Paraphilic infantilism is a paraphilia characterized by the desire to wear diapers and be treated as an infant or toddler. One who engages in infantilistic play is known as an adult baby (AB). About one in three adult babies is also a diaper lover (DL), so they are collectively known as AB/DLs. The majority of infantilists are heterosexual males.
Paraphilic infantilism and diaper fetishes differ in self-image and the focus of attention. However, they can coexist in individuals and have some similarities in practice. Neither include a sexual preference for children. There is no singular, archetypical infantilism, but a range. Some fantasize about being free of guilt, responsibility, or control while others might not. Some act indistinguishably from a baby at times, while others practice in a way that would be unnoticed by passers by on the street. The desires and tastes of infantilists vary around common themes of diapers and babyhood.
Paraphilic infantilism contrasted with diaper fetishes
One way to describe paraphilic infantilism is to contrast it with a diaper fetish, and this contrast is most clear in fantasies. Although there is no typical AB/DL fantasy, they often fall within two extremes. One extreme involves the fantasy of being an infant or small child; adorable, sexually innocent, and powerless. The infant fantasy might involve diapers, baby clothes, and toys to help define the infant's role. In the end, the infant might drift off to sleep in a soft crib. The other extreme is the erotic lover. The lover fantasy would focus on diapers as fetish items, sexually charged objects. The lover fantasy would end in orgasm and ejaculation.
Most individuals who have these fantasies do not seek psychotherapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, if there is significant distress or impairment for a period of over six months, paraphilic infantilism or fetishism might be diagnosed, depending on the focus. The urges and fantasies caused by diaper fetishes focus on the diapers themselves, while infantilism focuses on becoming a baby. (Please note that many published cases are only tangentially related to infantilism and diaper fetishism and should not be confused with the basic paraphilias.)
In practice, the distinction between the two is much narrower; both involve diapers and adults. Those who try to act out the infant fantasy or similar ones are called Adult Babies (ABs). This may involve adult sized diapers and baby clothes, etc. If their partner is willing, they may engage in mother/baby roleplay. The adult baby may choose not to engage in sex while they are in the baby role, since it isn't babylike. In contrast, diaper fetishes are much more practical. They may involve adding diapers to otherwise ordinary sexual activities. Those who do are called Diaper Lovers (DLs). Neither are adult baby practices exclusive to paraphilic infantilists, nor diaper lover practices exclusive to diaper fetishists. Many AB/DLs describe themselves as 'mostly AB' or 'mostly DL,' based on which they engage in more frequently. Those with urophilia and coprophilia may enjoy similar practices.
To quickly summarize the theoretical differences, adult babies might have paraphilic infantilism, their interests are self-image or alter-ego focused, and might refrain from sexual activities during adult baby play. In contrast, diaper lovers might have a diaper fetish, their interests are directed at a sexual fetish object, and don't inherently involve roleplay. In practice, the differences among AB/DLs are much less well-defined
Confusing infantilism with pedophilia is a common misunderstanding. Pedophilia is a sexual preference for pre-pubescent children. In contrast, infantilists have a desire to be infants themselves, and those with a diaper fetish have a sexual interest in diapers. Generally, they have ordinary heterosexual or homosexual sexual experiences otherwise. Inside the AB/DL communities, a sharp distinction is observed. Most AB/DL organizations will expel child molesters.
'Paraphilic infantilism' is usually shortened to 'infantilism.' This can lead to some misunderstandings, since 'infantilism' can also mean 'lacking development.' Mental retardation involves never having achieved an average maturity, in contrast to adult babies, who actively set their maturity aside. In turn, psychosexual infantilism, a term coined by Freud, referred to those who haven't "matured" through the psychosexual stages into heterosexuality. Psychosexual infantilism includes paraphilic infantilism as well as other paraphilias and sexual orientations. Finally, regression is a broad term with many meanings. Adult babies regress, but those who regress aren't necessarily adult babies.
Practical or voluntary use
Those who wear diapers because of incontinence are probably not AB/DLs. While they may wear and use diapers, they aren’t necessarily doing it to express an alternate self-image or indulge a fetish. This also applies to those who use diapers for practical reasons, such as astronauts and scuba divers. Finally, there are some who start wearing diapers as a "new kink."
