A popping balloon can be startling, but what's more shocking is that others find that sound sexually arousing.
People like Elle, a Denver-based dominatrix who admits to being a "looner," a term used by balloon fetishists to describe their unusual interest for of latex-influenced love.
But not all "looners" are alike, according to Elle, who gives a blow-up-by-blow-up description of her passion on the Aug. 19 episode of the National Geographic Channel series "Taboo."
She considers herself a "popper," the term for a person for whom the sound of a popping balloon is a metaphor for an orgasm.
"I do get excited about the pop," she said while filming the episode. "I know I'm putting life force into that balloon and I'm excited by it. It feels wonderful."
That attitude is the polar opposite of "non-poppers" like Dave Collins, a 27-year-old Little Rock, Ark. resident who also appears in the episode. He considers a popped balloon to be akin to death, and gets deflated when one deflates in his presence.
"Your heart just reaches out this beautiful, beautiful balloon," he said on the show. "I believe these balloons are my children."
Karen McIntyre, a journalist who has studied the balloon fetishist culture said "looners" can be attracted to various aspects of the balloon, such as the smell, shape, or color.
"They also like the sound of the balloon, and the feel of the latex rubbing against their skin," McIntyre said on the episode.
Elle gets especially hot and bothered blowing up a balloon until it pops.
"A 'blow-to-pop' is where you inflate a balloon until it pops," she said. "It feels wonderful. I feel strong when I blow it up. You're just waiting. 'Is it going to pop? Is it going to pop? Is it going to pop?' So when it does, it makes you go, 'Yeah.'"
Kevin Volkan, a professor at Cal State University Channel Islands, said a balloon fetish, like other fetishes, can be traced back to an event in childhood that elicits strong emotions.
"These undigested emotions later become sexualized and attached to a certain kind of object," he said on the show.
The emotions may have started in childhood, but Elle doesn't want people to assume she's unsafe around kids.
"Balloons are symbolic of childhood and people seeing you playing with a balloon will jump to conclusions that maybe you think about children" she said. "It's infuriating because it has nothing to do with any desire for children."
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