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In the spring of , Shaun had just broken up with a boyfriend, and his roommate had moved out. Living alone for the first time and relieved of the fear that someone might walk in the door, he was finally able to indulge his fantasy. The young man sat on his couch and started blowing up balloons. Shaun had loved playing with balloons since he was . When he hit puberty, he felt his first orgasm rubbing against a balloon. It was then that his relationship with the object took on a new meaning. But now he found himself in the privacy and intimacy of his small, two-bedroom San Jose apartment.
I emerged myself fully. The balloons were mostly 12 to 16 inches in diameter, plus a few three times that size. Shaun, who stands 6-foot-2, filled his bedroom to the top of his chest. He fell asleep buried in multi-colored inflatables. Although the exact of balloon fetishists — or any fetishist — is debated and impossible to know, Shaun is unquestionably not alone. Women — some naked, some fully dressed — masturbate with balloons on porn sites. They ride them, suck them, have sex with them, blow them up and pop them.
And sometimes groups of scantily clad women just play with balloons, sexy-pillow-fight style. Despite the x-rated revealed by a Google search, 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, 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 s by a man from Maine nicknamed Buster Bill. Members share which colors, sizes and brands of balloons turn them on. They discuss when and why their fetish began. And there is often a friendly debate between poppers and non-poppers, as the community is divided between those who dislike and are sometimes terrified of a balloon bursting and those who are turned on and sometimes orgasm from it.
Shaun says poppers are generally more dominant and non-poppers more submissive. Mike, a non-popper from Philadelphia, shares ownership of Balloon Buddies with Shaun. He has made balloon fetishism a source of income as well as a pastime, selling products like porn videos to looners in every continent except Antarctica. He began hiring the women seen fondling balloons on his sites, mellyloon. Now, the money he makes from the sites support him and his wife. She photographs and films the models but is not a looner. Mike has met looners of all varieties through his business as well as at balloon community get-togethers.
He says balloon people are everywhere, and aside from being predominantly male, they can be anyone. They are doctors, lawyers, physicists, policemen, garbage men, firemen, jailbirds, politicians and actors. The many types of people who are into balloons parallel the many types of balloons. Plastic storage drawers cover two of his office walls, each one filled with deflated balloons Shaun sells in his spare time on his website grandballoons.
Even his cat rubs against it. More than half of his domestic buyers live on the East Coast, although there are many in California. And more than half of his sales are international, with a spike in Germany. Shaun estimates about 85 percent of his customers are looners. They buy inch balloons big enough to climb inside of, tofoot hotdog-shaped Airships, figurines like little ducks that are hard to blow up, and anatomically correct rear ends called Derrie-Airs.
The stimulation balloons provide also varies widely, as latex can appeal to all senses. The scent can be especially important to looners. The odor is subtly sweet with a hint of rubber. One sniff, and Shaun can identify a Rifco brand product because its latex smells slightly of chocolate chip cookies. He says the aroma adds to the experience, as does the feel and sound of balloons. Twenty-seven-year-old Chris Burney from Rutland, Vermont, says he dislikes solid colored balloons and prefers Crystaltone and transparent balloons — the see-through ones.
The bigger the better. For other looners, balloons provide stress relief more often than sexual climax. Lynda, a year-old teacher who lives outside Los Angeles, says balloons are more sensual than sexual for her. She prefers agate balloons, the swirly multi-colored ones that look like oil on water. I like the screaming hot pink and lime green. I find them reassuring. They sometimes fill the bedroom, living room or shower with balloons.
Lynda built her own cage out of PVC pipe and soft netting. She traps herself in the cage with balloons, turns on a large fan, and allows the balls of latex to whip around her, stimulating her senses to invigorating heights. Lynda also will sometimes use balloon play to help herself fall asleep, like a baby with a pacifier.
Pacifiers were made of latex when Lynda was . She remembers rubbing her pacifier on her nose, and she credits this toddler experience with her olfactory infatuation with balloons in adulthood. Lynda knows a handful of looners with the same pacifier association, and nearly all balloon fetishists draw some childhood connection.
Although the development of a fetish is not completely understood, experts know they are far more common among men than women. According to Human Sexuality and Its Problems by John Bancroft, psychiatry professor at Indiana University School of Medicine and former director of the Kinsey Institute, men are much more likely to develop fetishes because of a critical period during sexual growth when a young man makes a connection between a specific stimuli and a sexual response.
Over time, a fetish is born. Still, why does this connection between an object and an erotic response become permanent in some people but not others? No one knows for sure. Some people may be born with or develop a predisposition toward fetishism, according to kink expert Gates. Take the female looner Lynda, for example; perhaps the olfactory and pleasure centers of her brain are slightly more connected than those in an average brain, wiring her to be highly affected by the smell of balloons.