There are many that wear diapers but are not paraphilic infantilists or diaper fetishists in the strictest sense. Their motivations and underlying mechanisms are different. However, those who share AB/DL interests and practices are generally welcome in the communities, and may sometimes be counted as AB/DLs.
Common fantasy elements
Force or coercion is sometimes present in AB/DL fantasies. This can range from the inclusion of S&M or B&D play into AB scenarios through to more specifically AB scenarios such as the Diaper Discipline, or Petticoat Punishment in which a supposed older child or adult is regressed into a baby-state as punishment for misdemeanors. This can sometimes form a validation activity, where the AB mitigates their guilt for having AB desires with the fact that they are only in nappies as a punishment.
AB/DLs may enjoy looking at pictures showing whom they want to be, as opposed to whom they want to be with. For example, a heterosexual male adult baby may enjoy looking at pictures of men in diapers: he may be imagining himself as the men in the diapers.
A common fantasy among adult babies involves a permanent return to a more infantile position. This is a special case of a desire to regress, common among adult babies. This may involve being put back in diapers or returned to the nursery for the rest of their life. These fantasies may be enjoyed even by ABs who are consciously aware that they would not want to give up their adult lives.
Modesty and self-consciousness are not expected from infants and small children. Babies can be out in public in just a diaper and t-shirt, and can have their diaper changed in public. There are no local, state, or national laws that prohibit adults from wearing diapers, t-shirts, diaper covers, or body suits (onesies). Nonetheless, an adult in an uncovered diaper can expect to be treated like any adult in uncovered underwear, although no citations to support this statement are offered here.
Just as a baby has no responsibilities, they also have no privacy. The inclusion of scenarios where the AB is not granted genital privacy and has no rights of complaint or choice of activity can provide a return to a baby-state and can allow deep immersion in the baby mindset. In this context the AB is usually not allowed to touch themselves, but may have their nappy changed, their body cleaned, their genitals examined, and even be internally examined or given enemas/suppositories etc. without any warning, choice of circumstances or control over who is present. Their right to control access to their genitals is completely disregarded.
Sissy babies, cross-dressing
A sissy baby  is a male AB/DL who mixes gender play with infantilism. This cross-dressing might involve stereotypical or exaggerated "little girl" clothing, such as frilly panties or dresses. Sissies are not necessarily transsexual in that, while some might be expressing an alter ego that is a baby girl, they might not wish to be an adult woman at other times.
A separate group enjoys the masochistic demasculinization of being dressed as baby girl, analogous to non-AB/DL masochists who enjoy being cross-dressed by force.
Integrating other interests
The individual AB/DL may have other interests that have become integrated with AB/DL. Sissys are one example. In turn, a babyfur has integrated infantilism and furry fandom. Sissys and babyfurs are among many groups resulting from the integration of side-interests with infantilism. The combinations can themselves be combined in countless ways. For example, there are sissy babyfurs.
There are many different causes for Paraphilic Infantilism, and most AB/DLs are unaware of any specific reason for their AB/DL nature. Many AB/DLs describe incidents throughout their life from a young age that indicate that the inclination has been with them for a long time. Others discover a joy in it later in life.
Relief from stress
It seems common for "relief from stress" to be indicated as an important aspect, but it can be hard to determine if the stress results from the AB/DL nature or the AB/DL nature provides an escape from the stress. In either regard the attitude is often that in child-state there are none of the responsibilities of day-to-day life. This may be indicative of difficulties and stresses during toilet training, given that bladder/bowel control is the first responsibility most children are taught. In certain people who partake in the AB/DL life style the stress relief comes in when they are acting or role playing as babies especially if they have a mommy, a daddy or a sitter looking after their every need, for example diaper changes, feeding and bathing.
Specific incidents may have occurred during childhood or adolescence that have caused nappies to get a sexual association, or that caused the developing child to feel safer when still in nappies. Examples can include so-called diaper-discipline still sometimes practiced on wayward children/teens, sexual abuse, or even simple chances of circumstance such as loss of a parent at the critical point of development. A number of AB/DL's report developmental delays in their bladder and/or bowel training, such as late bedwetting.
Particularly amongst sissy-babies, but also amongst some other AB/DLs, the time as a baby may be associated with softness and aspects of life seen as more feminine. This can then show as an AB/DL fetish later in life when trying to unravel unexpressed elements of femininity.
