As a sex therapist, I work with folx with a wide variety of sexual kinks and interests - adult baby diaper lover (ABDL) being one of those. Many people have probably never heard of someone being ABDL and there are a lot of misconceptions about this community. And while the prevalence of folx engaging in it is still widely unknown (ranges from 1 in 150 people to 1 in 7500), there’s a chance that at some point in your life, whether you know it or not, you may encounter someone who is ABDL. Therefore, that I thought it important to give some sex education around what it means to be ABDL and why some folx choose to engage in it.
What is an Adult Baby Diaper Lover?
First and foremost, there are often instances in which this phrase can be broken into two parts: those who enjoy being an Adult Baby (engaging in Age Play) and those who are Diaper Lovers. While these also can often overlap, there are plenty of times where they can also show up as separate interests.
The Adult Baby component is for those who find pleasure (whether erotic or not) around behaving, dressing, playing, and being treated like a non-adult. The age variation can range from that of an infant, to a toddler, to a pre-teen, etc. Every person has a different age level that they identify with and their age identity can vary at different times as well. For example, someone may at times enjoy being treated like a baby by having their diaper changed, but then enjoy playing “nerf wars,” with the other ABDL friends/Littles that they connect with. Littles, by the way, is a term often used in the ABDL community to describe those who engage in age play. A person will often talk about themselves as Big Self or Little Self, depending on what role they are taking on at that moment (i.e. I am Big Self at work but Little Self when I am with my ABDL friends). These terms can also be used to define Big Space and Little Space - I.e. the spaces, mindset, and interactions they have that fit their age (i.e. “work is Big Space but my playroom at home is Little Space”).
Additionally, someone who identifies as an Adult Baby enjoys being cared for as a child. There is a lot of comfort and pleasure in being treated and cared for like a baby. Their partner may give them extra snuggles, may rock/hold them, change their diaper, offer them sweet words of comfort (as one would expect a caregiver to do) and more. Again, this can either be sexual or non-sexual.
There are no absolutes and every single person that engages in this kink will vary as far as what, when, and with whom they enjoy it.
Diaper Lovers, on the other hand, are those who specifically derive pleasure (erotic or not) and comfort from wearing a diaper. Again, someone can be both, but there are some people who don’t identify with the age play component and only enjoy the experience of diaper wearing. Diaper lovers may enjoy just wearing a diaper and find the nostalgic and comforting feeling of wearing a diaper delightful; they may only urinate or only defecate in it or both; they may also enjoy masturbating in a diaper. For these individuals there can either be something arousing about wearing a diaper or simply comforting that drives the desire to wear them.
Why is someone an Adult Baby Diaper Lover?
I think the biggest misconception here is that someone who is ABDL is that way because of some sort of trauma that happened to them growing up. The reality for a lot of kinks/fetishes is that at a young age, a person experiences unaccounted for arousal towards a neutral stimuli, which creates a paired association with that item. For example: Jimmy experiences a spontaneous erection while watching his sibling’s diaper being changed. This may then link the notion that having one’s diaper being changed is arousing, and thus, Jimmy wants to wear diapers in the future.
Being ABDL doesn’t always mean that it’s a sexual kink or fetish though. For some folx, engaging in these behaviors can be a way to reduce anxiety and stress in their daily lives. There is a nostalgic comfort for being young and taken care of again, which can generate the desire to engage in this behavior, particularly when feeling stressed. For example, Brittany misses how soothing and comforting it was to have her dad run his fingers through her hair as a child, and now craves having a connection like that with a spouse.
ABDLs can also have a history of trauma that triggered their sexual (or not) interests, though that doesn’t mean that they are perpetuating their trauma by continuing to engage in it. For example, someone may have been sexually abused as a child and now crave having an intimate relationship in which they are re-parenting themselves by being cared for by a partner in a more loving, caring way. There isn’t necessarily trauma to heal here. Folx can go through the process of working through their trauma and find that this is still the most comfortable or arousing way to interact with a partner. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s also important to know that these aren’t behaviors that can change or go away. Instead, one must learn how to incorporate it into their lives in some way.
Who engages in ABDL?
A research study conducted in 2008 (The Survey Project: http://understandinginfantilism.org) surveyed about 1,300 folx who engaged in ABDL and found the breakdown to be:
- 86% male
- 8% female
- 6% on the transgender continuum
Interest seems to occur first in early childhood (around ages 3-6) or in pre-puberty (9-12), although it also seems to occur for many women around the age of 20 when introduced to it by a partner.
How do I tell my partner that I’m ABDL?
