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Trauma and Exposure Among AB/DLs

By B. Terrance Grey

This study contrasts three groups of Adult Babies and/or Diaper Lovers (AB/DLs). The first group remembers a desire for diapers and/or babyhood as if they had always had it. The second reported associating their desires with an event, and described a traumatic event such as physical or sexual abuse. The third group also reported associating their desires with an event, but described exposure to AB/DL-related concepts or adult diapers. These groups included 30%, 2%, and 3% of AB/DLs respectively. The small group sizes probably limited the statistical significance of observations.

Individually, those in the Trauma group gave plausible explanations about how the trauma caused them to become AB/DLs. Collectively, a generally causal relationship would probably have resulted in a group that was both larger and more female. That is, these observations do not support the conclusion that trauma generally causes infantilism or diaper fetishes.

Those in the Exposure group reported onset ages dramatically later in life than the other two groups, with some participants reporting that their interests started in their 50s.

These three groups were contrasted in hopes of determining whether the tendency to become an AB/DL was present at birth or caused by some later event. These three groups were expected to present the most clear differences between innate and induced cases, if such existed. The observations suggest that interests in diapers and/or babyhood can be developed even late in life, especially after exposure. However, the observations do not suggest that it is generally possible to cause paraphilic infantilism or diaper fetishism, even in cases of childhood trauma.

Sections: Summary - Method - Results and Discussion - Conclusion

Edit 26 December 2016: Mainly as a result of the more conservative significance tests implemented as part of the tenth year standards update, the previous trends in sex ratio, election, roleplay, and sexual practices were no longer significant. The associated figures and text were removed for brevity. Sections were changed and text moved to match APA guidelines. The sample was reduced to AB/DLs only, for similarity to other analyses. Two figures were replaced with tables to present more information.

Two narratives that are sometimes discussed as causes of paraphilic infantilism and diaper fetishism are childhood trauma and exposure to adult diapers, either the simple object, or as part of AB/DL practices or media. Exploring these might be of interest, as learning more about induced desires (those with a clear, external cause) might shed more light on the potentially innate desires of other AB/DLs.


A traumatized child might use regression as a defense mechanism. This regression and the unresolved trauma would neatly describe the resulting desires toward diapers and/or babyhood. Regressive behaviors are a common initial response to trauma (e.g. APA, 2009). This explanation's intuitiveness and elegance make it popular. Given the reported cause, it seems reasonable to expect some trends in the 'trauma' group.

  1. They would tend to be female, at least relative to other groups of AB/DLs. Depending on the type of trauma, the survivors might be equally male or female, or more likely to be female. For example, in the general population, 11 to 40% of women report having experienced sexual abuse at some time in their childhood, while only 5 to 10% of men do (with one survey reporting 3%)(Bagley & King, 1990; Finkelhor, 1994).
  2. They would be more likely to show indications of paraphilia, or some other driving condition. That is, they would be more likely to show behaviors present only in non-elective AB/DLs, such as unsuccessful attempts at quitting, binge-purge behaviors, etc. These indicators would show a driving condition, although not necessarily paraphilic infantilism.
  3. They might focus more on roleplay, and less on sexuality. Sexual practices might be actively shunned in pursuit of the innocent, infantile ideal.
  4. They might be restricted to a specific onset age range. Other conditions induced by abuse have been shown to be more likely if the trauma occurs at a young age (e.g. borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, McLean & Gallop, 2003). Alternatively, if the abuse were merely coincident with an innate condition, then it would need to occur before the AB/DL became aware that the desires were already present.


In contrast to the unconscious defense mechanisms and alternate diagnoses that might be involved with the 'trauma' group, the 'exposure' group is expected to be straightforward and simple: For example, a man sees AB/DL pornography, likes it, and decides to get more involved.

There have been attempts to experimentally cause paraphilias through exposure and conditioning (Hoffmann, Janssen, & Turner, 2004; Rachman & Hodgson, 1968). While these were successful in erotisizing neutral objects, they did not cause a compulsive condition, such as a paraphilia.

Based on the reported cause, a few trends can be expected.

  1. The Exposure group would tend to be more elective: Fewer would have attempted to quit and failed, fewer would have binged-and-purged, etc.
  2. The onset age of the Exposure group would be more variable, since it involves a change in tastes, not the development of deeper conditions.
  3. There would be an emphasis on sexuality, possibly at the cost of roleplay or regression.
  4. There might be more women. As discussed in one of the author's previous studies, this population includes girlfriends being introduced to AB/DL practices by their AB/DL boyfriends (Grey, 2009).


