Adult babies, also known as paraphilic infantilism, are one set of members in a larger group called the adult baby diaper lover (ABDL) community. The practice of adult baby play is unique for each individual, but commonly involves the practice of, or desire to regress into an infantile or childlike state and can include the use of baby toys, clothes, diapers, and other baby items. Although it is considered a common sexual fetish, ABDL is not sexually motivated for all participants. Some receive gratification from BDSM-related practices within the adult baby lifestyle, others enjoy the feeling of being nurtured, and many gain satisfaction from a combination of ABDL behavior.1 Rather than divide individuals into behavior-based subgroups, this article aims to conceptualize ABDL behaviors as existing on a spectrum to destigmatize ABDL practices and community members.
ABDL activities within the community are different for every person, but certain baby items and practices are more common, such as the use of diapers and pacifiers. Role-playing behaviors include, but are not limited to, speaking in a baby voice, drinking out of a baby bottle, or the desire to be taken care of by a “mommy” or “daddy.” 1 Many participants use both role-play and baby items to express their ABDL desires and can do so alone, with a partner, or online.
Diapers are one of the most commonly used baby items in the ABDL community, and they can serve multiple functions. The physical feeling of a diaper can provide a sense of safety and security and represents one aspect of adult baby role-play. Diaper wearing for adult babies can mean wearing the diaper without using it, using the diaper while wearing, or discreetly wearing diapers in public. Some diaper wearers are interested in the physical sensation of wearing the diaper, and others enjoy the convenience of a diaper versus using the restroom. While some view diapers as an essential part of feeling like a baby, others who choose to defecate or urinate in their diapers can be sexually aroused by the feeling or smell of a soiled diaper.1 Users can derive sexual pleasure from wearing diapers alone as well as with a partner. In a recent 2019 study, 21% of ABDL participants reported that seeing a man or woman in diapers or baby clothing would be sexually arousing.1 Many diaper wearers have non-sexual motivations, but there is evidence that the degree to which diaper wearing is sexual for an individual can change over time.1
Baby Items and Play
Adult baby play often includes activities such as playing with toys, watching cartoons, and using other items associated with babies. In a recent survey, the most commonly named baby item was a pacifier, while other items included baby bottles, clothing, stuffed animals, sippy cups, cribs, or high chairs.1 Manufacturers like Baby Apparels make custom baby furniture such as high chairs, cribs, cradles, and changing tables in adult sizes. In addition, baby clothing and diapers made for adults can be found online at Tykables.com. Some adult babies build or buy adult baby furniture, clothing, and toys to construct a physical space to practice ABDL activities. Some participants use baby items for role-playing, but others only engage in age regression, either mentally or literally.1 Therefore, adult babies can participate in ABDL activities by emphasizing the mental aspect of childhood regression with or without the use of physical baby items.
Online forums are a safe space for ABDL members to connect with each other and to anonymously engage with a virtual community. Two popular ABDL websites include Little Space Online and ADISC.org and they provide ABDL-related resources, forums, events, and chats. Using these forums, many ABDL members find partners, ask questions, and may find a pleasing activity to decrease daily stress.5
The ABDL Spectrum
Since individual adult babies vary greatly in their preference activities, it is easier to imagine the ABDL community on a spectrum that also includes people who do not identify as babies. Some diaper lovers and incontinent people use diapers for reasons unrelated to adult baby role-play and are more interested in the diaper itself. Other differentiations include partnered role-play, asexual ABDL individuals, and more.
Diaper Lovers and Incontinent People
Not everyone who wears a diaper is an adult baby, although there can be some overlap. Diaper lovers include people who wear diapers without a medical reason or enjoy watching others wear diapers, without the adult baby association.2 Many diaper lovers are especially interested in plush, soft diapers with a thick backsheet. Diaper loving can be sexual or non-sexual.2 In a sexual context, diaper lovers may masturbate while wearing a diaper or while watching someone else wear a diaper. Non-sexual practices involve incontinent users who lack control over urination or defecation and wear diapers for medical necessity.1 In these cases, ABDL interests may emerge to help the individual cope after or while they experience a medical condition.1 Some diaper lovers enjoy secretly wearing a diaper in public, while others simply find safety or comfort in diapers without the desire to be a baby.
