> Surveys > Thesis >
search Understanding Infantilism (.org)

Sexual Infantilism in Adults: Causes and Treatment Part 1

Section 1 of Thomas John Speaker's Masters thesis "Sexual Infantilism in Adults: Causes and Treatment"

The fact that we now refer to sexual "deviation" rather than "perversion" represents an evolutionary change within our culture toward a more objective and scientific approach to these problems, in contrast to a highly moral and prejudiced approach of the previous generation. Perhaps someday we shall talk simply of "variations" in sexual object choice. (Judd Marmor, M.D., Leaver et al, 1976. p. 62.).

A few years ago, Love Cosmetics introduced a line of women's toiletries with a baby powder scent called Baby Soft. Their promotion was based on the slogan, "Innocence can be sexy". For a group of American men (and apparently women) this admonition that the experiences of childhood can be sexually exciting is taken literally. These people attempt to re-experience infancy and the sexual arousal that this regression provides for them.

There are as many non-sexual reasons for attempting to re-experience infancy. For some it is an attempt to complete childhood experiences which have caused psychological traumas in adulthood (e.g. Primal Therapy or hypno-regression therapy); some regress to avoid the stresses of adult life (repression as an ego defense); still others enjoy the arousal they get from "being" a baby. This latter group, those who are sexually aroused by regression and the objects of infancy practice a fetish known as sexual infantilism and are called sexual infantilists.

Marmor's description of evolution in sexual definitions is particularly evident in the study of sexual infantilism. For example, some Freudian psychologists use the concept "infantile fetish" to describe the attachment of a young child to an object in which the child has invested a particular emotional significance (Rorphe and Galenson, 1975). Others have sought to limit the term 'fetish' to a particular type of adult sexual response.

"According to a strict definition of the clinical concept of fetishism, it is a male sexual perversion and belongs to adulthood"(Bak, 1976, p. l9l). Yet even this definition denies the existence of fetishes in females (e.g. Dudly. L954). Although, as will be shown later, sexual infantilism is primarily a male sexual variation, it is seen in females as well. The definition of "fetish" used here is: a condition in male and female in which sexual excitement is aroused by an inanimate object or a fantasy or ritual involving such an object (Bak, 1976; Katcha dourian, 1972; Hyde, 1979; Beach, l976). In sexual infantilism, sexual arousal involves the objects of infancy (e.g. diapers) and/or the experiences of infancy such as incontinence or feeding. Infantilism is an "infantile fetish" in the sense that the arousing objects are from infancy but infantilism is a fetish and, as such, requires an adult-type sexual response developed during or after puberty. As in all fetishes, the 'strength' of the infantilism fetish may vary from mild interest to being a necessary component for arousal to being an exclusive sexual outlet (Hyde, 1979). The study of sexual infantilism must include more than semantics: it must involve consideration of the social and psychological aspects of sexual variation.

Sexual behavior, like all behavior, is judged through a comparison to social norms. The actor is evaluated by an authority structure, the creators and enforcers of norms, and is judged to be conformist or deviant. The process is neither uniform nor inevitable, being modified by several factors (Scheff in Millen, l973). One of these is the need of the elite, those who control the power used to enforce the norms, to maintain their position.

In order to survive, an authority structure must maintain a delicate balance between its demands for conformity and the patterns of resistance that may emerge. ...The management of discontent requires authorities to negotiate (settlements) with potential partisans, allocating some resources in exchange for compliance (Davis, 1975. P. 204).

According to Gamson (1968), the negotiation process involves the use of a number of strategies including regulation of access to resources, cooperation, and manipulation of rewards and punishments including the use of the 'deviant' label. The overall purpose of this negotiation for the authority structure is to maintain its power {Davis, 1975).

Included within the deviance label is a variety of other labels with differing levels of stigmatizing severity:

Most norm violations do not cause the violator to be labeled as mentally-ill, but as ill-mannered, ignorant, sinful, criminal, or perhaps just harried, depending on the type of norm involved. There are innumerable norms, however, over which consensus is so complete that members of a group appear to take them for granted. ...A person who regularly violated these norms probably would not be thought to be merely ill-bred, but as strange, bizarre, and frightening because his behavior violates the assumptive world of the group, the-world that is thought to be the only one that is natural, decent, and possible (Scheff in Millon, l973, p. 412).

Fetishism as a sexual behavior is judged under these same processes by the authorities (e.g. clinical psychologists) and by the group (i.e. society). Neither is quite sure whether fetishism is a 'conforming variation' or a 'sexual deviance', although both currently exercise social control over the behavior. As psychologists currently have assumed a highly visible social control role in treatment of deviant behaviors (Halleck, 1971), it is appropriate to begin with a look at their part in the definition and control of sexual fetishes.

The variation vs. deviance debate about fetishes is an old one among psychologists and is still in progress. Havelock Ellis, a pioneer in sexology, considered most sexual variations to be acceptable. It was Ellis who proposed that sexual variations can be viewed as lying on a continuum which ranged from harmless idiosyncrasies to severely psychopathological behavior. Most variations would fall in the acceptable low and middle range of the continuum (Ellis, 1936).

