A spotlight on infantilism
My interests include:
– walks on the beach
– wearing diapers
This was a dating profile a friend of mine came across recently. ‘What do you think of my interests?’ the owner asked in his introductory message.
‘It’s not a sexual thing,’ he told her. ‘It makes me feel safe.’ They began chatting and he sent her pictures, including of him wearing a diaper.
‘Well, it’s not something I’m into….’ she told him, but she was curious. So was I. How often did he wear them? What was his motivation? Was it something he did on his own or with others? How did it affect his relationships?
I first heard of adult babies and infantilism when I interviewed a professional dominatrix a few years ago. From what she described, I assumed it was a fetish — something people did for sexual gratification, like wearing latex or being attracted to feet, and didn’t give it any further thought.
During chats with my friend, this guy continued to bring the conversation back to his interest in diapers. Here was someone who described an interest that wasn’t sexual, but seemed driven in a similar way.
I wanted to know more and to understand what motivated adult babies and diaper lovers. I wanted to discover whether this person’s experience was unique or shared by many. So I decided to do my own research.
I began with recent peer-reviewed journal articles on adult babies and infantilism. I found a handful of references, mostly under definitions and descriptions of various paraphilia, but nothing that provided insight into why someone might be attracted to this type of role-play or fetish.
Next, I headed to Google where I discovered several online Adult Baby/Diaper Lover (AB/DL) communities and forums. The sites had numerous members with a diverse range of interests and all were very active. Each provided ways for people with an interest in AB/DL to connect online or meet in real life, whether one-on-one or as part of a ‘munch’ — a term commonly used to describe BDSM or kink community meet-ups.
Most of the groups let members share AB/DL-related images and stories, read and write product reviews (typically of diapers) and helped them to obtain advice about a range of topics not just those with an AB/DL focus. One even had a section dedicated to answering questions from people with AB/DL players in their lives.
Within the online fetish community Fetlife I found a group dedicated to cataloguing all of the other AB/DL-related groups on the site. Even its creators struggled to keep up with them all. AB/DL is clearly much more common and varied than I had imagined.
I was also fortunate to hear from several people directly involved in AB/DL who shared their personal experiences and perspectives with me. Below are some of the things I discovered along the way.
What is AB/DL?
Sexologists break AB/DL into two categories: those with ‘paraphilic infantilism’ (adult babies), who are attracted to playing the role of an infant, which may involve using diapers, baby bottles and so on as part of that role; and those with a ‘diaper fetish’ (diaper lovers), who are attracted to wearing the diaper itself. In the latter case, the diaper is the object of attraction, similar to individuals who have a latex or foot fetish. In the former, the individual is attracted to expressing or taking on a role. Many individuals will experience elements of both.
I see AB/DL as an umbrella term that covers individuals who have an interest in various kinds of ‘Age Play’ (see below) and/or who are attracted to wearing diapers or using other infant-related paraphernalia (bottles, pacifiers, and cribs).
One AB said that for him, ‘It is all about the baby/toddler accessories and the way they make me feel. It starts with getting diapered with baby lotion and baby powder. The scent, the sound and the feel immediately pop me into four-year-old headspace. From there, it is the clothing including onesies, rompers, overalls, etc…I then complete it all with pacifiers, bottles, sippy cups, etc.’
Some players don’t engage in AB/DL play but obtain gratification from the play of others, for instance, from seeing another person wear or use diapers.
I found several sites that described AB/DL as necessarily masochistic, a sub-set of BDSM, because it involves relinquishing control. Where AB/DL is expressly part of Dominance and submission (D/s) play, the Dominant might play the role of a Mummy, Daddy or older sibling, who makes the submissive (an adult baby or ‘little’) act like a baby as a form of control, humiliation or punishment. However, the AB or little might relinquish control, or ‘submit’, in the absence of a Dominant.
Most sites repeatedly stress that AB/DL is not associated with paedophilia in any way, and experts agree. AB/DL players are adults playing a childlike, infantile, or parental/sibling role. As one AB said, ‘For those of us who engage in infantilism, we understand that it has nothing to do with paedophilia, however, outsiders who do not understand what we are all about will most often jump to that conclusion.’
From what I saw online, individual interests within the AB/DL community vary considerably. People often use the word ‘fetish’, but their experiences aren’t necessarily erotic. One ‘little’ I spoke to said she gets messages from people who assume her interest in AB/DL is about having sex while calling her partner ‘Daddy’. ‘For me, it’s entirely non-sexual,’ she said. ‘It’s a lot of wearing cute outfits, wearing nappies and being changed, being looked after, being bathed and fed a bottle, or going to the park and feeding the ducks. Cute things that an actual little person would do for fun.’