There is a strong tendency for AB/DLs to be male publicly. Estimates often quoted seem to claim around 95%. There are a number of reasons suggested for this, but females also play a high part role in this behind closed doors some reasons including the following...
The baby role is specifically powerless. Social powerlessness is all too common for women and there can be a need to defend against that. Men are more likely to find powerlessness appealing as a contrast to their normal circumstances.
The associations women are taught to have with children are in a nurturing role, and are likely to be strongly non-sexual. As a result the sexual connotations of adult-babies are likely to be negative.
Many AB/DLs seek a feminine role or the aspects of being a baby commonly associated with femininity (soft/fleecy clothing, lace, being seen as cute/attractive, not being seen as threatening etc.) A woman with a love for these can choose normal day-wear that will satisfy most of these desires. For the most part this is not an option for men.
While both genders suffer many stresses as adults, modern society offers few outlets for stress relief for men. The opportunity to regress to a childlike non-responsible state would seem likely therefore to be more appealing to men than to women.
Men seem to be more open telling people online or in other mediums about their AB/DL Likes/Needs where the more feminine woman would prefer to keep things to themselves. Lots of women wear, use and play in diapers like men but like to do it with their partners in their own homes and also kept between themselves.
Some women prefer to be the mommy or carer of an AB/DL as it might give them a sense of need after a child has left home or maybe a loss of a child or the inability to have a child in their younger years. Just as in having a beloved doll as a child, their "AB" would now be their baby to fulfill their mothering desires.
Aside from the many things that AB/DLs would like to do, but cannot, there is an extensive list of practices that they might actually engage in. Some common elements and practices are listed here.
A central practice to AB/DL is wearing a diaper. When wearing diapers, many AB/DLs like to urinate in them, and a smaller number, defecate in them. Others do not because they find such practices disgusting, do not enjoy it, do not want to go through the cleanup afterward, or wouldn't be able to without being obvious. Some AB/DLs have difficulty wetting their diapers when they want to, as the result of overtrained bladders or paruresis.
A common compromise between wanting to wear diapers and needing to go about daily life is to wear diapers under normal clothing. When adult babies do so, it is in their everyday mindset, as opposed to an infantile one. A few adult babies wear diapers all the time, and may seek to develop urinary incontinence. The level of enjoyment in wearing diapers all the time is mixed, and it may have lasting effects; some adult babies have found that the enjoyment diminishes rapidly when the need to wear diapers is always present. Other AB/DLs enjoy wearing diapers intermittently more than they would enjoy wearing them all the time.
A difficult choice that AB/DLs must make involves who to tell about their interests. This offers the possibility of being accepted for who they are, and not having to hide. However, it also includes the risk of disgrace at home, school, and work, or on the Internet. It is human nature to reject things that are different of others to ones-self, the existentialist would challenge the criticisms of those around them to help develop their own niche in the world, which the internet has helped with.
A difficult part of life as an AB/DL is finding a compatible spouse. For diaper lovers, the search is difficult because there are few diaper lovers in the general population. Most people aren't particularly aroused by diapers. In contrast, adult babies would be seeking more of a caregiver. This search is hard since the desire to care for an adult baby is rare. Female AB/DLs are not necessarily willing to be mommies. Some AB/DLs are willing to be 'switch' mothers or fathers. There is even some who switch between being a baby and the mom or dad.
Growing up as an AB/DL
Teens who are infantilists are often referred to as teen babies (TB). Generally, adult baby and teen baby are not used in an exclusive manner. Teens who are adult babies are also teen babies. Infantilist teens often struggle with their urges for infantile items, treatment, or behavior. Often, the hardest part of this struggle is telling other people about these feelings - doing so during adolescence can mean social or parental rejection and, in some cases, can also lead to abuse and violence. Teen infantile behavior varies heavily and can be influenced by factors such as puberty, privacy and life stressors.
While feelings of isolation are still a common part of the youths of AB/DLs, a number of online communities have developed, many of which have grown due to the increasing ease of accessing the internet. Before the age of the internet it was not uncommon for a teen diaper wearer to feel extreme isolation, and would often feel they might be the only one to like diapers. Now they can be open with people like them.
While the tastes and collections of individual ABs differ, some items that might be involved include diapers, onesies, blanket sleepers, cribs, playpens, Plastic pants ,high chairs, baby bottles, pacifiers, Baby Powder, Baby Lotion, Dollies, and stuffed animals.
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