Jeremy, a pseudonymous 35-year-old who lives just outside of Chicago, loves everything about being a father — reading to his son, feeding him, even waking up in the middle of the night and changing his diaper.
In fact, Jeremy is really good at changing diapers — not least because he wears one himself.
Jeremy is an infantilist, or in layman’s terms, an “adult baby.” That means that when he role-plays in his baby persona with his girlfriend, who is also the mother of his son, he wears adult diapers, drinks milk from a bottle and cries incessantly, stopping only when a pacifier is put in his mouth. And yes, he does soil his diaper. But he’s sure to make clear to me that his girlfriend won’t clean that up for him.
To most, Adult Babies and Diaper Lovers (AB/DL) is a niche fetish that exists at the fringes of kink, partly because the little research that does exist about the community tends to be centered around “autonepiophilia,” a term coined by psychologist John Money in specific reference to diaper fetishism. Newer research, however, views AB/DL as a more complicated psychological phenomenon, often completely divorced from sex and more of a response to significant trauma, stress or depression. In his book Adult Babies: Who Are We and What Do We Do?, self-described “adult baby” Michael Bent describes AB/DL as a diverse “way of living” in which some people choose to role-play as infants in order to break away from the demands of everyday life, while others opt to wear diapers because they’re “a more natural alternative to toilets.”
Because most AB/DLs who role-play imitate the behavior of young children, though, most stay closeted, terrified of being associated with pedophilia. Of course, that fear intensifies tenfold when you’re an actual parent of an actual infant. “I’ve been doing age play since my teens,” Jeremy tells me from his home, where he’s currently watching his son. “For me, it’s about role-play, in the same way we think about live-action role-playing games, or even video games. It’s a short period of time where you aren’t constrained by any [social] expectations, in a controlled environment where the other people [involved] have consented.”
“People assume that AB/DL is just one thing, and usually, they imagine that’s a real extreme end, where someone opts to give up their adulthood to become a baby,” Jeremy continues. “But some AB/DLs just like wearing diapers. Some do everything except wear them. Sometimes age-play is sexual, but sometimes it’s not. Lots of AB/DLs have partners who encourage them because they can see that [AB/DL] is good for their mental health.”
On AB/DL support forums like The Adult Baby, Diaper Lover & Incontinence Support Community, parents often seek advice on how to tell family members about their AB/DL interests. Sometimes, they’ll talk about the logistics of being an adult baby and a parent themselves, including the difficulties in hiding age-play related toys or switching between their adult baby and adult parent personas (One of the most frequent questions is how a parent can teach their child to potty train while they’re trying to “unlearn” it.)
Laugh if you must, but as Mark (also a pseudonym), the 48-year-old moderator of the AB/DL Group on Facebook, tells me, “These people are just trying to make sure they can be good parents, while doing things that make them who they are.”
Mark describes himself as someone who prefers wearing diapers, rather than being an “adult baby.” As such, on most days, he’ll wear a diaper as opposed to underwear simply because he finds it more comfortable. And though he’s never soiled himself, he does say, shyly, that he’s urinated in his diaper as part of sex with his wife.
He’s also the father of two sons, both in their early teens. Unlike a lot of children of AB/DLs, however, both of his sons are knowing and understanding of Mark’s lifestyle. “I told them a few years ago, when they found a box of diapers in the back of our shed!” Mark laughs. “It’s a weird experience because obviously we associate diapers with babies — and weakness. As a dad, I need to be able to be an authority to my kids. I need to make sure they have discipline, and that they aren’t disrespectful to me or their mom.”
Navigating this dilemma was tricky, Mark says. But it also taught him a lesson about the importance of being honest with his family. “Obviously I didn’t go through all the grim details, but I told them that wearing [diapers] made me feel more comfortable and happier,” he tells me. It was actually a conversation Mark wanted to have with them for a long time. “I grew up with a tough dad, who expected me to be a rough-and-tough guy, so much so that I ended up hiding a lot of things in my life,” he recalls, his voice breaking slightly. “I wanted my sons to know that I’ll always love them for who they are and whatever they do with their lives.”
Still, Mark doesn’t wear diapers when he goes out with his sons. And when his sons’ friends come to the house, Mark puts his bags of diapers in a discreet, locked cabinet, and opts to wear one of his five pairs of loose cotton boxer briefs — the closest he could find to his favorite Bambino classic diapers.
As for Jeremy, he isn’t sure if he’ll ever tell his son about being an adult baby. Other than his girlfriend, no one else in his life knows about the age-play games that take place when his in-laws look after his son on the weekends. Friends who visit assume that the abundance of pacifiers, baby food and baby milk is for his son — a situation that Jeremy knows obviously won’t last forever.
What Jeremy does say, though, is that by the time he does have to pack up his son’s toys, he hopes that his age-playing will have made him a better father. After all, he explains, if being a parent is understanding how to respond to your child’s emotions, then becoming a baby might provide good insight into those feelings. In that way, Jeremy says going back to being a baby isn’t just about his personal needs or gratification; it’s also a way to learn how to express compassion for his son.
“Age-playing is really just about making you see the world differently, through someone else’s experiences,” Jeremy says. “If you don’t do that, you can’t really understand what anyone needs from you. And isn’t that what good parenting is all about?”