Age Play is a kind of role-play that involves one person acting or treating another as though they were a different age. Age Play can include regressing to an infantile mind-set, or the headspace of a small child (a ‘little’), a teen, or an infant of the opposite gender (typically male to female, known as ‘sissy-babies’). Age Play may include paraphernalia, such as diapers, baby bottles, pacifiers, sip-cups, onesies, cribs and bibs, or engaging in age-related activities. ‘Most of my friends who I have play-dates with are other ABs, and we just tend to hang out and do cute things like colouring or watching TV,’ said one little.
On the other side, Age Play can involve taking on the role of an older person, for instance a Mummy, Daddy, or older sibling. Players who swap roles are known as ‘Switches’, as in D/s play. On some sites, players used the term ‘caretaker’ rather than ‘Mummy’ or ‘Daddy’ to indicate that the role is not sexual for them.
One caretaker explained, ‘Being a Daddy involves pretty much everything a dad would normally do for their child, depending on your play partner’s limits and what they enjoy… At the most regressed, this involves feeding, helping them get dressed, watching TV/movies, colouring, going to the park, playing, running around, brushing their teeth, bathing them, and nappy changes.’
Diaper lovers (DL) include people who use diapers as part of an Age Play experience, and those who are attracted to the act of wearing diapers itself, without any mental age regression. Some enjoy wearing and/or soiling diapers, being changed, or being made to wear diapers by other players, such as a Mummy or Daddy, as a form of discipline, humiliation or punishment. Others enjoy seeing people wear and/or soil nappies, like to change their partner’s diapers, or to force a partner to wear or soil them.
Some players started out wearing diapers for incontinence and found acceptance within the AB/DL community. Others have trained their bodies to be able to let go inside a diaper, even to the point of inducing incontinence, in order to meet their DL need. Not everyone who engages in DL play soils his or her diapers.
Diapers are very much a sexual thing for some people, and they will incorporate diapers into their masturbation or sexual interactions, but for others it is more about letting go or care-giving and intimacy. As one Daddy said, ‘I find changing nappies to be very personal and can really open up a relationship. It’s very much about trust and being comfortable with your Daddy; after all if you are happy to let them change you and look after you in the most personal and intimate of ways, then most other things don’t even really raise an eyebrow. I guess it’s a way of showing there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you if you wanted or needed me to.’
Who is into AB/DL?
There are no official records of how prevalent AB/DL is in the population, or who engages in it. However, AB/DL has an extensive online presence — particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. There are also communities on Fetlife based in Canada, Australia, Europe and Scandinavia, South America, and more. Many cities hold regular munches and even larger formal conventions.
From what I saw online, people who have an interest in AB/DL come from all backgrounds, situations and occupations: parents, children, siblings, friends, colleagues. In a personal relationship, unless someone disclosed their interest to you or you stumbled upon their AB/DL paraphernalia or online profile, you wouldn’t necessarily know.
Like many fetishes, AB/DL appears to be male-dominated. The one female I spoke to said that at her first AB/DL munch she was the only woman. ‘I assume there are a lot of internet-only AB girls who don’t really like to venture out into the world too much,’ she said, ‘Probably because it’s dominated by males.’
Most people engage in AB/DL to fit around their day-to-day life, particularly if their interest involves age-regression and they are holding down a job. You can’t exactly go into a ‘little’ headspace while conducting a board meeting or dealing with customers.
One adult baby I spoke to said for most people, it’s just a small part of their lives. ‘We go out and socialise with other people, go to bars and have jobs, and do everything that a “normal” person would do; we just also like to wear nappies, or like pretending to be babies.’ Others live the lifestyle as often as they can – for instance wearing and soiling diapers 24/7 – even when they are at work.
Many people keep their AB/DL interest hidden, even from intimate partners. ‘As you can imagine, telling someone you’re into diapers isn’t the easiest thing to do,’ said one DL.
An AB I interviewed said he struggled to share his interest with anyone, including his wife, for many years. ‘At first [my wife] did not understand infantilism and to be truthful neither did I. This pushed my infantilism into the closet and underground. As we now joke, I was so far in the closet that I was in Narnia.’
