In this epoch of double-anal and bukkake, it's nice to know that something as innocuous as a balloon can still get someone hard. But what is it about these seemingly mundane party decorations that make certain fetishists pop boners? Is it the inflating, squeezing, sitting, humping or popping? Maybe it's just the smell and texture of rubber.
Assuming you don't have a latex allergy, balloons seem like a relatively low-maintenance fetish. You don't need special equipment, costumes or wee-wee pads. You don't really even need a partner; all your supplies can be procured at the neighborhood ninety-nine-cent store. Given my propensity for being a loner — and my bohemian budget — balloons could be the perfect fetish for me.
But could I really take to it overnight? I've always regarded balloons as nothing more than colorful pieces of latex that evil clowns occasionally fashion into animal shapes. Would I ever be able to see them as something more? There was one clear way to find out: For one night I would party amongst "looners," the men and women who view balloons as erotically charged entities.
Please list all the materials required for this experiment (including, if applicable, how they were obtained).
- One fabulous outfit
- One looner-laden balloon fetish event
- Balloons (provided at the event), including one giant green balloon (also provided at the event)
In this portion of your report, you must describe, step-by-step, what you did in your lab. It should be specific enough that someone who has not seen the lab can follow the directions and recreate the same lab.
I began my research online by Googling the words "balloon fetish." Several links to websites appeared, along with one link to Balloon Farm, a 1999 film starring Rip Torn. Most of the sites comprised relatively softcore material featuring pretty young women blowing up, squeezing and sitting on balloons. Many presented warnings before "popping content" was displayed. Herein, I learned of the two distinct looner categories — poppers and non-poppers. Poppers obviously dig popping, and non-poppers are more aroused by the inflated balloon in all its glory.
I asked friends if they knew anything about looners.
"Oh, yeah, I saw that once on HBO," said my friend Amy.
"Wow, they probably worship the Michelin Man," said my friend Mark, incredulous.
My friend John theorized that the entire fetish originated with a Superfriends episode titled "The Balloon People."
Everyone I spoke to either had no information or had never heard of a balloon fetish.
I continued my quest for knowledge online, where I searched for balloon-fetish activities in the greater metropolitan area. After stumbling upon a New York City fetish calendar, I noticed a balloon party scheduled for that very weekend. It was listed as part of the Baroness' Fetish Retinue, a monthly party held at an East Village bar. This wasn't the first time I'd heard of the Retinue. The previous month, my friends Erin and Orion had naively and drunkenly wandered in, whereupon
|With the Baroness
the Baroness whipped Erin's ass until it was redder and more swollen than a Hamadryas baboon's in heat.
I e-mailed the Baroness, requesting more information about the balloon party, specifically whether there was a dress code. Do people dress in balloons?, I wondered. The last thing I wanted was to be ostracized for dressing inappropriately.
The following day, the Baroness returned my email. She explained that partygoers sometimes climbed inside of balloons. There would also be balloon bondage and anything else she could come up with. "As far as a dress code," she shared, "the price of admission depends on what you wear — it's free if you're fabulous, $5 in fetish, $15 in all black, and $20 in streetwear. If you were to come covered in balloons, the door bitch might think you were fabulous. But she's very particular."
I called my friend, Claudia, a lawyer and uptown girl who rarely gets to engage in anything truly deviant. "Do you want to go to a balloon fetish party with me tomorrow night?" I inquired.
"Balloon fetish?" she repeated.
"People get off on blowing up balloons and popping them, and that kind of thing. It'll be fun."
"It's not going to be an orgy or anything?"
"No. It's very G-rated. It's balloons."
"Okay, I'll go. But I'll meet you beforehand. I'm not going alone."
I invited a few other friends, including Erin, who'd developed a bit of a crush on the Baroness since her savage beating.
On Sunday night, I donned my thigh-high gold boots, a powder-blue minidress and eyelashes the size of caterpillars, hoping the door bitch would deem me fabulous. Upon our arrival, Claudia and I were surprised to find that the door bitch was not the six-foot-tall drag queen we'd expected, but a tiny man with a brazen stare. Nevertheless, we were proclaimed fabulous and granted admittance.
"Looks like a swingin' sausage party," I said, surveying the overwhelming ratio of men to women. A guy with a luscious mane of ass hair sauntered by in a thong. Another man with long blonde hair had gone the opposite route: he wore a full-body PVC catsuit.