Freud labeled all deviations from his standard of adult, heterosexual relations to be 'perversions', yet he too allowed for a range of behavior to be considered as acceptable, including fetishes:

A certain degree of fetishism is thus habitually present in normal love, especially in those stages of it in which the normal sexual aim seems unattainable or its fulfillment prevented. ...The situation only becomes pathological when the longing for the fetish passes beyond the point of being merely a necessary condition attached to the sexual object and actually takes the place of the normal aim, and, further, when the fetish becomes detached from a particular individual and becomes the sole sexual object (Freud, l962, p. 20).

It would appear that later psychoanalysts downplayed Freud's use of the continuum and instead adopted an absolutist definition of acceptable sexual variation. An example is Stoller:

(Sexual deviation is) a preferred, habitual, compelling method of achieving sexual gratification other than by willing genital intercourse between a male and a female (Stoller in Beach, 1976, p. 192).

Such a definition is extremely limiting in terms of even heterosexual behavior. Any behavior falling outside the parameters of the definition is defined as a perversion; perversions by an absolutist definition are psychopathological and require the attention of a psychotherapist to effect a 'cure'.

Absolutist definitions of deviance tend to be based on personal or group moral judgments rather than evidence of pathology or damage. By controlling the definition of sexual variation, being able to label such variance as 'sickness' and investing both the label and the definition with a strongly negative emotional content, psychologists acquired control of their clients and assumed the role of social control agents. The client was encouraged to surrender to the therapist through the promise of a cure (relief of social pressure directed against them).

Therapist power probably came from two traditions from which psychology evolved: medicine and religion. The psychiatrist is first a physician, one who exercises all the prerogatives of other physicians. The physician is one who has studied disease and is therefore best qualified to diagnose and treat illness. By studying psychology, in addition to medicine, the psychiatrist specializes in diseases of the mind and is therefore supposedly qualified to diagnose and treat these conditions also.

In former times, a client experiencing something 'troubling the mind' was likely to seek the advice of a clergyman. The professionalization of psychology (and its accompanying mystification) took the concepts of psychology beyond the limits of common sense, developing into a highly technical specialization that the average minister was unlikely to have access to. Going to the minister for guidance may have seemed analogous to consulting a witchdoctor about an appendectomy when there was no surgeon nearby. The psychiatrist spoke a language that the average person no longer understood making him seem even more knowledgeable.

As the psychiatrist's powers developed, so did those of the psychologist, although at a much slower pace. The question of effectiveness arose in the l950's when the psychologist's prestige began to outdistance that of the psychiatrist as the behavioral therapies developed by the psychologists were found to be more effective in 'curing clients' than psychoanalysis (Eysenck, 1960). The practice of psychoanalysis in clinical psychology had slipped greatly in 'proven' efficiency although psychiatrists were able to remain valued specialists with the control of the newly developed psychiatric drugs.

Societal values served to reinforce the notion that psychotherapists were the proper people to deal with the vast majority of sexual variations. 'Sexuality as a social relationship' was the justification for societal intrusion into the sexual relationship and accompanying social control. Mainstream norms supposedly served to protect the sanctity of the sexual relationship and to safeguard the rights of the individual to freedom from sexual exploitation or abuse. An admirable goal, legislators translated these norms into laws prohibiting sex for money, between unmarried partners or persons of the same sex, with animals or children, without consent, and/or involving certain proscribed techniques (Slovenko, 1965).

Fetishes as principally solitary or private sexual behaviors were insulated from societal interference and the activities of fetishism were not specifically prohibited by law. Individuals arrested for fetishistic activities came to the attention of the community either through property crimes (acquiring the fetish object through theft) or offenses against community morality through public display of sexual activities (Epstein, 1965).

In the twentieth century, there has been a variety of arguments as to whether criminals should be treated or punished for their crimes. This debate has existed in the area of sexual activities as well. In general, only the most serious sexual crimes have been designated as appropriate for punishment alone (e.g., rape, child molesting, sexual murder). Other offenses are usually adjudicated by requiring treatment, some modification of behavior. Thus most sexual variations came to be viewed as forms of mental illness. In the case of fetishists remanded by the courts into the custody of psychotherapists, these people tended to be those for whom the fetish strength was severe enough to motivate illegal and/or indiscrete behavior.

Those fetishists seen by the psychotherapists tended to be those exhibiting the extremes of fetish behavior. Whether the fetishist was referred for treatment by the courts, or by a sexual partner or family member. the result invariably was that the psychotherapist's experience was primarily with individuals who exhibited only the most extreme forms of fetish behavior. There was little or no contact between the therapist and those fetishists whose behavior was not severe enough to constitute a public nuisance or be felt as self-destructive. It is understandable that psychotherapists would forget that there was any range in fetish behavior; this they did and concentrated their research on innovative treatment models rather than examining the trueness of the assumptions on which their research was based.

