was accompanied by sexual arousal (from sitting on the knee of an attractive woman) but over time, the ring itself became the source of sexual arousal via continued associative pairing (i.e., sexual arousal from the sight of the female babysitter’s ring became a classically conditioned response).

The man had now married and his wife was unaware of his fetish but the sexologist explained that the man could not get sexually aroused and make love to his wife unless she was wearing her wedding ring and he was twirling it on her finger during sexual intercourse. Dr. Abel also said the man would also walk up to female strangers and comment how lovely their wedding ring was and ask if he could take a photograph of it. He would then use the developed photographs as source material for masturbatory purposes. This anecdotal case story might sound a little bizarre especially as there is no sexual paraphilia that refers to being sexually attracted to gold wedding rings (although Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices does mention timophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals gain sexual pleasure and arousal from gold or wealth – and which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog).

However, Dr. Abel and his colleagues later wrote up this account as one of six unusual case studies in a 2008 issue of the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America where the man in question was given the pseudonym ‘Mr. Rings’ (the other five being ‘Mr. Cartoons’, ‘Mr. Feet’, ‘Mr. Balloons’, ‘Mr. Cigarettes’, and ‘Mr. Spanking’). In all of these cases (including ‘Mr. Rings’), they noted:

“The fetish objects in these case histories were unique enough, and the attraction to the objects strong enough, that the individuals could clearly track their interest from early childhood through adulthood. It is much easier to retrieve remote, explicit memories, such as events (e.g., a party where balloons popped) or playing with objects, than to recall the process of sexual development with no distinct markers in the individual’s history. Because these distinct experiences predated identified sexuality, became a focus of attention for the individual, and then were incorporated into the individual’s sexual interests and masturbatory fantasies, it was possible to accurately track the patterns of sexual arousal. We were also able to clearly identify how these men attempted to blend their deviant interests into sexual relationships with partners and the consequences of their efforts”.

As far as I am aware, this is the only academic paper to have examined ‘ring fetishism’ but my own research on the topic has led me to the conclusion that ‘Mr. Rings’ case is not unique. Here are a few accounts that I found in various online forums on the internet:

  • Extract 1: “[I] have a wedding [ring] on hand fetish. Even more aroused if the woman wears both a wedding and an engagement ring. I don’t like any other kind of ring. Rather than the plain yellow I prefer silver colour (platinum ones)” (Welly11)
  • Extract 2: “I have the same type of fetish. I’m turned on by ladies who wear wedding and engagement rings stacked on the same finger, and other simple band (plain gold or pave) rings. That’s why I founded a Yahoo! Group for other fetishists to share their photos” (Saladinthewise)
  • Extract 3: “I thought I was the only person on the planet with this (get incredibly aroused when I see a woman wear the plain yellow gold wedding ring) and I couldn’t make any sense of it for ages…Thanks for restoring a bit of my sanity and faith in my normality!” (Heshan1)
  • Extract 4: “My husband bought me a wedding ring that looks very similar to the one his mom wears. He later confessed it is a tremendous turn-on for him just seeing me wearing it. He doesn’t remember his mom (who is a wonderful person) doing anything ‘out of line’ with him in the past and it is not essential for me to have it on for sex. Could something have happened as a baby to implant this ‘fascination’ in his mind?” (iDawn491)

These are all fairly short self-confessed admissions and don’t really tell us much except that the fetish appears to be male-based and that the ring (or stacked rings in the case of two of the accounts) have to be worn by women. Extract 4 does point out that her husband can engage in sex without her wearing the ring so in this case, it wouldn’t be a true fetish behaviour (merely a strong sexual preference). There are also some sexually explicit discussions about wedding ring fetishes here. However, I did come across some more detailed accounts:

  • Extract 5: “My fetish started a long time ago, I am 55. Women who have worn wide bands have always had my interest. I have been married twice and each time I have told my wife to be about my fetish. Both women have worn wide band. My first wife got deep in to religion and wanted me to quit carrying an off duty side arm, I was a police officer at the time. My second wife said if I wanted her to she would wear a few wide rings if I got her what I wanted. I have been married to her for almost 20 years and she has worn them both day and night. I really dislike the thin plain gold rings that a lot of women wear. I feel all women should wear wide band on one of their ring fingers. My second wife dated a guy before me who had a fetish for bangle bracelets that could not be removed he had her wearing 5 to 6 on each arm that were soldered on and could not pass over the wrist. Even after she broke up with him she continued to wear them for about 10 years and once in a blue moon she would see him somewhere and shake them at him, just to see and you can’t have me” (Edward 5759).

This account hints that the fetish probably started in adolescence and that like ‘Mr. Rings’, the ring has to be of a specific type (in this case a wide band). It is also a fetish that the man in question was happy to tell his wives about, and something that the wives were psychologically comfortable with. This last account is a little more complicated as there are overlaps with other sexually fetishistic behaviours:

  • Extract 6: “My longstanding fetish is to be tied up by married women wearing a certain type of wedding ring. These are plain gold, very large 20-25 mms in width, curved like a barrel and smooth, the curve less pronounced as the width increases…All you need to know is that every woman I have ever encountered wearing one I have subsequently fantasized about them tying me up…My fetish even leading me to follow women I know to wear them. I have no idea why these wedding rings turn me on, and continue to do so, but it is a fetish I feel might be a new one and something I have just wanted to tell people about for a very long time. I can only think that the size and shape have something to do with my fetish and would appear to be linked somehow to my desire to always be tied with lots of rope, generously wrapped around the body. I’ve never really viewed my fetish as a problem other than the fact that chancing upon women wearing these rings is something that rarely ever happens, as they are not commonplace, therefore there is practically nothing to satisfy my ‘addiction’, for want of a better description…There was a woman who wore a wedding ring of the kind I have described, a particularly large one, who would shop every Saturday at a certain location at a certain time and I would make sure I’d be there to see it. This went on for three years. That was a long time ago now, and I still fantasize about her tying me up…I simply cannot imagine that ANYONE shares my fetish, so I can’t really expect to meet anyone here who does. The unusual nature of it being the biggest problem, that there is simply no concrete outlet for it” (Brainpan).

This final account is the most interesting one I have come across although is complicated by the fact that there are elements of bondage and sexual masochism added to the fetishistic mix. Although (like the other extracts) there is no insight into the roots and etiology of the behaviour, the size and the shape of the ring are again very specific suggesting that the longstanding desire dates back to a time where the person simply can’t recall where the interest in rings began (i.e., early childhood perhaps). As with other accounts, the fetishistic behaviour is not viewed as a problem by the person who has it (although in this latter case, there is arguably an element of stalking involved).

In all honesty (and although I find this interesting), I can’t see ‘wedding ring fetishism’ ever being the topic of in-depth psychological research particularly as the behaviour appears to be non-problematic in the main.

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.

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

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