"How do you get into that?" I asked him.
"Two ways — you can soak it in water, or you can use baby powder."
"Looks good," I told him, glancing around the room.
People who looked like they'd just left their temp jobs mingled with people who looked like they'd spent hours getting ready. Latex was the overwhelming fashion choice. A green balloon floated in front of us, and Claudia joyfully stomped on it. A man blowing up a balloon in the corner shot us a nasty look, while another man sighed, "You can do that again." Clearly, there was tension between poppers and non-poppers. Would there be a dance-off? Already things were exciting. I whipped out my notepad.
A bespectacled, preppy looking man approached us and introduced himself as Clay.
"How did you find out about this?" Claudia asked him.
"I'm on an email list for this fetish," he replied.
Thrilled to meet an actual looner, I asked, "Is it the balloons themselves? Or is it the pretty girls blowing them up? Or is it the pretty girls popping them?"
"Well, I'm not really into the popping. Some people are all about the popping. They're just like, 'Blow it up and pop it already, damn it!' But I'm more into the sensual aspects of it — the way it feels when it's inflated. I still like sex, and I still like women. Balloons just add a little something extra."
"Do you think I'm dressed appropriately?" I asked.
"Well, you could have dressed as a balloon deliverywoman," he suggested.
Our chat was interrupted by a commotion at the door. Erin and Orion, both covered from head to toe in balloons, were arguing with the door bitch.
"What's wrong?" I asked, coming to their aid.
"He says we're not in fetish gear," Erin moaned. "He wants to charge us twenty bucks apiece!"
"They're totally in fetish gear," said Clay. The door bitch just shook his head. Apparently, to him, only latex and leather qualified. The possibility of a new genre threw him for a loop.
Defeated, Erin and Orion walked out. "We're gonna go to Benny's Burritos and see what happens," they said. The door bitch magically had a change of heart and let them in for ten. Once inside, they began to hug everyone in the room.
"Wow, there are a lot of pant-tents being pitched right now," I whispered to Claudia.
As I mingled with the crowd, I collected email addresses from people who claimed to be looners.
The air hose detached. The balloon started shrinking around me. I was going to experience the most ridiculous death ever.
Several were happy to share their insights with me. I learned that most balloon fetishists enjoyed playing with balloons before they were consciously sexual. Some feared the popping noise but later eroticized it. One looner told me he was influenced by the early-'70s game show Beat the Clock, which featured leggy models performing stunts that involved balloons. It wasn't too hard to see how a young mind could make the connection.
The Baroness finally arrived, looking stunning in a reddish-brown latex dress of her own design. She announced that the party had officially started, then beckoned Erin to the stage, where she wordlessly instructed her to stand in the corner and produced a whip. Then, like Legolas slaying Orcs with his arrow, the Baroness deftly obliterated each balloon on Erin's body until there was nothing left but stubs of torn latex dangling from safety pins.
Once both Erin and Orion had been stripped of their balloons, a balloon-oriented performance began. It involved a woman with vampire fangs clad in a salmon-colored latex catsuit, a man drinking a martini and a pigtailed woman in a schoolgirl outfit being bound at her wrists and ankles by long balloons. The plot had something to do with a lost pet, and the martini-drinking man made the fanged woman a balloon dog — not an easy task. There's a reason clown college is harder to get into than Harvard.
The Baroness soon informed me that the giant balloons were going to be blown up shortly, and I was slated to go second.
"Rev., what if it deflates and you start to suffocate?" fretted Claudia.
I hadn't thought about the actual physics of it.
"That would be the coolest way to die ever!" Erin exclaimed.
"It would make the cover of the Post, that's for sure," I mused. "My poor parents would be so humiliated. I wish there were EMTs on hand."
"I'll get a knife, so I can cut you out if I have to," said Claudia, looking around the room for a weapon.
"Just use your keys," I said, feeling my knees quiver like a deep-sea diver's.
Onstage, the balloon operator, a burlesque performance artist named BALLOONHEDZ, was making preparations. Apparently putting people in balloons takes more planning than a space-shuttle launch. The stage was thoroughly dusted, and a gray blanket was laid across the floor to ensure that no antimatter would burst the balloon. As the expectant crowd gathered around, a giant shop-vac hose was wheeled onstage.
Quantify the effects of the experiment.