During the l970's, the need to treat sexual variations came into question. Homosexuality was the first variation to be scrutinized and declared 'non-pathological'. (Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association in l973). Therapists continued to treat homosexual clients by altering their sexual orientation after 1973 (Goodall, l975), and the debate has not yet concluded, but it would seem that the l980's promise an increase in tolerance for sexual variations which fall within the new limits of being consensual, nondestructive or private behaviors involving only adults.

This increased tolerance for sexual variation apparently is generalizing into the area of treatment as well. The prominent beliefs about sexual variations are now relativist rather than absolutist; behavior must be judged on the basis of the severity of maladaptive effects in a given environment (e.g., changes in assessment procedures in DSM III) (Coleman, Bulcher and Carlson, 1980). As long as behavior falls within the above guidelines, therapy becomes a matter of client choice rather than therapist mandate.

The relativist view allows for situations in which even extreme behaviors may be highly adaptive and healthy for the individual. This paper, through an examination of a highly variant fetish behavior, will attempt to support this position.

Sexual infantilism is such a highly variant sexual behavior that there is little description of it in the popular or scientific literature. In counseling, I had come into contact with two males who practiced this fetish and felt hampered by the lack of information about it.

A review of Psychological Abstracts back to 1940 yielded four case histories (Tuchman and Lachmman,l964; Malitz, 1966; Dinello, 1967: Bethell, l974). Confidentiality and a lack of adequate histories made the additional clinical cases unusable.

Far more descriptions of sexual infantilism is found in popular 'sexology' magazines such as Forum, in more specialized sexual publications like The Advocate (a national gay newspaper) and The Fetish Times (a soft-core monthly for fetishists), and in those publications which cater specifically to infantilist fantasies, such as The Crib Sheet and Play Pen.

The clinical case histories involved reporting biases and seemed to present only the most extreme sexual behavior; the non-clinical cases were easier to obtain but there was little control in defining which were reports of behavior and which were fantasies.

The most 'appropriate' methodology seemed to be gathering non-clinical cases and attempting to control for fantasies. It was likely that the cases would involve less extreme, more discrete behavior (behavior that could be concealed and thus avoid the attention of clinicians).

During a review of fetish literature, I read an ad placed in The Fetish Times by a sexual infantilist seeking correspondence with those who shared his fetish. The ad suggested to me that a survey might serve to elicit self-reports of infantilist behavior and histories. I prepared the Infantilism Survey (see appendix) and mailed it to him. He returned the completed survey and mentioned that over a period of eight years, he had corresponded with approximately 200 other men with a diaper fetish. I requested his assistance in obtaining histories and he mailed approximately eleven of the questionnaires to his correspondents of which eight returned completed.

I also placed an ad in The Fetish Times seeking "adults, male and female, who wear diapers" and who would be willing to answer a survey. The ad ran in the January 1980 issue (no. 69) and resulted in an additional thirty-two requests for the survey. All the respondents were mailed the survey and nineteen of the histories had been returned by February 25, 1980.

The Infantilism Survey presented a less than complete report of current behavior and especially history. This required a second or third 'interview by mail'; in all cases, subsequent information tended to support the earlier report, limiting somewhat the chance of a complete fabrication.

As with any case report, caution must be exercised in making generalizations, especially as this sample involves a very limited, self-selected population. Research parameters excluded all persons except adults who wear diapers, who would admit to this behavior to a stranger by answering the questionnaire, and who were able to obtain the survey either by requesting it in answer to the ad which appeared in only one issue of The Fetish Times, or by being in contact with another survey respondent who passed on a copy of the survey to them. Obviously, all but a select group, even of sexual infantilists, were excluded.

In spite of the limitations, these case studies present information which was unlikely to be obtained any other way. Only subjects 'B' and 'G' have ever consulted a therapist about the fetish (limiting the chances that their histories would ever be presented clinically) and none of the subjects has ever attracted community attention because of fetish activities (e.g., theft arrests). Although this information was available inside the fetish 'community', it was unlikely that it would be available for analysis by non-members except through a procedure such as this.

The subjects presented may differ significantly from those who chose not to answer the survey. Overall, they tended to be articulate and had a noticeably strong self-esteem. They had adjusted to their desires, learned to 'pass' as persons without variant sexual behaviors, and were generally comfortable in their lives. Whether this is true of a majority of sexual infantilists is unknown.

It should also be remembered that considerations of time and money prevented more than an exploratory study of these subjects; procedures such as psychological testing, physical examinations and face-to-face interviews were beyond the limits of the study.

Conclusions must be based solely upon the information presented by repeating questions in the absence of the original report (the survey). I have attempted to minimize fantasies and believe that the material presented here represents actual behavior.

The case histories presented here include eleven males and one female, ranging in age from 24 to 50 years. They reported the entire range of sexual orientation from homosexual to bisexual to heterosexual, as well as the range of marital statuses. Most of the respondents had completed some college and all were employed; occupations included clerk, teacher, firefighter and business executive.

Examined: 9 April 1980| HTML conversion: 3 June 2010

Do you have Questions, tips, suggestions, or other feedback?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License