Balloon fetishes are (unsurprisingly) sexual fetishes that feature balloons as the source of sexual arousal and pleasure. Such individuals are known as ‘looners’. David Kerekes (editor of Headpress – The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion) wrote that some balloon fetishists “revel in the popping of balloons and [others] may become anxious and tearful at the very thought of popping balloons”. In her book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates also notes that other looners enjoy particular aspects of balloons such as blowing them up and/or interacting with them (e.g., rubbing up against balloons, sitting and/or lying on balloons, etc.). A quick look at a few balloon fetish websites also indicates that some looners like watching people inflate them until they burst whereas others like gigantic balloons that they can stick their head inside them (for instance, check out the pictures here which also claim that the smell or the colour of the balloon may be an important part of the fetish).
There has been very little empirical research carried out on looners and much of what is known is based on anecdotes and hearsay. Anecdotal case studies suggest that the etiology of the fetish varies from one person to the next although some claim that the behaviour can be explained by sexual imprinting where specific sexual preferences may be acquired through exposure to particular stimuli during a specific period early in life. Some looners recall that in childhood they remember being sexually aroused when they saw balloons being popped by the opposite sex (or people they had a crush on). It has also been alleged that – somewhat paradoxically – looners may have phonophobia (i.e., a fear of loud sounds) as a result of being in the vicinity of balloons popping loudly. As Dr. Ilana Simons claims in a Psychology Today article, there is an unexplained link between fetishes and phobias:
“There is a deep connection between phobias, fetishes, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In each, someone has an emotion that threatens to overwhelm her… A person with a fetish handles the monster of desire by focusing not on whole people but on parts – just a shoe, or the butt, or the slit in skirts. Focus on one thing organizes or restrains multiple feelings. A person with a phobia is similarly able to contain anxiety by condensing emotion to one target”.
In an online essay (So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners), balloon fetishists comprise poppers (where popping the balloon is essential to the fetish) and non-poppers (who avoid the bursting of balloons in all instances). Katherine McIntyre recently published a paper on balloon fetishes (Looners: Inside the world of balloon fetishes) and interviewed a number of looners. One of her interviewees claimed that poppers are generally more dominant and non-poppers more submissive. However, sex therapist Paul Abramson claimed the distinction was trivial and “like trying to distinguish Miller from Bud drinkers”. McIntyre also noted that:
“The balloon fetish community extends beyond porn. Looners share stories and ask questions about their fetish on Facebook, Twitter and other Internet sites. About 1,200 people are regular members of Balloon Buddies, a popular listserv in the looner community where otherwise uncomfortable and often ashamed balloon people gather and discuss their preoccupation. Balloon Buddies was started as a pen pal group in the 1970s by a man from Maine nicknamed Buster Bill. Several thousand people have circulated through over the years”.
Even among looners who don’t have a balloon phobia, it has been claimed that may have no desire to burst the balloon because they have an anthropomorphized emotional attachment to the balloon (i.e., they attribute human characteristics to the balloon). The article also claims that balloon fetish is indirectly related to latex fetishes. Just like latex, balloons are “tactile and supple and imitate the consistency of human skin”. However, balloons have extra properties such as the ability to expand and is said to be akin “the swelling of primary and secondary sexual organs during arousal”. A Wikipedia entry on looners also claims that:
“One hallmark of the distinction between poppers and non-poppers may be in seeing balloons’ bursting either as a metaphor for orgasm, or as a metaphor for death…for fetishists the adrenaline rush associated with the ‘danger’ that a balloon will pop produces a sexual response. This helps to explain why even non-poppers who have an intense phobia of balloons popping in non-sexual contexts may be aroused by the possibility within safe sexual contexts. It may even suggest that balloon fetish, for poppers and non-poppers alike, is part of the BDSM [Bondage, Dominance, Submission, Masochism] spectrum of fetishes in which a controlled amount of danger is used to elicit a pleasurable fight or flight in participants”.
In an article for The Wave Magazine, entitled “Fetish Confessions”, Sandy Brundage interviewed self-confessed looner ‘Mike D’ about his balloon fetish. Brundage simply wanted to know why looners are so sexually aroused by balloons. Mike D – who now runs the balloon fetish video site Mellyloon that has sent out over 1,000 balloon fetish films to the Middle East, Asia, South and North America – said:
“I’m not sure I have the answer to that. There’s always something that goes back to your childhood. Like your babysitter blew up a balloon or your mother popped your balloon. Then along comes puberty and these things that made such an impression on you as a child turn into something erotic….I’m still phobic [about balloons]. That’s where my whole fetish derived from, that fear”.
McIntyre interviewed another male looner (Shaun) who was particularly aroused by balloons because of their smell. He said:
“The smell of a room that has a lot of balloons, especially after they have oxidized over a period of a couple days, is nearly indescribable. Each brand possesses a smell as distinct to looners as perfume. The odor is subtly sweet with a hint of rubber. One sniff can identify a Rifco brand product because its latex smells slightly of chocolate chip cookies. The aroma adds to the experience, as does the feel and sound of balloons. The sensation of swimming through hundreds of balloons in my bedroom was overwhelming and amazing”.
McIntyre also noted that some looners care more about the balloon’s size, colour and brand. Some prefer solid colored balloons and others prefer transparent balloons. One looner said that size was crucial (“the bigger the better”). This particular looner claimed he could orgasm simply by blowing up a balloon until it popped.
McIntyre also interviewed Lynda, a 55-year-old teacher from Los Angeles who said that balloons were “more sensual than sexual” for her. She and her partner own three helium tanks and they sometimes fill their bedroom, living room or shower with balloons. Lynda says she traps herself in a cage she built with balloons, turns on a large fan, and allows the balloons to move around her. This she says stimulates “her senses to invigorating heights” and equates the feeling to a junkie’s high (“so intense, so wild and awesome”), and “collapses in ecstasy afterward like one does after incredible sex”. Lynda says her partner accepts her balloon fetish because “it’s not immoral, not fattening, it’s relatively cheap and brings a smile to her face”.
McIntyre also claimed in her article that most looners grew up ashamed with the belief that no-one else in the world had their sexual fetish. It was only when they found other like-minded people online that they realized they were “not alone”. This helps eliminate the looner’s feelings of isolation. This then becomes easier to tell potential partners about their fetish and helps looners to keep their behaviour under control.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
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.
Kerekes, D. (2010). Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 21, 142.
Malfouka (undated). So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners. Maximum Awesome. Located at: http://www.maximumawesome.com/pervfriday/looners.htm
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
Simons, I. (2009). On fetishes and clean pencil tips. Psychology Today, March 8. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-mind/200903/fetishes-and-clean-pencil-tips
Wikipedia (2012). Balloon fetish. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon_fetish