Nena's "Ninety-Nine Red Balloons" played as BALLOONHEDZ began to inflate the first giant balloon. Appropriately enough, it was red. I climbed onstage and watched up close as Amalie, a "balloonaut" clad in a fierce latex minidress, prepared to dive in.
"Put your hands in front of your face and make a point," the Baroness coached from the sidelines. BALLONHEDZ then removed the shop vac hose from the balloon, revealing an opening the size of a rabbit hole, which Amalie was to squeeze into. Physically, it seemed about as possible as squeezing toothpaste back into the tube. "Go! Go! Go!" the audience cheered as the Baroness gave Amalie a shove. But just as soon as Amalie's body disappeared into the balloon, the whole thing popped, and the aspiring balloonaut lay awkwardly in a pool of deflated latex. The audience sighed with disappointment.
I was next. My nerves rattled. I felt like a contestant on Fear Factor who was about to eat a maggot-filled donut. "Take notes," I said, handing my pen and notebook to Erin. "Orion, hold my purse. Claudia, have your keys ready. I'm goin' in!"
A large, leather-clad guy who looked like the cartoon version of Batman introduced himself as Morpheus. He asked if I was nervous.
"Yeah, I'm worried I'll pop it," I said, "Or that I won't, and it'll be claustrophobic and I'll freak out."
"Don't be nervous. Just think of it as a soft, womblike experience."
"How do I not pop it?"
"The first girl popped it because she was wearing too many clothes."
"Are you saying I should get naked?"
"It'd be a lot easier."
I approached the Baroness. "Morpheus suggested I get naked. I think it's a good idea."
"We can't have you getting naked. That would be illegal, since we're in a bar," she said. "Although we could put black tape over your nipples." And with a deftness that would make MacGyver's head
spin, the Baroness produced a roll of electrical tape. I followed her to the corner of the stage, where she unzipped my dress while murmuring a steady stream of instructions. "You must remove your jewelry and your shoes — anything that could pop the balloon. It's very important that you make a point with your hands. I'll give you a shove when it's time." ©2005 Rev. Jen Miller and Nerve.com
I pulled my dress off, revealing an embarrassing pair of turquoise $2 Kmart panties which would surely be ridiculed by the latex divas surrounding me. The Baroness applied four tiny pieces of tape to my now-erect magic wands, ensuring my teats would be legal should the boob squad arrive.
I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready, I sang to myself, trying to channel the fearlessness of SpongeBob as I stepped in front of a massive green balloon. The crowd cheered. There was no turning back, no room for failure. I would dive in as though my life depended on it, like C-3PO leaping into an escape pod.
I knew this would not look pretty. It is impossible to look poised when diving into a giant balloon, clad only in a pair of skivvies and electrical tape. I'm sure I looked like a complete jackass as I dove toward the hole. Yet somehow I wriggled in with relative ease.
The inside of the balloon was much different than the outside. It was like being on the other side of the looking glass, a separate world. Sounds were muffled, and I was surrounded by bright green latex, which was growing larger by the second. The smell of rubber was overwhelming. I felt like I'd been miniaturized and dropped into an old-fashioned swim cap. I wasn't claustrophobic or scared, but I wasn't aroused either. Oceanic feelings overwhelmed me. I was serene and obscenely happy.
Like most people who haven't spent years in primal-scream therapy, my memories of the womb are buried under multiple layers of song lyrics and useless trivia. But I imagine that being in the womb rocked. I am told that I stayed in the womb far past my delivery date and when I did emerge, I attempted to greet the world ass first. It was if I couldn't bear the thought of actually seeing what was out there. (It could have also been the result of my mother riding the Teacups at Enchanted Forest Amusement Park to induce labor, but that's another story entirely.) Hence, it is pure speculation when I say that I felt like an overgrown fetus relishing the simplicity of intrauterine existence.
As the balloon stretched, it became less opaque, and the lights and people outside grew just barely visible. I began to wonder how long I could stay inside when, suddenly, the air hose became detached and the balloon started shrinking around me. Claudia was right: I was going to experience the most ridiculous death ever. But like Bowie's Major Tom, there was nothing I could do.
I think I heard someone say, "Oh shit!" In a second, the hose was reintroduced into the balloon's hole, and it reinflated, this time larger than before.
"Are you ready for some company?" a voice boomed from outside. "Make room."
