Understanding Infantilism (.org)
[French] [Deutsch]

Why Want Diapers?

The reasons why people desire to wear diapers and/or be treated as a baby are as diverse as the people themselves. Those with these desires are collectively called adult babies and diaper lovers (or ABDLs). As a first step towards diagnosis, let's divide the AB/DLs into four groups. There are two overlapping groups with only one symptom, a desire to wear diapers and/or be a baby. This desire is specific and persistent, and might be troubling. This group might be broadly diagnosed with paraphilic infantilism, a diaper fetish, or both. Next, there are those who might also enjoy diapers or babyhood, but don't have a deep and specific desire for them. Finally, there are those with multiple symptoms, including those desires. This first step might be the only practical one, except for those with multiple symptoms.

Diaper Fetishism and Infantilism

ABDLs with only the one symptom might have infantilism, diaper fetishism, or both. Diaper fetishism is, of course, a fetish where the erotic focus is on diapers. Infantilism is basically the desire to dress as and be treated as a baby. It was briefly yet formally defined by the American Psychiatric Association in 1987[1] [2]. Both are categorized as paraphiliasDEF.

Both infantilism and diaper fetishism are single-symptom diagnoses, like "headache" and "joint pain" were once. Since desiring diapers or babyhood isn't that serious medically, there has been little research. ABDLs seldom need or seek medical help [3] [4]. In the future, they might be divided into proper syndromes, where clusters of symptoms are used to differentiate between specific conditions. (The phrase "adult baby syndrome" was coined for a TV show script[4].)

There are some trends among ABDLs that might give some clues about their causes. That ABDLs tend to be male suggests a strong biologic influence[5]. An environmental influence is also present. This is clear from the birth order trends. For example, the second-born of three siblings is the least likely of the three to report being an ABDL, but the second-born of four is most likely[6]. ABDLs were also more likely to report having only older sisters than only older brothers[6]. Additionally, masochism (which arguably includes infantilism) is unique to the Western culture[7]. On average, an ABDL's preferred diaper is the one that was environmentally common during his early childhood, not necessarily the type he used as an infant.[8]. It is unknown whether this is the age range when the paraphilia forms, when the expression of an already-present paraphilia develops, or a mix of both.

There is, of course, no shortage of theories. One of the oldest might be Freud's proposal that fetishism was the result of castration anxiety[9]. This, like most theories from within sexology, lacks testability. However, some theories outside of sexology might be worth noting. For example, Freud's defense mechanisms might give plausible explanations even thought they aren't testable (eg "Three Things to do with a Wet Knee Brace"). Attachment theory might also shed some light on the paraphilias, especially infantilism.

Kinks

Conditioning experiments showed that arbitrary stimuli could be made erotic in the general population[10] [11]. These experiments exposed college students to pictures of neutral objects, such as shoes or coins, intermixed with erotic pictures. While these succeeded in causing an association (a "kink") they didn't demonstrate a compulsion (a paraphilia). 3% of ABDLs report developing their interests after being exposed to adult diapers, ABDL stories, etc.[12] These interests actually aren't a symptom. Medically speaking, there is no accounting for taste. Granted, it is a rare interest: Few who don't need diapers try them.

In the past, stigmas against diapers and "queer" interests kept those without a driving desire from experimenting. In contrast, those with infantilism or a diaper fetish generally would be compelled to practice them. Unlike those with kinks, ABDLs with diaper fetishism or infantilism might have struggled against the desire for years or decades. They would also tend to have become interested early in life, and may have done so in isolation, thinking that they were the only ones.

For clarity, this group would include ABDLs who don't fit in the other groups. Those in the other groups may develop kinks as well.

Multiple Symptoms

While these desires might be troubling and these interests might seem odd, they aren't medically dangerous. Few ABDLs seek medical help. As a result, many cases in medical literature are actually unrelated conditions that coincidentally involved diapers or infancy somehow (eg [13] [14] [15] [16]) In addition to diapers, there are other sources of confusion. For example, an adult baby's stuffed animal might be confused with a "transitional object."[17] [18] [19]. Among adults, "transitional objects" are indications of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)[20]. The sex ratio (the ratio of men to women) of ABDLs diagnosed with BPD is close to what would be expected by coincidence, which suggests that the disproportionate frequency of BPD among ABDLs is an due to over-diagnosis[21].

However, there are other conditions that are disproportionately frequent among ABDLs. One example is Asperger's Syndrome, a disorder on the Autism Spectrum. 5% of ABDLs reported having been diagnosed with it[21]. They might come across as nerdy: Verbally articulate with specific interests, yet physically awkward with a difficulty reading emotions. Another would be Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, reported by 8% of ABDLs[21]. Only early-onset OCD matches the sex ratio and onset age ranges typical of ABDLs. They would have an irrational drive to act to avoid negative outcomes. Each of these conditions can be differentiated based on their other symptoms.

In contrast to the others, this group might have a more serious condition, but also might be able to expect a better-researched diagnosis and more developed treatment options.

Why ask why?

Academic curiosity and the desire to understand one's self are great reasons to explore the roots of these desires. However, the causes might have more practical bearing on interpretations of the past and expectations for the future.

