Understanding Infantilism (.org)

What is Infantilism?

By B. Terrance Grey

Briefly put, paraphilic infantilism is the desire to wear diapers and be treated like a baby [1]. It is often mistakenly called a diaper fetish. Those with infantilism tend to consider themselves adult babies (or ABs). Those with diaper fetishes tend to consider themselves diaper lovers (or DLs). Since many adult babies also enjoy the interests of DLs and visa versa, they are collectively called AB/DLs or ABDLs.

Paraphilic Infantilism and Diaper Fetishes

Both an infantilism and a diaper fetish center around a core desire that almost always involves diapers. It might be similar to a lust or a hunger. A fetish focuses erotic energy on objects [2]. In a diaper fetish, the diaper itself becomes sexually arousing. This is similar to a rubber fetish, etc.

In contrast, infantilism focuses on the self. Paraphilic infantilism involves the desire to wear diapers as an expression of role. This roleplay may involve acting like and/or being treated as an infant, toddler, or small child. Infantilists are, in one sense, masochistic: Assuming the role of baby inherently involves surrendering control and status. While some translation is involved, the interests of infantilists expressed in concepts familiar to BDSM enthusiasts. However, these interests often don't include typical masochistic elements such as adult themed restraints. etc.[3].

Both paraphilic infantilism and diaper fetishes are included in the wide grouping of desires called paraphilias. This group also includes a number of desires that used to be called "perversions." These paraphilias are not mutually exclusive [4]: It is possible to have both infantilism and a diaper fetish.

Because these desires are persistent but typically harmless, those who have them rarely seek medical help[5]. Some would clearly not be helped[6]. If help is sought, it is often for secondary guilt or depression[7].

Who are the Adult Babies and Diaper Lovers?

Some who have these urges might not remember ever being without them. Others might associate their onset with an event or date. Typically, these urges are recognized or surface between the ages of 5 and 15. However, onset as late at ages as late as 53 has been reported [8]. Older infantilists and diaper lovers may have thought that they were alone and kept their desire carefully hidden[9][10]. Only about one in twenty is female [11]. Most are heterosexual, but all orientations are present[12][13].

Informally, those who engage in roleplay as an infant or toddler typically call themselves adult babies (or ABs). Those who do not engage in roleplay typically call themselves diaper lovers (or DLs). Those with infantilism tend to consider themselves adult babies, while those with diaper fetishes tend to consider themselves diaper lovers. These are two of a number of typical trends among adult babies and diaper lovers. While each individual has particular interests, they collectively form a continuum. Because of this, they are collectively called ABDLs. On average for every 10 ABDLs, one would report being 'AB only,' two 'mostly AB', three 'equally AB and DL', three 'mostly DL', and one 'DL only'. [14]. (This distribution is qualitatively similar to previous surveys[15].)

A triangle relating paraphilic infantilism, emphasizing change in role or loss of control, to diaper fetishism, emphasizing diapers as objects.  In some ways, the corners are similar to transvestism, masochism, and fetishism. A less ambiguous option to the adult baby/diaper lover descriptors is to characterize by key themes: sexuality, loss of control, and regaining babyhood. Scenes and fantasies with these themes could be compared to fetishism, masochism, and transvestism respectively. There is, of course, a wide range of variations in ABDL fantasies and practices. It has been speculated that these tastes might give a clue to the original causes of ones infantilism.

Common fantasy elements include coercion, identification, regression, and exhibitionism. What infantilists actually do is more grounded in reality. For example, the adult baby fantasy of being someone's baby forever is common, but not generally practical[16]. Some common elements of practice include wearing diapers, wetting or messing, binge-purge cycles, etc. For adult babies, these might be structured into short 'visits with one's more cuddly side' . Footed sleepers, stuffed animals, and toys might also be involved. The majority of adult babies prefer to play a toddler, as opposed to newborn or small child [11].

Is Infantilism Sexual?

Infantilism is often incorrectly called a diaper fetish (e.g.[6][17]). In truth, the desire might be sexual for one ABDL, but not another. Here again, each individual ABDL has his or her own views, but collectively they form a continuum. About 4 in 10 include sexual practices, such as masturbation and intercourse, as an unrestricted part of their ABDL games and fantasies. They are also the most likely to consider sexuality an important part. Another 4 in 10 excluded sexual practices from their ABDL games and fantasies. They were most likely to report that sex 'must be absent.' For them, conventional sex might be present outside of their ABDL games and fantasies. The remaining 2 in 10 reported that sexuality was an unimportant part of their ABDL games and fantasies. They moderated the sexual practices or excluded them completely at particular times. [18].

Does it Involve Children?

No. Infantilism and diaper fetishes are often confused with pedophilia, even though they are not related[19].

