Sex & Relationships

Working Out the Kinks

Why are balloons, pies or being stuffed in the oven like a turkey such a sexual turn-on for some and not others?
I feel so boring. If I blow up a balloon, I might have a little fun knocking it around the room for a while, but that's about it. I throw a pie in someone's face, sure, I'll get a giggle out of it, but it's hardly gonna make me come.

So why are balloons, pies or wanting to be stuffed in the oven like a turkey such a sexual turn-on for some and not others?

"We're primates and primates are troupe-bonded creatures," explains Katherine Gates, author of Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. "The more the world becomes one international, mega culture, the more I think people are seeking out smaller subcultures that they can feel part of."

Like Mike Brown, aka PieMan, who has discovered a whole community of people who get off on being "pied" in the face, or Balloongirl, part of an expanding internet community of people who give the term "blow job" new meaning.

Balloon fetishists, or "looners," as they call themselves, are sharply divided on the issue of "to pop or not to pop" and "flame wars over the issue take up a significant amount of space on the balloon-fetish chat rooms," writes Gates.

"While 'non-poppers' feel an emotional attachment to balloons and can get quite protective of their inflatable friends, poppers see no point to jerking off with balloons unless they explode. As one popper puts it, 'If they don't pop, I don't pop!'"

The most common explanation is that fetishes are triggered by some childhood trauma or experience. But Gates doesn't entirely buy it. "I think it's a combination of genetic and environmental influences," she says. "It's obvious that certain childhood experiences can't be the only cause because a lot of people have those very same childhood experiences and don't turn into fetishists. There has to be a way in which the person is somehow primed to interpret that early experience in a powerful, physiological way."

Most fetishists have what Gates calls an "origin myth," the day the light bulb went off and they made the connection. It almost always goes back to some occurrence during puberty, when they had a reaction they can identify as sexual.

"They'll say, 'And then I put the balloons under my shirt and had an orgasm and that was the moment,'" explains Gates. "Well, why did they put the balloons under their shirt in the first place? Somehow that connection was made even earlier."

The truth is, if is exists, someone has fetishized it. A Fetish Roadmap in Gates' book divides the various fetishes into categories and subcategories. For example, under animal transformation, you have: 1. Pony play (that is, people who dress as ponies and the trainers who love them), cow play, pup play and more; 2. Furries (people who get off on stuffed animals or who like to wear furry animal outfits); and 3. Vore (people who like to eroticize being eaten alive). A subcategory of vore is the Turkey Man, who gets off on pretending to be the Thanksgiving turkey to be "cooked" and "eaten" by a mother-like woman.

Under the growth category you have your macrophiles (men who get off fantasizing about giant women), crush freaks (men who enjoy fantasies of being crushed) weight gain/feeders (those who get off on watching someone gain weight or gaining weight themselves), body inflation (the scene in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory when Violet ate the experimental gum and her body expanded into a big round ball is a classic for these folks) and balloon fetish. The category of taboo breaking includes messy fun, quicksand, pie play and knicker wetting.

The list goes on.

Gates says most fetishized objects and scenarios do have certain things in common.

"It has to have a touchy, feel-y or smelly element to it," she explains. "And there has to be a drama involved, usually this involves some kind of build up of tension, pressure or anticipation that culminates in some kind of release. The pop of a balloon being a perfect example."

What, you might ask, did all these people do before the internet?

"I think they were miserable," says Gates. "I'd get tears in my eyes during interviews when people told me about the day they typed in 'balloon plus fetish' or whatever on the internet and found they weren't the only one," Gates tells me. "The look of incredible relief, gratefulness and revelation was incredible. Now they can live out [their fetish] in a safe, sane and consensual manner and not be so tortured by the fact that they're different than other people."
Josey Vogels is the author of the nationally syndicated relationships column My Messy Bedroom and the dating advice column Dating Girl.
Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018