January 2017 was a dark time for balloon fetishists—commonly known as looners. That month, the beloved Qualatex 24-inch balloon disappeared when the company decided to stop manufacturing it. Now it’s the stuff of legend—a tough, thick-skinned balloon that’s large enough to bounce on and makes a huge boom when it finally eventually pops. The balloon was so revered in the looner community that in 2016, when Qualatex discontinued just the crystal color, fans started a petition to bring it back that continues to get signatures today.

Rounding the New Year, there’s still no word on whether the Q24 will have a triumphant return. But that didn’t stop looners worldwide from filling their New Year’s Eve parties full of balloons that both still exist and are still loved—nor did it stop them from celebrating with fireworks of their own once the party’s over and those balloons make it into the bedroom.

“When a girl blows against resistance such as blowing up a balloon, the vaginal muscles also clench. The muscles tighten very intensely, without her even having to try.“

For many looners, the attraction to balloon play is wide-ranging, focusing mainly on bounciness and shape, anticipation, and the threat of or an actual pop. Some like how the curves of a balloon can mimic the sensual curves of a woman, others like the smell and feel of latex, and nearly everyone in the community loves that balloons conform to body temperature quickly—making it feel like you’re bouncing weightless on a cloud. And best of all, the fetish is generally completely safe.

“[The pops] can be frightening,” said Reddit user and AMA author edmazing, “but the ideal playtime for most people with a balloon fetish is without physical harm for both or all partners. The mentality is the biggest hurdle to overcome, with safety goggles and earplugs being the proper equipment. The rest falls to your comfort zone for how big you want to make the balloon and how many risks you want to take.”

But the rewards definitely outweigh the minimal risks, as far as variety of uses. Rob, a looner who wishes to keep his last name anonymous for privacy, has a simple enough fantasy: filling an empty room with medium-sized balloons (specifically 17- to 24-inch ones) that he’s inflated manually, then either popping them on his own or with a partner by deliberately overinflating them, laying on them or riding them. Reddit user Looner_Landing has a similar dream of being in a room surrounded by balloons blown up so tight that they pop at random while he’s having sex with a partner, sometimes with a third there to fondle the balloons and watch.

Having a partner, or two, or three, really enhances the fetish for many looners. Looner_Landing and his partner once had a climb-in balloon—he wore it on his top half while she went to town on his lower half—and she’d often play cowgirl position while inflating balloons until they burst.

“When a girl blows against resistance such as blowing up a balloon, the vaginal muscles also clench,” noted 26-year-old looner Chris A. from New York. “The muscles tighten very intensely, without her even having to try. With each breath making the balloon harder and harder to blow more air into, the contractions get tighter. This, combined with the intense smell of over-stretched latex, the suspense of wondering when it will pop and the sudden noise if it does pop, all contribute to what can be a very intense orgasm.”

Chris also enjoys mixing fetishes and bringing some BDSM into the mix. Forget the boring old bondage of tying a woman up. Blindfold her and add balloons to the ropes, and it’s a whole new type of party—one of suspenseful tension waiting for that loud, sudden burst or the slight sting of latex slapping against the skin.

And the balloons themselves are a welcome enhancement to different positions. One innocent balloon under someone’s back changes all the angles a couple can play with, which means new sensations and deeper penetrations. There are even geo-balloons, with a conveniently sized hole perfect for any member to fit through with lube. (Just make sure it’s water-based. Oil-based lubricants degrade the latex, and that could be a pretty painful pop!)

With that in mind, don’t expect a boom from every bedroom. The looner community can be broken into two main groups: poppers and non-poppers (though semi-poppers, those who only sometimes pop balloons, also exist). Poppers can find the burst of a balloon exciting, the epitome of sexual climax. During play, they’ll blow a balloon up until it bursts, have sex on one until it pops, or just pop it outright with a pin or fingernails or even a high-heeled shoe. Non-poppers find the burst disruptive or sometimes unbearable. It can be driven by a fear of loud noises, actually feeling bad for the balloon when it pops or even simply distaste for scrapped latex. Edmazing considers himself a semi-popper—he pops old or damaged balloons, while a non-popper would just throw them away.

Regardless of whether they’re in it for a pop or not, looners definitely have some clear favorites on brand, style and type of balloon. Online store Balloons United has a couple of bestsellers: long and giant airship balloons that are perfect for sitting or lying on, and ones that get a nice and large neck on the balloon bulb.

“If a balloon gets a neck, it’s always an indication that it’s reaching its maximum capacity,” said Maggy BerLoon, looner and cofounder of Balloons United with her husband Jan. “When the balloon bulb is full and tight, the only part left for the air to fill out is the neck. This sign of overinflation can be a real turn-on. To push and play with limits is an arousing kick for many looners. That’s why balloons specifically designed for this effect are quite popular.”

Many looners gravitate to balloons from Qualatex, Amscan, Tuff Tex and Way to Celebrate/Party-Eh!, thanks to the variety offered in size, durability and stretchiness. For partner play, something big, oblong and durable is essential. Edmazing recommends the GL1200—it can support the weight of two or more people and is both large and long. For insertion purposes? Chris suggests the 160Q, or as the non-looner world knows them, the long ones used for balloon animals.

Everyone is obviously different in their preferences though, Maggy says.

“Size is always an important factor,” she says. “For some looners, it’s the bigger, the better. The quality of the balloon is essential. For example, if you’re into interacting with the balloon and don’t want it to burst easily, cheap and thin latex is definitely the wrong choice. In this case, the balloon needs to be stable and durable. Since there are not just round balloons out there, the shape is another interesting characteristic, always depending on your personal preferences. Same thing for the color, which can be a deciding factor for a lot of looners.”

Chris, edmazing and Rob all confirmed that—Chris and edmazing prefer crystal tones, meaning the balloons are somewhat see-through, and Rob’s current favorite is a lime green 17-inch balloon made by Tuff Tex.

Interested in the fetish but not sure where to begin? Start off 2018 right with this advice from edmazing: “I’d recommend getting a large balloon, likely a 36-inch, and inflating it until it’s large but still soft, when you feel comfortable with it but could add more air. Then use a balloon clip and put it between your legs for a long, slow bounce. Just see how it makes you feel.”

And, as Maggy points out, you don’t need to have a balloon fetish in order to enjoy all the fun enhancements they bring to your sex life.

“We would like to encourage non-looners to try out balloons as a sex toy themselves,” she said. “The latex material is soft and smooth, elastic and bouncy. It not only adapts to your body temperature quickly but also to every move you make on it. Imagine yourself sinking into the latex or humping it with its swinging effect and immediate response. You can perfectly have sex on a balloon, which increases your moves and can inspire completely new positions.”