This is a slow and gentle process. It can be very vulnerable and scary sharing this part of yourself and society still has a long way to go for being accepting of someone in this lifestyle. For those unfamiliar with this lifestyle, those in the ABDL community can be misconstrued as pedophiles or harmful to children in some way - this is absolutely not the case. In reality, they identify with kids more than the average person. They are not sexually interested in children - they often want to be children again! Finding the right person who is open-minded enough to understand this may take a little bit of time. But never fear - there are people out there who are able to hear this information and be accepting.
When considering telling a partner, keep in mind how long you’ve known them and the relationship you have with them. This isn’t information you have to disclose immediately. Take time to let them get to know you (being ABDL isn’t ALL of who you are - it’s one identity of many that you carry) and determine how accepting of a person they are in other areas of life. You may find after a couple of dates that the person isn’t a very open-minded individual, at which point, you’ve save yourself some potential shame/ridicule by not sharing immediately.
Once you’ve taken the time to build rapport with that individual (maybe you’ve been married for a long time and are realizing you’re ready to share this - maybe you’ve been dating for months or years now - it all depends on what feels right for you), you can start to share. Be aware that your partner may at first have some strong negative reactions, and you want to have your own support system to process with to help buffer against any shame or embarrassment that their reaction creates.
Dr. Rhoda Lipscomb (2022) discusses how there are often 3 different phases our partners can be in when it comes to knowing about you being ABDL:
- Acceptance: they know the information and can respect that this is your kink/fetish, but they choose not to engage with you in it
- Beginning to mid-level experimentation: they are willing to try to explore this with you and are open to trying some activities at a slow pace
- All-in: they are willing to engage with you on this is many ways and are all-in on exploring this kink with you
Knowing that these different levels exist may give you a sense of potential outcomes for sharing with this person. Depending on what it is to you, you can introduce it in different ways. You may present it as a way that you stress relief “I have a behavior I’ve been doing for a long time that relieves stress. It may seem a little unorthodox, so I hope you’ll have an open mind when I share this…” or if it’s more erotic, “I have a kink/fetish that may seem a little ‘out there’ at first, but I’m hoping you’ll keep an open mind…” Trying to prep them for being open-minded will hopefully get them in the right mindset to hear what you have to share.
Naturally, they may have zero interest in engaging in the kink and are not accepting of it. It’s a risk that we take when being vulnerable, which is why taking things slow is really important for both of you. If it’s a hard no, there are also professional Mommies and Daddies who are willing to engage with you in this kink, and that may be an alternative outlet for you to explore without your partner having to feel involved. That involves having conversations around what that means for both of you, but if they’re willing to listen, you may be able to find some compromise.
In preparation of this conversation, I highly recommend working with an ABDL competent sex therapist to role play/explore different ways to go about having this conversation. They can be a great source of support to help you decompress after the conversation and to talk about what your options are, depending on how your partner reacts.
What if my partner is ABDL?
If your partner comes out to you as ABDL, be aware of the various stages of acceptance too. Don’t rush yourself or feel pressured to be at a certain point with it. But also recognize that your partner is taking a HUGE leap of faith in sharing this with you. Try your best to reserve judgement and instead be curious with your partner about this fetish for them. Ask questions like:
- Help me understand what this means for you
- How do you see this kink showing up in our daily lives? In our sex life?
- What role are you hoping for me to play here?
- What is the value of this kink/fetish to you?
- Does it arouse you? Offer you comfort?
- What has it been like holding this in for so long?
- Does anyone else know about this? How have they responded to you?
There are may other curiosity questions you can ask, but these are some good starting points to help your partner feel seen and for you to start to understand how this will impact you too.
You might also take some time to explore any biases or fears that come up for around this. Therapy is a great place to process this. Having individual therapy will give you a space to process some of the more shame-based thoughts that you may have without causing harm to your partner and give you an opportunity to try and re-work those to being more accepting in whatever way you can.
While there’s a lot more to be learned about the ABDL community, I think the biggest pieces to note are that:
- There are whole communities based around this - it’s more normal than you realize
- Folx who engage in ABDL are not pedophiles or have interest in being sexual with children. They themselves identify as being child-like!
- It’s a scary thing to share with a partner. If you want to do so, take your time. Go to therapy alone and together to process this.
Knowing about this kink and those in the lifestyle who are engaging in it can help you better understand yourself or your partner if they come to you with it. I highly recommend working with a sex positive, ABDL competent therapist both together and individually to help you both have a safe space to explore. And for those of you who don’t engage in it, taking the opportunity to understand this population better and decrease stigma and shame can go a long way for having a more inclusive community as a whole.