Could the cause of balloon fetishism be Genetic ?

A widely accepted notion

It is widely accepted that we are who we are as a combined result of our genetics and our environment - in other words - the DNA that laid the plan for our physical form and our in-built instincts - combined with all our experiences of life.

Criticism of 'widely accepted'

But there is a problem here with the term 'widely accepted' - it is an indication that we do not have all the evidence - that it is the best approximation to reality that we have at the present time. Several centuries ago a writer would have been justified in saying 'it is widely accepted that all matter consists of the four elements - fire, air, earth, and water in various combinations'. We have a much better grasp of chemistry here in the 21st century so this idea seems ridiculous to us, but in the past this was a first step towards constructive thinking about the world and its constitution - it's easy to look back in time and consider how little was known about such things, and I propose that in the future we will look back to what we now call the present and see that this is particularly true of our knowledge of balloon fetishism.

Purpose of this page

I have no argument with the construct that genetics and environment both play significant roles in the minutiae of our lives, but I certainly take issue concerning the importance, and therefore usefulness, of each to our current understanding - so this page seeks to address the relevance of genetic influence with respect to the influence of our environment within the confines of our understanding of each at the present time.

What is our current knowledge

At present, there is no direct evidence to support specific genetic predisposition towards fetishism, however is seen as a valid area for study, and no doubt there will be attempts to determine this in the future. I expect that such research is way down the list of priorities - discovering genetic factors involved in various medical conditions is bound to take the majority of effort in the decades to come.

Current status is a guess

But what can we say about our current knowledge ? Anything we say today can only be an estimate - a guess ( however intelligent ) which will only be proved or disproved with the passage of time and the results of future research.

Which part of the code ?

Fetishism appears to be unique to the human environment - but not unique to the human species in that family pets occasionally develop sexual procedures with manufactured objects, which raises a question about the location within DNA of any genes which may determine fetishism. ( It also raises questions relating to the ability of animals to learn alternative behaviors in unnatural environments, but for the following paragraphs we can assume the possibility that instinct is the prime motivator. )

In the 90% shared ?

Within all mammals - from human being to pygmy shrew - about 90% of our DNA is common to all, so with more than one species exhibiting fetishism we could expect any precursive genes to be contained in this common element. If such genes exist then we should expect them to be acted upon differently by different species - we shouldn't expect a small rodent to develop a fetish for balloons because it would have some trouble blowing them up - and a hedgehog would have it's own specific problems too.

Or the 10% unique ?

Conversely we could argue that if such genetic predisposition exists then it is possible that it is caused by different genes in different species - fetishism is often closely related to the circumstances of the first orgasm - which is itself related to pair bonding in humans and by inference may be related to pair bonding in other species where this occurs, or by further inference it may be related to pack bonding in other species where sexual activity is retained within a group - so we could expect to see fetishism only in species that show the capability to co-exist in a family environment or to have instinctive tendencies towards monogamy or sexual loyalty within a group. This process would exclude many of the lower mammals and would point to the genes in question being in the 10% of DNA which is specie specific though it could be common to several genotypes - for example, we share some 99% of our genetic code with chimpanzees.

Genetic tendencies would be inherited

If genetics are involved then we could expect to see fetish behavior running in families though there is little evidence to suggest or refute this - in any event there are sound reasons for such evidence being hidden even where it exists. Most parents are keen to see their children mature without any unusual influences and so are most likely to keep knowledge of any fetish from their children. Even where offspring of fetishists have fetishes of their own, the argument that this is a result of learned traits within a close group is a factor which cannot be ignored.

Recessive genes - hit and miss

A recessive gene is a type of gene that can be within the genetic code and inherited by offspring in the normal way but will not be shown as a characteristic in a particular individual because a dominant gene has taken control of that characteristic. But when offspring are born without the dominant gene then the characteristic of the recessive gene will be displayed. Such characteristics may appear infrequently within families so that some offspring may display the characteristics the gene produces while others may not - there is a 50% chance that offspring will be carriers of the gene and not display the characteristics of that gene - if Fetishism is related to a recessive gene then this behavior will be entirely variable - each generation may show the characteristic or the characteristic may only be displayed by family members who are many generations apart.

Anomalous genes

Each of us has defective or anomalous genes - even identical twins have very small differences is their genetic structure - so fetishism could be the result of a relatively common anomaly.

A small number only ?

If genetics predetermined object fetishism then I would expect the number of genes involved to be small since any specific fetish represents the behavior of just a small minority - and it is of course possible that such a genetic segment could appear occasionally in animals other than man sometimes tending to produce fetishism in both human and domesticated higher mammals while producing other behavior in simpler organisms but I am inclined to think that a more general explanation will be found.

Generalities - not specifics

I think it is much more likely that genetic tendencies towards much more common aspects such as inquisitiveness and the need to learn, or the natural and universal tendency to find objects attractive ( or not ) is the prime process involved - and these produce responses to our environment.

The difficulties of research

All of the above items, including the fact that fetishism is usually a very private behavior, will cause great difficulty to anyone embarking on research in this area - and any researcher who ignores any of the inconveniences of the task will produce conclusions that are fragile at best, and meaningless at worst.

Fetishism and phobias

As mentioned elsewhere on this site there is a relationship between balloon popping phobia and balloon fetishism in that some people who are phobic about balloons bursting eventually become balloon fetishists (1) - and this raises a couple of interesting questions. There has been some study recently which leads to the conclusion that there may be an element of genetic predisposition towards phobias (2), but even here there are many who regard the family environment to be the most significant factor - children being 'taught' to be phobic by parents who are phobic themselves - interestingly siblings tend not to have the same phobias as their parents - so if there is genetic involvement in fetishism and if similar processes are operating then we could expect to see parents with fetishes and offspring with different fetishes. However, these matters tend to remain secret even within families, so the discovery of any such processes is likely to be difficult.