This study used data from the first of the AB/DL survey series, as previously detailed by the author (Grey, 2006). The 38-question online survey was composed and posted to the Internet at the author's website, understanding.infantilism.org. The questions briefly explored interests, practices, and backgrounds of AB/DLs. The survey was announced to a number of email and web-based AB/DL communities. Participation was voluntary and anonymous.

A total of 1489 responses were received for this survey, excluding responses from minors and probable duplicates. Of these, 1262 self-identified as AB/DLs and completed all the relevant multiple-choice questions. The multiple-choice questions relevant to this paper are self-identification on the AB-to-DL range (Survey 1, Question 4 or S1Q4); sex (S1Q5); onset type (S1Q14) and onset age (S1Q15); quitting (S1Q18); distress (S1Q19) and impairment (S1Q20); fantasy role preference (S1Q25), binge and purge (S1Q31); presence of sex (S1Q32); and opt-in expectations (S1Q36).

To explore the properties of groups of AB/DLs or attribute their desires to either trauma or exposure, S1Q14 and essay question S1Q15 were used, with the answer to S1Q15 being used to fill in detail for those who reported their desires being due to an event in S1Q14. The option of Always was described as "My interests were there before, but at some time I realized that I was different; that others around me did not share the interest." In contrast, the option of event was described as "My interests were probably caused by a specific event (stumbling across a reference to AB/DL activities somewhere, getting introduced to it, an incident of emotional trauma, trying a new kink, sexual abuse, etc.)". Five other options were presented in S1Q14.

The AB/DLs who selected Event in S1Q14 were then manually sorted based on the optional description. The events, if described, were sorted into six groups. Those that mentioned a rare trauma, such as sexual abuse, the death of a parent, etc., were grouped under trauma. The remainder were grouped as hardship if the event included a common trauma, such as parental divorce. The separation of rare and common traumas was intended to focus on probable causes. The rare traumas might cause paraphilic infantilism or diaper fetishism, which are rare conditions. If the common traumas generally caused these conditions, then the conditions would be common as well.

An arguably traumatic event, Diaper punishment, had its own category. Those in this category described being the subject of the punishment, did not describe intentionally causing the punishment, did not describe other types trauma, and described it as a punishment and as beyond their control. Threats of diaper punishment were not included.

Some of the remainder reported being diapered for an accident or illness, as opposed to a punishment. These were grouped as medical. Those that did not fall into any previous category were grouped as exposed if the event they described included the adult use of diapers, being introduced to AB/DL practices by someone, stumbling across stories with AB/DL themes, etc.

Results and Discussion

This study will contrast those who report believing that they have always had a desire for diapers and/or babyhood (the Always group) with those who claim that their desires were due to some traumatic event (the Trauma group) or to exposure to adult diapers or AB/DL materials (the Exposure group). The size of these groups is shown in Table 1.

Table 1
Onset and Event Types based on onset type S1Q14 and description S1Q16.
Onset type N %
Other onset type (Excluding Always and Event)   637   50%
Always 382 30%
Other event 110 9%
Undescribed event 43 3%
Exposure 36 3%
Diaper punishment 22 2%
Trauma 20 2%
Medical 8 1%
Hardship 4 0%

The Always, Trauma, and Exposed groups were contrasted for sex ratio, onset age, election, preferred roleplay role, and the presence of sexual practices. The Trauma group, with 17 non-transgendered males and two non-transgendered females was not significantly different from the Always group, with 321 and 30, Χ2(1)=0.09, p=.8. The sex ratio of the Exposure group, with 30 and three, also did not differ significantly from the Always group Χ2(1)=.01, p=.9. This was not consistent with expectations for either group.

Table 2
Reported Onset ages by Onset Group, in Years
Group      M (SD)  10%    90%  t, p vs. Always
Always8.9 (5.6)414--
Trauma7.4 (3.9)212t(400)=1.60, p=.1
Exposed21.2 (10.7)1235t(416)=5.23, p<.001
Edit 10 Jan 2017: Given the group size and spacing of the reported onset ages for the Exposed group, the percentile results are sensitive to the definition used. These results are for the individual who, when ordered by onset age and counting from one, is closest to 10% or 90% of the group size. The next younger and older reported onset ages from the 90th percentile for the Exposed group were 30 and 38 years respectively.

The reported ages of onset are summarized in Table 2. The Exposed group had a significantly later onset age range than Always. Some younger AB/DLs associated their desires with exposure to diaper adds on TV, or to peers who wore diapers because of some need. These exposures wouldn't run contrary to the stigma that diapers were for babies. As a result, they would have been included in the Exposure group. The trends in onset age are consistent with expectations for Exposed, and not inconsistent for Trauma.

