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Leather or latex, high heels or handcuffs — when it comes to fetishes, "You can attach your erotic needs to just about anything," says Burlington clinical sexologist Gale H. For Chris Burney, "anything" happens to be balloons. And balloon kink years, Burney, who turns 30 this week, kept that kink a secret, convinced that no one else could possibly find sexual pleasure in something as strange as inflating and popping a balloon. Turns out, he's not alone. Now Burney is a regular in a vibrant online community of self-proclaimed "looners," and he's speaking out about his fetish.
Fetishes "are such a taboo, and not many people understand," Burney says. Burney is what is known in the looner community as a "popper" — someone who gets off on balloons popping. In footage shot for the Learning Channel's show "Strange Sex," he appears excited, breathless and a bit nervous as he blows up an enormous orange balloon.
Doing it himself is enough to bring him to orgasm. But, as he explains in a YouTube video called "Why I Have a Balloon Fetish," he especially loves watching women blow up balloons until they burst. He sports a goatee and close-cropped hair, along with lip and eyebrow piercings. At 6-foot-7, he's a soft-spoken, gentle-giant type, a big guy who, until a few years ago, had a big secret. A sexual fetish, by definition, is a preoccupation with a particular material or body part. Someone with a fetish might get turned on by feet, or by the feel of silk or latex, or by the experience of wearing women's underwear, explains Golden, whose latest book, published inis In the Grip of Desire: A Therapist at Work with Sexual Secrets.
She's emphatic about what a fetish is not : a disorder, at least in most cases. Golden acknowledges that fetishes can cause problems, particularly when they interfere with people's work, life or balloon kink, or when a fetish becomes a requirement for functioning rather than an occasional turn-on. But in other cases, she says, fetishes simply provide spice in the bedroom. Burney's fetish falls into the second camp; while balloons provide a source of pleasure, they aren't mandatory for his sex life.
Pinning down balloon kink origin of fetishes is tricky. Researchers make careers out of trying to understand desire. Golden subscribes to the theory of "imprinting," which holds that a fetish takes root early in childhood. That's certainly the case for Burney. He believes his fetish evolved out of an early childhood fear of balloons; he remembers being "deathly afraid" of them, particularly of the loud noise of their popping.
By the time he hit 7 or 8 years old, Burney says, the fear began to be tinged with an almost euphoric feeling — nervousness, fright and excitement all jumbled together. But he was ashamed of the fascination. As a teenager, he'd shoplift to sneak balloons into his home, anxious lest his parents find out about his strange obsession. All the while, Burney says, he assumed he alone had this strange fetish; it wasn't until he was 19 and watching late-night HBO at a friend's house that he learned about the larger fetish community. The show made a brief mention of balloons.
Burney typed "girls with balloons" into an online search engine, and his jaw dropped.
It was probably one of the most enlightened feelings I've had in my entire life, balloon kink that I wasn't the only person out there that shared this," Burney says. I can't believe how many looners there are out there. Even after plugging into the online fetish world, Burney concealed his looner love from friends and family. That slowly changed in his mid-twenties, when Burney was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
His father died six months into his chemotherapy treatment. Burney, who had briefly relocated to Pennsylvania, moved back to Rutland after the two hard blows. He says he felt increasingly that, at a terrible time in his life, it was important to be true to himself. He began outing himself to the other people in his life. His mother was supportive. Friends were a little confused or thought his revelation strange, Burney says, but it didn't ruin any relationships.
Next, Burney started speaking publicly about his fetish. That included doing an extended interview on an episode of "Strange Sex" and starting a YouTube channel. He now has more than 80 clips on YouTube, and runs a Facebook group called "Looner Mayhem" with more than followers. Burney also participates in the online social networking site FetLife. Why lucky? He has a go-to kink that he knows will turn him on, he explains: a trick that never fails to bring pleasure.
When it comes to materials, Burney isn't talking about popping party balloons you'd pick up in the grocery store. While he calls the kink harmless, he does balloon kink other looners, especially "poppers," to wear glasses and earplugs as a precaution. No shops cater specifically to looners, Burney says, but various specialty balloon manufacturers carry appropriate products. When he discovered them, he jokes, he thought they were all but deed with looners in mind. Every looner goes in for a different kind of balloon, Burney notes: "It's the color preference; it's the way it looks; it's the size of it.
Currently unemployed, Burney aspires to be a photographer and filmmaker. So far he's dabbled in amateur porn, ing clips to the website Clips4Sale. She never took her clothes off, Burney says. The couple's clips still made money.
The two recently separated, but Burney says their breakup wasn't related to his fetish. He gives credit to his ex, who's still a friend, for being supportive. When dating, he says, he takes the tack of telling balloon kink sooner rather than later about his unusual turn-on. If not? Burney isn't interested in hiding that part of his life, he says, and would rather know early on that a potential partner isn't down for the occasional balloon in the bedroom.
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How a Balloon Fetish Inflates a Rutland Man's Life