I backed up and watched as a lithe young man named Michael dove through the opening. Witnessing this reverse-birth from the inside was even stranger than it had seemed on the outside. First I saw his head, then his torso, and then his whole body appeared. What do you say to someone you barely know, with whom you're suddenly half-naked in a balloon? "How's it goin'?" I asked, taking his hand and helping him up like a tour guide on another planet. His smile indicated pure joy.
He was now in on the secret — being inside a giant balloon is awesome. "Oh my God," he gasped.
"Do you feel like you're in deep space?" I asked.
"Yeah, this is amazing. I want to be naked too," he proclaimed, peeling off his latex trousers.
"It's definitely nicer being naked in here," I said. Not that I'd ever been clothed in a balloon, but the latex felt velvety and stretchy against my skin.
We stared at each other like we'd just climbed through a wardrobe and found Narnia. It was hard to believe the real world lay just outside the latex. We touched the balloon. We touched each other's hands. We knelt down, stood up and pressed ourselves against the latex. Finally, Michael said, "Kiss me, Rev. Jen! We're in a balloon!" and we shared a celebratory kiss that no one in the audience was privy to.
Our peaceful floating continued for what seemed like hours, but was really only about five minutes. At that point, we were told to prepare for more company. There's not possibly enough room or oxygen for three people, I thought (although BALLOONHEDZ later told me he'd fit four women inside a balloon at once). We backed up and awaited the next visitor.
The hole opened. Amalie, the first balloonaut, was making a second attempt. This time she managed to wriggle all the way in, but almost as soon as she had, the balloon popped and we became a crumpled heap of latex-covered losers. Like coming out of anesthesia, it was a quick jolt back to crude reality. We stood up, and the crowd cheered as though we'd just scored a gold medal. Orion handed me my purse, and Erin handed me my notebook, which contained exactly three indecipherable sentences. "We need to discuss this," she said.
"Where are my clothes?" I asked.
"I almost used my keys," Claudia gasped. "I was so close to busting you out of there."
Once dressed, I went straight to the bar. I was no longer an overgrown fetus, and I needed a beer. The bartender presented me with a freebie as I sat down and took several deep breaths, relishing what little oxygen exists in crowded East Village bars. Around me, bacchanalia had erupted. Onstage, another overly dressed balloonaut had burst the last of the giant balloons. Morpheus had struck up a conversation with Claudia, who agreed to be spanked by his massive Batman arms. Two men had handcuffed Erin's wrists behind her back and were leading her around, feeding her sips of beer. "It's cool, man," she said, noticing my worried glance. "I'm getting a free drink out of this." Amalie was reclining on a sofa, having her toes sucked by a man in a thong. Three scantily clad women were onstage being tied to a giant phallic balloon and whipped by more balloons. The overabundance of balloons and half-dressed, heavily made-up revelers made me feel as if I were at an after-hours circus in which the clowns were finally allowed to cut loose. Even the door bitch was smiling.
Summarize your findings. Don't forget to attempt to identify possible variables that could result in different findings for others trying to recreate your test results.
I had been dispassionate about balloons at the beginning of my experiment, but I am now captivated by their most basic qualities. They are pliable, warm, soft, fun to pop and possessed of a scent that takes me back to my youth. While balloons may never rank next to my vibrator in the preferred-sex-toy department, I can't say I'll never bring them into the bedroom. The walls of the balloon felt great against my skin, and if I hadn't been so fixated on the psychological effect of being inside it, I might have become aroused. Maybe Michael and I would have gone to second base. If Amalie had managed to stay inside for more than a minute, maybe we all would have had a crazy balloon three-way. But as it was, my balloon experience did not incite me to pop a clit boner. The experience was so strange that sex was the last thing on my mind. Anyone who's tried screwing under the influence of LSD will know exactly what I'm talking about.
The main variable in the experiment was whether or not the giant balloon popped upon my entry. Had it popped, the experience would have been disappointing and possibly humiliating. As it turned out, it was gratifying, albeit not necessarily erotic. I enjoyed the sensory deprivation element: because I could barely hear and see the outside world, nothing distracted me from tactile sensations. While I've toyed with sensory deprivation in the past (i.e. the occasional blindfold), don't be surprised if you see me next year sporting a latex mask with an air tube jutting out of it.
I Did It for Science appears monthly.
Photographs by Mark McQueen