'Looners' Substitute Balloons for Love, Sex and Intimacy

PHOTO: In Arkansas, piano teacher Dave has such a profound love of balloons that he has collected 65,000 of them; he considers them his children and is moved to tears if they pop.
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For children, balloons can make the heart soar, but when an adult tucks his balloons into bed at night, he could be considered a "looner."

Dave, a former piano teacher from outside Little Rock, Ark., thinks of his balloons as his children. And he has fathered 65,000 of them. He cuddles them and coddles them, but insists the relationship is purely platonic.

"Some people think I am doing something else with them, but I am not," he says. "I am pure in my life -- I keep the balloons the same way."

Dave is one of four stories that will air on National Geographic Channel's series, "Taboo," which airs Sunday, Aug. 19 at 10 p.m.

Each night, he tucks one under his shirt and sleeps with the chosen balloon. "They create a world of sleeping on clouds and I want to feel the love emanating from these beautiful, beautiful balloons," he says in the episode.

"It feels so warm and your heart just reaches out to [them]," he says. "I believe these are my children. They are a part of who I am ... and make a part of my so-called family."

Loving balloons seems harmless enough, but Dr. Rebecca Beaton, director and founder of the Stress Management Institute, said attachment to objects can be considered a mental illness if it interferes with daily life or causes great stress.

"I presume he has some difficulty with relationships with other people if he has a balloon under his shirt," said Beaton, who has never treated Dave.

"It feels like intimacy but it's not a real human and humans can hurt you," she said. "It's safer with an inanimate object … They don't feel so alone."

Humanizing objects is not that uncommon, she said. Chuck Noland, the Fed Ex executive played by Tom Hanks in the 2000 movie "Cast Away" was best friends with his volleyball. Of course he was a castaway on a desert island.

Men also have close attachments to blow-up dolls. And just like balloons, these objects "from a kinesthetic perspective are like a human body – kind of soft and have some characteristics like a person."

Dave may insist that he isn't sexually attracted to his balloons, but there are many who are, according to licensed sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson, who is director of Sexual Health at Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio.

These attractions are defined paraphilias by the psychiatric Diagnostics and Standards Manual (DSM5) as "intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors generally involving nonhuman objects."

Anderson consulted in a similar series from TLC, "Strange Sex," which featured Christopher, a man who pops balloons for sexual pleasure.

Christopher's fetish was so intense, he moved from Rutland, Vt., to New York City to explore his balloon fantasies with others so inclined.

"A fetish is when a person prefers an object to a live person, and it becomes a requirement for a sexual response," she told ABCNews.com in an interview about a man who had a fetish about suckling his wife's breast milk and getting her pregnant. "I have seen that with fur, rubber, diapers, bugs -- even car fetishes -- anything you can think of, there is a sector out there."

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