Of those in the Always group, 40% (154) reported significant distress or impairment (i.e. Criterion B, APA, 2000), 58% (220) reported binging and purging, and 57% (217) reported quitting attempts. These were reported by 50% (10), 75%(15), and 75%(15) of the Trauma group, but the contrasts were not statistically significant, possibly due to the small sample size. These were also reported by 36% (13), 42% (15), and 39% (14) of the Exposed group, with only the contrast in quitting attempts between Always and Exposed groups being statistically significant, Χ2(1)=4.27, p=.04. Additionally, 11% (43) of the Always group, 0% (0) of the Trauma group, and 17% (6) of the Exposed group reported believing that they could show others how to enjoy diapers or babyhood as much as they did, that is, to opt-in. Neither contrast is statistically significant; Trauma vs. Always, Χ2(1)=2.52, p=.1; Exposed vs. Always, Χ2(1)=0.93, p=.3. These results are not inconsistent with expectations for Trauma. Interestingly, the trend in quitting is consistent with expectations for Exposed, but lack of contrast in opt-in is not.

Figure 1 - Role preference.
Figure 1, Preferred Role in Ageplay-related Fantasies. The lines show the percentage of each AB/DL subgroup that reported preferring specific roles in ageplay-related fantasies, based on S1Q14, S1Q15, and S1Q25. (*) Non-caregiver teen or adult, and Caregiver, are each the sum of two options. Vertical lines show the standard error.

The roles that each group preferred in fantasy are shown in Figure 1. The contrasts between Always vs. Trauma, and Always vs. Exposed were not statistically significant (with roles binned into baby/child, non-caregiver, and caregiver, Χ2[3]=6.25, p=.1; Exposed vs. Always, Χ2[3]=1.84, p=.6). Similarly, the contrast in the presence of sexual practices during AB/DL games, scenes, and fantasies was also not significant (with the three options that excluded sexuality binned, and excluding those who reported having no ageplay or AB/DL games, scenes, or fantasies; Trauma vs. Always, Χ2[2]=2.10, p=.3; Exposed vs. Always, Χ2[2]=2.47, p=.3).


The descriptions given by participants of the trauma usually included some association with diapers or babyhood. This could provide direction to the mechanism driven by the trauma. On the other hand, it might also be the reason that a coincidental event was associated with their desires.

In some, babyhood was sought as an escape. One boy, writing about when he was 11, put it simply. "Sexual abuse. I started to 'regress' to forget what had happened to me, and started to 'feel' like a baby." A girl wrote about when she was five: "[I] was sexually abused. [My] two-tear-old sister in crib in [the] room with me [was] never hurt...thus I wanted to be her."

In at least one case, the association was more tangible. "My father inserted a wire hanger into my penis and caused nerve damage causing me to be incontinent for life barring surgery." This boy, who reported being one at the time of the event, was pragmatic: "Diapers for medical reasons...AB to make diapers kinda fun."

Sometimes, the regression was triggered by the death of a parent. A boy writes about when he was eight: "My mother died. [I] lost bladder control at night times, [and] father nappied/diapered me at bedtime."

Notably, these AB/DLs were conscious of the associations between the trauma and their desires. This is a drawback to the survey process, since the participant would be reporting a conscious association. The defense mechanism would have found direction on an unconscious level. The two might be the same, but also might not.


Some in the 'exposure' group gave clear, short descriptions. A man wrote about when he was 24: "I was playing the game named 'Second Life' where [an] adult was in diapers." Another man wrote "I read a fictional story on a gay sex story website about young men dressing up and playing in diapers and having sex. This excited me. I searched for more and more stories, then found the websites. Then met AB/DLs." He reported being forty at the time. A longer, but equally clear description is given by a man who details an eleven year progression from cause to effect.

Actually the first reference I remember pertaining to AB/DL play was on an episode of "The Flinstones." Fred was in charge of Movie Night at the Waterbuffalo Lodge. Apparently the other men at the lodge were used to watching cheesecake or porn (as it was hinted). One character asks Fred "What will she be wearing?"
Fred replies, "Well a diaper and a bonnet."
The other says, "I did not know women would do that sort of thing!"
I believe I was nine when I first saw that episode. Sometime ago when I was 20 I remembered the episode. A quick internet search later and I found out about infantilism and anaclitism.

Others described a more continuous progression. "I have always had a feminine hygiene fetish (since my first memories of sexuality) especially maxi pads. One of the best free photo sites I ever found on the net was an AB/DL site. Diapers and other incontinence wear had interested me for some time as they are basically big pads. Regularly visiting an AB/DL site as a masturbatory aid, I started to include diapers, plastic clothing, pissing, and suckling/lactating into my fantasy repertoire. Now I enjoy all of them." This man reported being thirty at the time.