Others are selectively open about it. ‘No one outside my kink friends know about my kink side… I don’t really see it as any of their business (in a polite way) and I don’t really have a need or desire to discuss that with them… It’s very much a separate segment of my life that’s only for me and my partner and people who I call friends in the kink scene.’
Another AB said apart from his wife and, more recently, some friends who are fellow ABs, no one knows about his interest. ‘I do not feel that others in my family or vanilla friends need to know any more than they need to know about my sexual relations with my wife.’
Less common are those who are generally ‘out’ about their interest. ‘I’m an exception to the rule because most of the people in my life know about it. I’m open about my interests on Fetlife and Tumblr, and make YouTube videos about AB/DL. If people are looking for that kind of thing then they know all about it anyway. It might even make them feel happy that someone they know is into it as well.’
Most people I spoke to express a desire to share their interest in AB/DL in a relationship. Many players won’t look to date through conventional means and only seek partners through AB/DL communities to avoid the risk of rejection. ‘One boy left me when I told him about it 11 months into the relationship. Now I make a point of letting partners know as soon as possible, before I form ties with them. It sounds horrible, but it’s a way of protecting myself. I’m not really fond of getting that far into a relationship and feeling like I’m forcing someone to be a part of something they have no interest in.’
Others seek fellow AB/DL players to connect with — but not in a romantic sense. ‘I look for other boys to have play time with…just as a four year old would have in real life. This includes things like going to a child-themed movie, playing at the arcade, getting a kids meal for lunch, etc.’
Telling a partner can be difficult. Online, there are many threads from people who have encountered problems disclosing their interest to a significant other or whose AB/DL activities have been discovered, and others from partners who have found out and don’t know where to turn. One player I spoke to said he tries to describe why he likes it, the closeness, trust and caring side of things. ‘I explain that I’m not in a rush, and that getting to know you as a person first and foremost is the priority. If we get along well and you’re interested in taking it to that next step, then we can talk about it and see where things go.’
A further hurdle is finding a partner who not only accepts your interests (which for some is enough), but who shares it. Even within the AB/DL community, because people’s interests and motivations vary, finding a match can be challenging. Adult babies and Diaper Lovers outnumber Mummies and Daddies (or caregivers), so some players take it in turns to switch roles, but it’s not their preference.
Stories of trying to give up AB/DL, referred to as a ‘Purge’, are common. ‘Everyone I have come across goes through it at one point. You look at your baby stuff and you feel like an alien, so you take it all and either put it in a big garbage bag and throw it away, or put it in a high cupboard and hide from it. In my experience, everybody comes back to it. I don’t know anybody who has quit it for their entire life. That makes it sound like an addiction, but it’s something that feels so good and so right, that I’ve stopped feeling bad about it completely now. It’s something that I need to function.’
From another player: ‘I always felt horribly guilty after wearing or playing and it really forced me to question my interest at times. Could I give it up? I’m not sure. Maybe as my life changes it will take a back seat. Do I want to lose my interest? No, I don’t think I do at all. It’s a part of me, and as much as I struggled with it for the first few years, it’s who I am.’
After many years of binge-purge cycling, one player described finally finding acceptance and balance in his life and in his relationship. ‘It has only been over the past year that we have both attended therapy with an infantilism-aware counsellor, that I have come to terms with my little side and accepting that it is who I am,’ he said. ‘I have created a balance in my life between my little side and my adult side and life has never been better!’
AB/DL men may face the added stigma of engaging in a complete role reversal. As one AB said, ‘Girls are seen as cute when they’re wearing a nappy or a little girl outfit, but guys are looked at like disgusting perverts. When a grown-up man wears a nappy, people tend to think, “Er, what’s wrong with you?”’
Long after AB/DLs have found acceptance within themselves, some end up seeking professional help at the instigation of a significant other who struggles to understand and accept this side of them. This can happen when someone in an AB/DL’s life believes his or her interest results from some sort of underlying mental illness that needs to be addressed. As AB/DL isn’t coercive or illegal, unless it impacts on the AB/DL player’s ability to function from day to day, these days most therapists wouldn’t try to change the AB/DL behaviour, but would focus on communication and acceptance within the relationship. As one AB said, ‘How does it hurt anybody in the entire world if I like to drink out of a baby bottle or go and feed ducks or colour in?’
For some, AB/DL play meets a sexual need but for others there is no sexual motivation at all. One player described the behaviour as falling along a sliding scale. ‘I think to the extreme right are those who engage in it due to sexual gratification and to the extreme left those who have no association of infantilism with sexual gratification. And then there are all of those who are in-between somewhere along the sliding scale.’