In a 2018 study by Brian Zamboni, over 50% of ABDL participants reported that their partner is never or rarely involved in their ABDL activity; however, partnered ABDL appears in different forms.3 In a similar study, some participants state that adult baby play is more about dominance and submission rather than baby role play.1 The daddy dominant and little girl (DDLG) dynamic or the mommy dominant and little boy (MDLB) dynamic are two examples of how ABDL and BDSM intersect. The dominant “parent” cares for their “baby” or “child,” who may associate the adult baby fantasy with their desire to be controlled by someone.1 Some ABDL relationships are sexual and while others are non-sexual, but in all relationships, clear communication between all individuals can lead to successful and satisfying partnerships. Telling a partner about ABDL interests early in the relationship out of respect for both people was practiced in the previously mentioned study.3
According to Zamboni and Madero, asexual people within the ABDL community report greater levels of perceived importance regarding being a baby and lower levels of perceived importance regarding sexual excitement.4 Engaging in ABDL activities alone was more frequent; however, asexual ABDL find greater levels of enjoyment in baby role-play than non-asexual people do.4 Asexual participants also reported a greater frequency of diaper wearing and a greater frequency of their current partner being involved in their ABDL behaviors.4 Partnered ABDL activities for asexual people may give them an opportunity to connect with others and to negotiate their needs while still honoring their asexuality.4
Misconceptions vs. Reality
There are many common misconceptions when it comes to the ABDL community, the most common of which being the idea that ABDL participants have a sexual interest in real infants or children. This assumption is not true. ABDL behavior has nothing to do with actual infants and is more closely related to being in an infantile state of mind that brings comfort or relieves stress. In a 2020 study of an online sample of Italian ABDL members, 44.7% said that in general, ABDL behaviors are influenced by special circumstances, mood states, or physical conditions with the most common cause being to decrease negative moods.5 It can be inferred that in this Italian sample, age regression is used as a coping strategy for negative mood states as the childhood behaviors generate positive sensations that counteract the negativity.5
Another misconception is that ABDL community members are mentally ill with their adult baby desires being the result of an illness. In reality, most people are not distressed by their ABDL behaviors; however, those who do report distress tend to be older and have been practicing ABDL longer when compared to participants who deny distress.6 In many cases, adult babies are able to work, date, pay bills, and live generally normal lives while maintaining their lifestyle. Zamboni notes that adult functioning was only interrupted when participants allowed their ABDL interests to prevent them from managing their finances adequately or to impinge on their sense of “reality.”6
The ABDL community is a diverse group of individuals that includes adult babies, diaper lovers, incontinent people, and others with a distinct sexual fetish. ABDL can also be non-sexual, individual or partnered, and still provides space for asexual individuals to be represented. Misconceptions about the motivations of these groups are common, but the desire to regress into an infantile state and the use of baby items are common elements that accompany the comforts of the adult baby lifestyle.
- Zamboni, B. D. (2019). “A Qualitative Exploration of Adult Baby/Diaper Lover Behavior From an Online Community Sample.” The Journal of Sex Research, 56(2), 191–202. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2017.1373728
- About Diaper Lovers. DiaperDrawer. (n.d.). https://diaperdrawer.com/education/about-diaper-lovers/.
- Zamboni, B. D. (2017). “Partner Knowledge and Involvement in Adult Baby/Diaper Lover Behavior.” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44(2), 159–171. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623x.2017.1340381
- Zamboni, B. D., & Madero, G. (2018). “Exploring Asexuality Within an Adult Baby/Diaper Lover Community.” Psychology & Sexuality, 9(2), 174–187. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2018.1459804
- Lasala, A., Paparo, F., Senese, V. P., & Perrella, R. (2020). “An Exploratory Study of Adult Baby-Diaper Lovers’ Characteristics in an Italian Online Sample.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(4), 1371. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041371
- Zamboni, B. D. (2018). “Experiences of Distress by Participants in the Adult Baby/Diaper Lover Community.” Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 33(4), 470–486. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2018.1434312
Last Updated: 27 May 2021