Associating infantilism or a diaper fetish with pedophilia is like equating transvestites and womanizers. Both do involve skirts, after all. Simply put, a womanizer is a man who likes to stare possessively at women. More specifically, he likes to stare at women's private parts, such as those covered by skirts. In contrast, a male-to-female transvestite likes to wear skirts himself. Except for the involvment of skirts, the two are unrelated. Once this difference is understood, it is clear that womanzing and transvestism are not related.

Simply put, a pedophile is sexually attracted to children, an infantilist wish to be a baby himself or herself, and someone with a diaper fetish is attracted to diapers. The presence of one does not imply another.

What do ABDLs Need?

We are all unique, but not alone. With one or two particular exceptions, the needs and wants of ABDLs are common to us all.

Seeking the cause of one's infantilism or diaper fetish might be worthwhile, but probably will not result in a "cure." For most ABDLs, it was a major part of their youths, and will continue to be part of their lives. Evaluating one's infantilism is necessary, since there are a number of reasons why it might or might not be acceptable. This is important, since there are social and moral concerns that need to be addressed. The benefits of these pursuits largely affect individual ABDLs.

One effort that has shown global benefits are improvements in communication and understanding[8]. Often stigmatized, and often confused with a number of things more sinister or serious, it is easy to get distracted from what infantilism basically is. The vast, individual variations in tastes and desires also help to distract. Paraphilic infantilism is the urge to wear diapers and act like a baby.

- Updated:7 July 2012     

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

  Reader Comments:
  • Snuggies4me pointed out a necessary clarification: A good number of DLs aren't submissive, so we we cant generalize that most DLs are masochistic, like we can with ABs. However, there is also a good number of DLs who are submissive. Thanks Snuggies4me!
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[icon]   Books and Other References:
  1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, pg 529 (IV) or pg 286 (IIIR) (This reference gives only one sentence on infantilism, under the heading of masochism. However, this reference is common enough to have re-defined infantilism to its modern meaning and led to a widespread acknowledgment that infantilism exists.)
  2. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text-Revised. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, pg 569-570
  3. Roy F. Baumeister, Masochism and Self, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pgs 82 and 159 (Describes baby humiliations briefly and also referred to age play. Includes statistics from a letter survey on sadomasochistic practices.)
  4. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, 2000 Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, pp 567
  5. Stekel, W. (1952). Patterns of Psychosexual Infantilism. Washington Square Press., pg 144, ISBN 0-87140-840-6
  6. Pate J.E., Gabbard G.O. (2003). Adult baby syndrome Am J Psychiatry 160:1932?1936
  7. Thomas John Speaker, Psychosexual Infantilism in Adults: The Eroticization of Regression. Columbia Pacific University. pg 74. Available from: DPF, Sausalito, CA 94965.
  8. Grey, B. T. (2007, February 18)The Changing ABDL Community Retrieved September 22, 2007, from http://understanding.infantilism.org/changing_abdl_community.php
  9. Gilstrap, P. (1999, March 7-11). The Diapers They Are a-Changin'. The New Times Los Angeles.
  10. Nancy Friday, Men in Love; Mens Sexual Fantasies, Delacorate Press, c. 1980, pg 186. (Includes three letters of infantilists, of with one is a fetishist, and the remaining two urophiliacs. It also includes some commentary.)
  11. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, 2000 Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, pg 568
  12. Thomas John Speaker, Psychosexual Infantilism in Adults: The Eroticization of Regression. Columbia Pacific University. pg 78. Available from: DPF, Sausalito, CA 94965.
  13. Daves 2001 Survey: Section 7 - Personal Stuff Retrieved 2002 from http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Island/5861/ds3_s7.txt, now mirrored at http://web.archive.org/web/20010424192400/www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Island/5861/DS3_S7.txt
  14. Grey, B. T. (2006, July 4)The Range Between AB and DL Retrieved September 22, 2007, from http://understanding.infantilism.org/between_ab_and_dl.php
  15. Daves 2001 Survey: Section 10 - Into the Future Retrieved 2002 from http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Island/5861/ds3_s10.txt, now mirrored at http://web.archive.org/web/20010424192400/www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Island/5861/DS3_S10.txt
  16. Brame, G. G., Brame, W. D., & Jacobs J. Different Loving, New York, Ny: Villard Books, pg 148
  17. Guy Maytal, M.D., Felicia A. Smith, M.D., and Theodore A. Stern, M.D. Naked Patients in the General Hospital: Differential Diagnosis and Management Strategies Psychosomatics 47:486-490, December 2006
  18. Grey, B. T. (2007, May 27)Mapping Paraphilic Infantilism and Diaper Fetishes Retrieved September 22, 2007, from http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/mapping_infantilism.php
  19. William B. Arndt, Jr., Gender Disorders and the Paraphilias , pg 394