Many describe it as a desire to care or be cared for. Playing makes them feel safe, loved, secure, and when shared, represents intense intimacy. ‘I guess it comes down to my desire to be loved and to be needed by a little/AB, and in turn, I get great pleasure from doing that. It’s a feeling of unconditional love, trust, friendship — all things I value very highly in a relationship.’
Others see AB/DL as a form of escape from the pressures of adult life: ‘Infantilism takes me back to when I was four. It creates a feeling of safety, comfort and nurturing if only for a few hours or an entire day. It is an escape from being an adult.’
Players often schedule regular play times, whether on their own or with others. Outside that, extremes of emotion (high or low) or a need in a partner can motivate some to play. One player said, ‘There are certainly triggers that kick my Daddy side into action. Your AB/little banging a toe on a table, her getting upset, stressed or hungry, even just the way words are said and the emotion and emphasis behind them… Most of the time that’s a subtle hint from your little that they want you to interact with them more in an AB capacity.’
From another: ‘When I am stressed in my grown-up life, I tend to feel the need to regress more often. I have recently put together a playroom/nursery in my home that includes a crib, highchair, and lots of toys. This gives me a place for regression on the spur of the moment without any preparation needed.’
Many in the scene discovered their interest at a young age. One DL described his early encounters with nappies and training pants: ‘I was maybe four or five when my next-door neighbour’s mum put me in a pair of training pants after going for a swim in their pool. I remember the feeling of them, they felt amazing! And I was always fascinated at the nappies in my best friend’s cupboard that were used for bedwetting. I remember asking my friend if I could try one on one day. I really liked it.’
It was something he came back to years later: ‘Around the age of 14, I was watching a really bad late night TV show on people with weird fetishes and there was a segment on AB play. I thought, “What the hell is this?” but I watched it anyway. I guess it brought back memories of my childhood…Sometime after that I started investigating it more, and quickly discovered there were thousands of AB/DLs all over the world.’
Discovering AB/DL on TV or online is a common and positive experience. ‘I thought I was one of the only people like this in the entire world, but now I spend a great deal of time on Fetlife, and I’ve learned being little is an actual thing, and not just me being strange.’
Psychologists have posed various theories for why individuals turn to AB/DL but little scientific research has been done, and there is no real consensus. The main theories include individuals who have an altered ‘lovemap’ — a kind of template or program for what we find sexually arousing — or those who have developed an ‘erotic target location error’, which is where a person focuses their arousal on an object, rather than a sexual partner, for instance, on diapers or baby paraphernalia. In the case of adult babies the ‘erotic target’ is the self, imagined as a baby.
Both theories suggest that errors or transformations occur in childhood, possibly as the result of an unusual trigger or traumatic event. As there are many players with ordinary childhoods, the underlying cause posed by these theories doesn’t always hold true. The theories also don’t explain why someone might be attracted to AB/DL with no erotic association.
One player I interviewed identified with a further theory, called ‘imprinting’, which fit with his history and absence of erotic motivation. He said, ‘Think of when a gosling is born, whoever it first sees, it thinks of as its mother. Just as that is imprinted in the gosling, so are the infantilism behaviours imprinted and magnified in my personality.’
Many of the people I heard from recalled instances when their interest in AB/DL came to the fore, but most could not identify why it had become such a significant part of their lives. One AB pointed to a traumatic event at age six when he felt robbed of his childhood, and said that regression lets him have the childhood he missed growing up. Others I interviewed could find no underlying cause. As one player described, ‘I came from a fantastic family. My parents are still together, I was an average kid, I didn’t mature fast or slow, there was no abuse, nothing remarkable at all… It feels to me like it was something I was born with….I guess I would describe it as a lifestyle, but maybe not one by choice. It’s not like people who choose to live by the beach, or in a trendy part of town; it’s just the way it is.’
Instead of a homogeneous or ‘typical’ AB/DL player my exploration revealed a wide variety of practices, approaches and motivations among members of the AB/DL community. AB/DL is an interest people discover and keep coming back to, something they enjoy, and that meets a need in each player’s life. Many around the globe share that need, yet individuals experience it very differently.
I wonder now if the same degree of diversity exists among other ‘fetishists’, ‘kinksters’ or ‘lifestylers’, and whether activities that many people associate with sexual gratification also exist on a sliding scale that encompasses an equally wide variety of individual needs? I’d love to hear your thoughts.