A balloon fetish is a sexual fetish that involves balloons. A balloon fetishist is also referred to as a "looner". Some balloon fetishists "revel in the popping of balloons and [others] may become anxious and tearful at the very thought of popping balloons". Others enjoy blowing up balloons or sitting and lying on them.
Like many paraphilias, the origins of a balloon fetish are complex and vary between individuals, but may be explained as a form of sexual imprinting. Many "looners" attribute their fetish to early sexual or pre-sexual experiences with balloons, often involving their being burst by members of the desirable sex. These experiences frequently accompany or instigate a phobia of balloons in the individual, most often associated with the sudden loud noise when they burst, a form of ligyrophobia.
Depending on the extent to which this phobia persists through and after puberty, balloon fetishists may regard balloons bursting as either essential to the sexual experience (and frequently refer to themselves as poppers), or to be avoided at all costs (as non-poppers). Even those who are not phobic of the act of a balloon popping may prefer not to pop due to an anthropomorphized emotional attachment to the balloon, which is perfectly normal to non-poppers. 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.
That popping balloons is central to several popular party games suggests that enjoyment of the act, the challenge, and the anticipation of popping is not confined to fetishists. However, 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 spectrum of fetishes in which a controlled amount of danger is used to elicit a pleasurable fight-or-flight response in participants.
A true fetish is characterized in the DSM-IV by its social and occupational impedance. However, it is currently in the DSM-V (see Paraphilic Disorders) to where a fetish is no longer considered as a disorder (except for fetishistic disorder where if the fetish interferes with the person's life). Yet, fetishism is classified as code F65.0 in the ICD-10. Aside from these hazards, balloon fetishism carries with it the hazards of bursting balloons in close proximity to one's body. Eye and ear protection is recommended for such exposure to avoid eye damage or hearing loss. These hazards may be heightened since balloon fetishists often employ larger-than-average balloons and high-energy forms of popping them, such as overinflation.
In addition, those who sit, stomp, or lie on large balloons may be vulnerable to fall injuries when the balloons burst.
A different form of this fetish is the "Bubblegum Balloon Fetish" or "Bubblegum Looning", where, instead of latex balloons, Bubblegum is used to produce small to big balloons (depending on the size of the gum). In this case, the "popper" or "non-popper" difference is absent since balloons can be produced over and over (differently from latex ones, that, once burst, have to be discarded). Bubblegum looners tend to like watching people produce balloons with bubblegum or producing balloons themselves.
As with balloon looning, Bubblegum Looning can be used in sexual activities to enhance sexual performances. In this case, bubblegum balloons may also be blown against some partner's body parts to enhance sexual excitement or as a form of game play.
A number of looners also enjoy other variations, such as rubber glove balloons (mainly medical gloves), beach balls, inflatable PVC plastic toys (mainly blow up sharks, whales, and hammers), and inflating bin liners or garbage bags. The latter is often combined with a crush fetish where the looner is aroused the sight of glossy, polyethylene garbage sacks being compressed by the hydraulic compactor of a garbage truck or other similar apparatus to the point where they burst or explode - in its most extreme form this may even be combined with a form of vorarephilia, where the looner desires to be crushed and consumed by the machine itself along with the sacks.
- So Graham Norton, 1998-2002 British television series that featured a recurring segment where the main character, Graham Norton, looked for people on the Internet with different fetishes, including balloon fetish.
- Little Children, 2006 movie containing a small reference about a man addicted to a porn website which involves women and balloons.
- NCIS The Truth is Out There, 2004, Abby Sciuto comments that she dated a man with a balloon fetish.
- The Poughkeepsie Tapes, 2007 mockumentary horror film.
- SexTV season 9 episode 23, 9 June 2007.
- Strange Sex episode 5, 1 August 2010.
- The United States of Tara, season 2 episode 8, 10 May 2010, Explosive Diorama. Supporting character Kate films herself performing 'favors' live to get things on her wishlist from internet admirers. One of them is a looner, for whom she agrees to blow up and pop a large number of balloons to get a Vespa.
- Taboo, 2012 episode on National Geographic Channel.
- Arte aired a documentary about the Balloon, Inflatable & Latex Fetish on 19 May 2012.
- Bob's Burgers, the 2013 episode It Snakes a Village features a character with a balloon fetish.
- Gates, Katharine (1999); Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex, Juno Books, ISBN 1-890451-03-7 (retrieved 22 August 2010 from Google Books)
- I Did It for Science: Balloon Fetishism, Rev. Jen Miller, Nerve.com, 2005 (retrieved 22 August 2010)
- Reverend Jen (2009), Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen, Counterpoint Press, ISBN 978-1-59376-244-5 (retrieved 22 August 2010 from Google Books)
- Balloon Fetish, Is It Porn?, Emily McCombs, Asyum.com, 10 September 2008 (retrieved 22 August 2010)
- 5 Ridiculous (Safe for Work) Fetishes, Alex Cipriano, Cracked.com, 17 March 2009 (retrieved 22 August 2010)
- So Hot and Ready to Pop: The world of Looners, Maximum Awesome (retrieved 22 August 2010)
- Fetish Confessions: Telling loved ones about your fetish is as easy as solving fractured quadratic equations, Sandy Brundage, The Wave Magazine Volume 2 Issue 15, 31 July 2002 (retrieved 22 August 2010 on Internet Archive Wayback Machine)
- Headpress: journal of sex, religion, death, Issues 21-23, David Kerekes, Headpress, p.142 (retrieved 22 August 2010 from Google Books)
- Gates pp. 83,89-90
- Balloon Fetish, SexTV Archives (retrieved 22 August 2010)
- SexTV: Amanda Lepore/Balloon Fetish/Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman at the Internet Movie Database
- Balloon Infatuation.