Sexual fetishes consist of recurring sexual fantasies, urges, and/or behaviors that center around nonliving objects, body parts, and secretions. People can develop fetishes for a wide range of things, including (but not limited to) feet, shoes, and dirty underwear (to learn about some of the more unusual sexual fetishes ever documented, click here). In this article, we’re going to look at one specific type of fetish: autonepiophilia, also known as paraphilic infantilism and Adult Baby Syndrome. A few cases of autonepiophilia have been reported in the psychological literature to date, which typically involve adults who derive sexual gratification from engaging in infant-like behavior. This may include acting like a baby, being taken care of like a baby, and/or wearing and using a diaper (not because they need to, but because they want to).
Several online communities exist that cater to persons with this interest, with members generally falling into one of two groups: the adult babies (ABs), who tend to be more interested in the role-playing aspect, and the diaper lovers (DLs), who tend to be mostly interested in wearing diapers. Collectively, they are known as the Adult Baby/Diaper Lover (ABDL) community.
Very little is known about ABs and DLs, including their psychological characteristics, history, and behaviors. However, a recent paper published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior provides some interesting insight.
For this study, a total of 1,795 adult men and 139 adult women were recruited from ABDL websites to complete an online survey. Participants were 31 years old on average and most had completed at least some college. Most men reported being attracted only to women (58%) or were bisexual (19%), while most women reported being bisexual (43%) or were attracted to men only (34%).
Results revealed that ABDL interests appeared to emerge very early in life, around age 11 for men and age 12 for women. Most participants reported having practiced this behavior for quite some time too, with men partaking in it for about 17 years and women for about 12 years on average. These results suggest that ABDL interests appear to emerge somewhat earlier in men and that men tend to have practiced this behavior longer. However, men and women did not differ in terms of how frequently they currently practice ABDL behaviors in a typical month.
About half of the sample reported current involvement in a romantic relationship, with the vast majority of both men (79%) and women (83%) reporting that their partner was aware of their ABDL interests.
For both men and women, the most commonly reported ABDL behaviors were “using diapers,” “wetting,” “messing,” and “using other baby items.” However, there were sex differences in the frequency with which certain behaviors were practiced. Specifically, men reported using diapers more frequently; in contrast, women reported playing with baby toys, as well as sexual and non-sexual play with a daddy figure more often.
Compared to women, men also rated diapers as being more sexually stimulating and more important to their ABDL activities. Compared to men, women reported being a baby and being dominated as more important elements of their ABDL activities. Based on these results, it is perhaps not surprising that men reported greater levels of sexual enjoyment from ABDL, whereas women reported greater levels of role-play enjoyment.
ABDL behaviors were associated with attachment styles and parental relationships; however, these associations tended to be small and more associations were found for men than for women (although this might be a function of the male sample size being so large and the female sample size being small—it is simply easier to detect statistically significant correlations in larger samples). Among men, being more anxiously attached was linked to nine ABDL behaviors, including a desire to be dominated and to have a daddy. Also, among men, having a negative relationship with one’s mother or father was linked to engaging in sexual activity with a mommy or daddy figure, respectively; in contrast, having a positive relationship with one’s mother or father were both linked to viewing diapers as sexually stimulating and placing more emphasis on sexual enjoyment from their ABDL activities.
Lastly, most men (87%) and women (91%) reported that their ABDL activities had never caused major problems or distress in their lives. In addition, participants’ mood states were largely unrelated to their ABDL practices. This suggests that most persons with ABDL interests would be unlikely to meet criteria for it to be considered a paraphilic disorder.
This study is not without its limitations. For instance, we do not know to what extent the participants recruited reflect the broader ABDL community. Likewise, it may be possible that those who are more comfortable with their ABDL interests self-selected into this study.
That said, this exploratory study provides a revealing look into a rarely examined sexual interest. The results suggest that (1) the ABDL community is comprised of individuals who engage in a diverse range of practices, (2) that there may be subgroups within it involving persons with differing interests and motivations, and (3) that practicing ABDL activities is not linked to personal distress for most participants.
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To learn more about this research, see: Hawkinson, K., & Zamboni, B. D. (2014). Adult baby/diaper lovers: An exploratory study of an online community sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(5), 863-877.
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