The ABDL's parents might be concerned that they did something to cause their child's desires for diapers or babyhood. In almost all cases, there is no reason to believe that the parents caused or could have prevented the development of infantilism and diaper fetishism. ( Almost all cases, that is. One exceptional surveyee reported that his father had rammed a coat hanger wire down his urethra, causing emotional trauma and incontinence. )

The ABDL, or his parents, girlfriend, etc., might be seeking a "cure." The prognosis, of course, hinges on which group the ABDL is in. A kink might be easily given up or traded in for another kink. In contrast, infantilism and diaper fetishism are persistent. They are generally lifelong, although the urges might fade in later life [22]. (The author has corresponded with one man who claims to have "outgrown" his infantilism at 53.) There is no known cure. One unfortunate patient endured chemical treatment to "cure" another paraphilia only to end up developing a desire for diapers and babyhood[23]. The best option might be to moderate damaging practices such as binge and purge cycles, and carefully evaluating the acceptability these desires in light of their situation and beliefs.


- Updated:3 July 2014  1st:15 Sept 2001     

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

  Reader Comments:
  • bashfuldlguy shares a question: "Since DL's are mostly male, it has been my understanding that males are more likely to be DL's since we have 'outdoor plumbing.' The sensation we experience is far greater than in females. I have been DL for literally all my life and I can tell you that, for me, the sensation is what it's all about. Being in a fresh diaper and then wetting it (no poo) is something I have been obsessed with all of my days. What do you think?" Most paraphilias, such as masochism and fetishism, are predominantly male. Diaper lovers might be mostly men for the same reason(s). Of course, this doesn't rule out contact with the diaper as a contributing factor.. -BitterGrey
  • Zeke writes "I would like to point out that there are adults, such as myself, who wear and use diapers because it makes logical sense to us, and there is no sexual attraction to the diaper at all."
[icon]  For a Second Opinion:
  • Tommy's "Theory on Infantilism" mirrored at archive.org
[icon] Books and Other References:
  1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition - Text Revised. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 1987, pg 286 (IV)
  2. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 1994, pg 529
  3. Stekel, W. (1952). Patterns of Psychosexual Infantilism. Washington Square Press., pg 144, ISBN 0871408406
  4. Pate J.E., Gabbard G.O. (2003). Adult baby syndrome Am J Psychiatry 160:1932-1936
  5. Grey, B. T. (2008, July 24)Girls, Boys, and Diapers Retrieved January 25 2013, from http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/girls_boys_and_diapers.php
  6. Grey, B. T. (2010, December 3)Birthorder of AB/DLs Retrieved January 25 2013, from http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/birthorder.php
  7. Baumeister, R. F., (1989) Masochism and the Self. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates pg 52-53, ISBN: 0805804862
  8. Grey, B. T. (2009, October 1)Diaper Preference among AB/DLs Retrieved January 25 2013, from http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/abdl_diaper_preferences.php
  9. Freud S. (1905) Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, pg 56, ISBN: 0486416038, (A translation is available from Project Gutenberg)
  10. Rachman, S., and Hodgson, R. J.(1968) Experimentally-induced sexual fetishism: Replication and development. Psychological Record, 18, 25-27
  11. Hoffmann, H., Janssen, E., Turner, S. L.(2004) Classical Conditioning of Sexual Arousal in Women and Men: Effects of Varying Awareness and Biological Relevance of the Conditioned Stimulus. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 33, No. 1, February 2004, pp. 43-53
  12. Grey, B. T. (2009, April 25)Trauma and Exposure Among AB/DLs Retrieved January 25 2013, from x http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/trauma_and_exposure.php
  13. Mitchell, W. (1954) Epilepsy with Fetishism Relieved by Temporal Lobectomy. Lancet. Vol. II, pp. 626-630
  14. Pandita-Gunawardena, R. (1990). Paraphilic Infantilism, A Rare Case of Fetishistic Behaviour. British Journal of Psychiatry. 157, 767-770
  15. Croarkin, P., Nam, T., Waldrep, D. (November 2004). Comment on Adult Baby Syndrome. Am J Psychiatry 161:2141
  16. Miller, B., Cummings, J., McIntyre, H. & Ebers, G., (1986) Hypersexuality or altered sexual preference following brain injury, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 49, 867-873.
  17. Stern T, Glick R: Significance of stuffed animals at the bedside and what they can reveal about patients. Psychosomatics 1993; 34:519? 521 [PDF]
  18. Cardasis W, Hochman JA, Silk KR: Transitional objects and borderline personality disorder. Am J Psychiatry 1997; 154:250-255 [PDF]
  19. Mack A, Viederman M: The Use of a Transitional Object in the Context of Medical Illness. Psychosomatics 41:433-435, October 2000 [PDF]
  20. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision, 2000 Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, pp 706-710
  21. Grey, B. T. (2010 Novemeber 5)Other Conditions Prevalent Among AB/DLs Retrieved January 25 2013, from http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/conditions.php
  22. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition - Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, pg 568 (IV)
  23. Lehne, G. K., Money, J., (2000) The First Case of Paraphilia Treated with Depo-Provera: 40-Year Outcome., Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, Vol. 25, No. 4, pgs 213-220