Of course, the adult use of diapers isn't unique to AB/DLs. Exposure to adult diapers might also serve as a gateway. "I came into contact with adult diapers when my Mom went into a nursing home. I tried on a diaper, thinking it would be convenient for masturbation. Then I looked the matter up online and discovered the idea of adult babies. [I] found that attractive; it connected with some part of me... My connection further grew as a result of 2001 terrorist attacks and complete disgust for adulthood. It really is a long and more complicated story." This man's progression reportedly started at age 53.

Conclusions and Limitations

The results presented here address three segments of the AB/DL population, and the broader question about whether people are born AB/DLs or become so later in life. As is often the case, this broader question requires some narrowing before it can be suitably answered.

This analysis was hindered by a number of limitations. Most observations of the Trauma and Exposed groups were not statistically significant, possibly because the groups were so small. Additionally, the survey data is based on retrospective reports. For example, it is possible that an AB/DL who's desires were induced by a traumatic event could repress the memory of that event, and as a result, report another onset type. Furthermore, the Trauma group did not differentiate abuse that might be related to diapers and babyhood somehow, such as physical abuse resulting in incontinence, from unrelated abuse. Overall, perhaps the strongest conclusion supported by this data is that two narratives, commonly discussed as causes of paraphilic infantilism and diaper fetishism, are only reported by a few percent of AB/DLs.

Trauma as a cause of paraphilic infantilism.

Of the four expectations for the Trauma group, none resulted in a significant contrast from the Always group. The majority of participants who associated their desires for diapers and babyhood with an event, and who described that event as traumatic, also reported meeting Criterion B. That is, they had suffered significant distress or impairment because of their desires. As a result, they could be diagnosed with paraphilic infantilism. The remainder might still have paraphilic infantilism, but be without the distress or impairment used to distinguish the paraphilia from a mere interest.

The Trauma group generally described an event that would both drive a defense mechanism, and launch it in a direction that would result in desires for diapers or babyhood. Individually, this seems a reasonable argument of causality. That is, it seems reasonable to conclude that the participant's experience might have caused their interest in diapers or babyhood.

Collectively, the data doesn't support the conclusion that trauma generally causes paraphilic infantilism. Given that 11 to 40% of women and 5 to 10% of men report having experienced sexual abuse at some time in their childhood, and given that 8.4% of AB/DLs in this sample were women (98 of 1171, neglecting transgendered AB/DLs, giving a 95% confidence interval of 6.8 to 9.9%), then 5% to 13% of AB/DLs would be expected to report having been exposed to sexual abuse during their childhood by mere chance. The survey result of 2% is below the expected range, and includes other causes of rare trauma. Were there a causal relationship, the percentage of AB/DLs reporting rare traumas would be expected to be greater than the percentage expected due to coincidence. Thus, while trauma is known to cause a number of other conditions, the data suggests that it does not generally cause paraphilic infantilism.

Exposure as a cause of paraphilic infantilism.

The majority of participants who associated the start of their desires to exposure to AB/DL material or adult diapers reported neither the distress nor impairment necessary to meet Criterion B. That is, most in the group wouldn't be diagnosed with paraphilic infantilism or diaper fetishism. Not meeting Criterion B, and the dramatic age difference between the Exposure group and those more typical of paraphilic infantilism, such as Always, suggests that this group does not generally have a paraphilia or other condition. However, they were not significantly more likely to believe that others could opt-in to AB/DL interests, which might be due to the belief that they themselves did not simply opt-in.

'Trauma' and 'exposure' as AB/DLs.

AB/DLs, as a demographic, are loosely defined by an interest. As a result, it does include those who associate their desires towards diapers and/or babyhood with either trauma or exposure. These two groups are atypical, representing 2% and 3% of AB/DLs, respectively. These are two more examples of how the AB/DL community is made up of specific groups with distinctive backgrounds and dovetailing interests, as opposed to a homogeneous population that can be defined by any typical AB/DL.

Email BitterGrey[mail] Last Update: 14 Feb 2017| First: 25 April 2009

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[icon] Books and Other References:
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  3. Bagley, C, King K. (1990). Child Sexual Abuse. New York, NY: Tavistock/Routledge. pg 76-77
  4. Grey, B. T. (2006)The Range Between AB and DL Retrieved from http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/between_ab_and_dl.php
  5. McLean L M, Gallop R (2003) Implications of Childhood Sexual Abuse for Adult Borderline Personality Disorder and Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Am J Psychiatry 160:369-371
  6. Rachman S, Hodgson R J (1968) Experimentally-induced sexual fetishism: Replication and development. Psychological Record, 18, 25-27
  7. 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
  8. Grey B T Girls, Boys, and Diapers Retrieved from http://understanding.infantilism.org/surveys/girls_boys_and_diapers.php
  9. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text-Revised. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000, pp 572-573.

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