No evidence suggests genetics cause people to develop fetishes, however, according to San Francisco psychotherapist and sex therapist William Henkin. Henkin, who has worked with people with alternate sex and gender concerns for more than two decades although not with any looners , says fetishes tend to develop in people who felt traumatized as young children and may feel some extra need to be in control.
Gates agrees people may be socially primed for a fetish in childhood and puberty. They start to hone in on this stimulus during early masturbation, just as Shaun experienced his first orgasms with a balloon, which is common among looners.
Family situations like these can induce anxiety, isolation and sexual shame. Experts agree fetishes almost always originate in childhood, but they disagree on the exact age. Henkin thinks they arise before 5, and probably before 3. Vancouver sexologist and clinical counselor Pega Ren thinks boys tend to develop fetishes between 2 and 10, with 5 to 8 being most common.
Shaun says he had typical childlike interests and favorite toys that were popular with many kids. He carried around a Snoopy doll and later a Scooter character from the Muppets. But somewhere between 4 and 6, he became fascinated by balloons. Shaun remembers blowing them up and, when it was too hard for him, letting his older brother do it. They threw balloons in the family fireplace, watching flames whip them around until the latex burst. Shaun remembers innocently playing with balloons; he would sit on them, bat them around and see how big they could get.
But unlike most kids, Shaun never lost his interest in balloons. For nearly a decade afterward, Shaun refused to touch the objects of his atypical affection. But he sometimes still craved them. Quitting balloons was like quitting smoking, he says. Accepting his homosexuality was much easier than admitting he had a balloon fetish.
Chris Burney, the looner from Vermont, and Mike, the balloon businessman in Philly, have fetishes rooted in childhood fears of loud noises. Loud and unexpected balloon bursts frightened Burney as a kid, but somewhere between 8 and 12, he started feeling empowered by seeing how big he could blow one up without popping it.
By the time he hit 15, the desire turned sexual. I was like, oh my god. But if a balloon pops in front of Mike, the fun stops. While for many looners the fetish is seemingly harmless, for others it can be disturbing, even damaging. Mike has witnessed a fanatical non-popper fall into a fetal position and quiver when a balloon suddenly deflated in his presence. The most extreme looners say they have ruined relationships sneaking to hotel rooms to keep their secret from their spouses , gone into debt buying balloons and lost their sense of reality from their out-of-control preoccupation.
Abramson, the UCLA professor, testifies as an expert witness in civil cases in which sex is an issue, and he says extreme fetishes can be unsafe. In determining whether a looner suffers from a psychological disorder, therapists will likely fit the person into one of four levels of fetishism outlined by Paul Gebhard, a well-known sexologist with a Ph. Level three people would be those who need a balloon to perform sexually.
And those who replace a sex partner with a balloon would be classified at the highest level — and at the greatest risk psychologically. The most fanatic non-poppers may be level four fetishists because they treat balloons as if they were human, so much so that they equate a busted balloon with murder. Mike is well connected in the looner community, and he says people who treat balloons as human partners are the exceptions.
For Mike, balloons are like pizza — satisfying in moderation. And the Internet is to thank for that. Most looners grew up ashamed, thinking no one else in the world had a balloon fetish. Then they found people online who share their interest — people who had spouses, children, jobs; perfectly successful, normal people. The Internet has likely reduced the of hardcore, level four fetishists, Gates says, by lessening the pressure and eliminating feelings of isolation — one of the worst burdens of fetishism.
It then becomes easier to tell a partner about a fetish and helps people to keep their obsession under control. Some looners also throw in-person balloon parties. Shaun has hosted a few relatively tame gatherings that have included Balloon Buddy trivia contests, balloon inflation races and a roundtable discussion in which looners talk about their fetish. But the largest in-person balloon gathering Mike has heard of included about 40 guests. Mike is well-known in the heterosexual looner community and Shaun is known among gay looners, yet neither man will allow his last name to be published.
Chris Burney, by contrast, is open enough about his fetish that he agreed to be featured on an episode of the TLC television series Strange Sex. I said to myself that I would never tell anyone in my life. It was a secret. And I kept the secret for 10 years. On his twenty-seventh birthday this past February, he maneuvered his 6-foot-7, nearly pound body inside a inch-wide transparent balloon and posted the video for his fans on YouTube — his fiftieth balloon fetish video on the site.
Burney says it also has helped him cope with difficult times. Coming out as a looner is what he credits for changing his outlook on life and helping him cope. But it certainly helps. Shaun confesses to a scar on his inner thigh from a balloon pop gone wrong. Still, balloons are on the mild end of the fetish spectrum compared to masochism, sadism or an obsession with sharp objects. And playing dirty with balloons is healthier than more conventional addictions, like those involving alcohol, drugs or cigarettes.
Following his first balloon binge 14 years ago, Shaun knew he had to keep his infatuation under control.Balloon fetish sites
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The Balloon Fetish: What Is The Appeal?