Behavior groups

So I estimate that the study of a genetic predisposition towards fetishism would have to be more general and interpretive rather than specific to a particular fetish, or even to sub-groups within a particular fetish. However some geneticists have suggested that sub-groups represent identifiably unique behavior and would have to be studied separately - for example, the largest sub-groups within balloon fetishism are 'poppers' and 'non-poppers'. those who gain pleasure from a balloon being burst ( and usually the process of inflation that precedes it ), and those who simply enjoy the feel of a balloon and regard bursting one as a waste. There are sub-groups within subgroups - for example there are those who enjoy vinyl inflatables as well as balloons - and those who don't. This approach to the definition of behavior is likely to yield more precise results, but it will be much more difficult to accomplish since the specific behavior has to be defined much more closely - and I estimate that when such results are correlated we may simply see genetic disposition towards something more general than a particular fetish, but if a gene pair or pattern consistently indicates this as a result of sub-group investigation then the evidence for general predisposition will be much more certain.

Behavior, intelligence, and personal choice

Smaller mammals are responsive primarily to their genetic code and are restricted in their response to their environment whereas the higher mammals - man in particular, seek to control their environment and respond to it in a significantly more complex manner than simple genetic responses would suggest. In particular the capacity to learn, which is also related to the capacity to remember, greatly influences the higher mammals' behavior, whereas those creatures with significantly smaller brains depend much more on instinct and the genetic code that produces it.

Learning and behavior

For example, (3) a few years ago a young zoologist joined a team studying coastal primates in Africa - the team would feed the chimpanzees with bananas to encourage close contact with the tribe in order to enable close observation - but on this occasion the process went slightly wrong - the new member of the team was asked to do this but without specific instruction - before any of the team could stop her she did exactly what you or I would do with a banana - she PEELED it before handing it to a nearby chimp ! This tribe had bananas as part of its normal diet - but they would of course just stuff them in their mouths skin and all. However this caught on within the tribe - in the short space of 6 weeks the whole tribe had changed their habits - now they ALL peeled their bananas before eating them !

When proof is marginalised

There is currently some research being undertaken in the UK into instinctive ( and therefore primarily genetic ) reasons for personal choice - unfortunately there seem to be fundamental flaws in the approach even though there may be some fascinating discoveries along the way - firstly they appear to be setting out to prove it rather than purely investigate it - and secondly they are describing 'brain activity' of a certain type ( activity which significantly precedes a decision ) as if they know the reason for it, and they do not - this is a recent discovery and they are making assumptions about its function and importance. Brain activity that occurs significantly ahead of a decision could simply be related to a decision to 'chose soon'. though this is as much a guess as the assumptions made by the researchers. What needs to be recognized here is that a theory remains unproven while anything that underpins the idea remains unresolved.

So many factors

In the human animal there is not only genetic influence , but also the ability to chose where the parameters of choice are recognized, and also our response to any instructions of our peers where these are relevant and timely. Also it is in our nature to experiment - and this may partly explain the notion that fetishism is a male dominated trait - the male sex organ, being external, is a more obvious item for self investigation particularly when it responds to stimulus. Balloon fetishism often begins at an early age and in isolation from parental influence (4) and the (genetic) instinct to self pleasure takes over - this instinct is universal though the involvement of balloons is often learnt at a time of life when the nature of the act is unrecognized and therefore the choice to continue with the habit, or desist from it, is not available - the individual is normally too young to be aware of the choices and the consequences of those choices.

Conclusions

In terms of what we know at present - we have some knowledge of the environmental factors that definitely influence people towards fetishism, and we are aware that there are some gaps in our knowledge.

Misleading at the present time

While I would agree wholeheartedly that we should continue to look at all possible reasons why we have become what we are, I think that it is misleading to point to DNA as a reason for balloon fetishism when it is ( so far ) without any direct indication that this is so - particularly when we have a wealth of data which points to environmental influences and still have indeterminates in this area which need research. Genetics are certainly involved in our general sexuality and in our ability to form and maintain pairs but there is nothing more closely defined to implicate a specific sexual practice. We are already aware that a number of different circumstances are implicated in the initiation and continuation of a fetish so if genetics are involved also, we should not be surprised if it is found that a similar number of genetic structures are implicated - and similarly we are aware that certain environmental occurrences only have a tendency to produce fetishism and do not always do so, we should expect genetic study to discover genes or sequences that are more likely to indicate an increased possibility of fetishism rather than a clearly defined structure of cause and effect.

We are our own best advisers

We have all experienced our own environment - each of us is the only expert in our own particular world - and most fetishists are intimately aware of the circumstances within that environment which encouraged and supported their fetish. Compared to this, DNA research seems quite remote and therefore of far less personal importance. Even if genetic precursors are proven to exist, our personal experiences will remain much more significant as a means to understanding ourselves, and ultimately, our increasing ability to choose our environment with the passage of time will remain the most significant factor in the developmental progress of a fetish within any particular individual. Knowing the parameters of choice is of great importance to the success of the individual within the individual's personal ambitions and so information which gives some indication of the range of choices available is a prime purpose of this website.

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Note 1 Very occasionally the converse is also true - fetishists can become phobic.

Note 2 This also supports a general tendency rather than a specific behavioral cause.

Note 3 The event described also questions the 'widely accepted' and much quoted assumption that mammalian behavioral changes occur only slowly. I prefer the hypothesis that beneficial changes occur in 'steps' where each step is completed in a short time ( as in the case of peeling bananas ) but that these steps occur infrequently which gives the impression that overall behavior changes slowly.

Note 4 And where parental knowledge of fetishism is often lacking anyway.

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