Paraphilic Infantilism is Not Pedophilia

While most people have very strong, intense reactions to the practice of pedophilia, there are many misconceptions about the disorder. In particular, most people are not aware of the difference between pedophilia and paraphilic infantilism, if they are cognizant of paraphilic infantilism at all. This article clarifies the distinction between the two behaviors, which can have significant implications for the realm of law and public opinion.

What is Pedophilia?

Pedophilia is defined as sexual feelings and attraction to prepubescent children. It falls under the category of a paraphilia, which is a condition characterized by “abnormal” sexual desires. Defining abnormal, of course, is a loaded and culturally contextual exercise, though it is most often taken to mean extreme, dangerous, and harmful activities. Other paraphilias include voyeurism, exhibitionism, masochism, and sadism.

It is also important to note the difference between a paraphilia and a paraphilic disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), paraphilia, in and of itself, does not require psychiatric treatment. A paraphilic disorder, on the other hand, is a paraphilia that causes distress or harm to the individual whose satisfaction is tied to the harm, or risk of harm, to himself or others.

Pedophilia is defined by desires, urges, and fantasies of sexual activity with children under the age of 13 or so (i.e., before they reach puberty). Pedophilia crosses into the territory of a paraphilic disorder when the individual at hand acts on his sexual desires or is otherwise distressed by the challenges his urges pose to him as an individual or on an interpersonal level.

This is an important distinction. Not all pedophiles act on their desires. Some, in fact, go through tremendous efforts in order to fight their sexual feelings. However, any form of acting on pedophilic desires is dangerous and harmful, which explains the intense societal and legal disdain and contempt for the pedophilic disorder.

What is Paraphilic Infantilism?

Paraphilic infantilism is defined as the sexual desire to be or act like a baby. (See Sunil M. Doshi, Kalpesh Zanzrukiya, Lavlesh Kumar. Paraphilic infantilism, diaperism and pedophilia: A review. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 56 (2018) 12-15.)This includes the desire to engage in such activities as wearing a diaper, crawling, bottle feeding, sleeping in a crib, playing with toys, and so on. Including these behaviors in one’s sexual life falls under the category of age play, a type of role-playing that involves pretending to be a different age than one truly is. Individuals who participate in this behavior are often referred to as adult babies.

Engaging in age play as an adult baby is not always concurrent with a sexual act, though it may be. Adult babies may role-play with partners who take on the role of a caretaker or parent, though they may also choose only to pleasure themselves or even to exclude sexuality from the roleplay altogether, viewing sex as antithetical to the state of being an infant.

Often, paraphilic infantilism has a component of BDSM or power play. Part of the gratification that adult babies receive from role-playing as an infant may be related to the state of being submissive to a dominating partner. When this is the case, paraphilic infantilism may involve behaviors such as spanking, bondage, humiliation, and discipline.

Differences Between Paraphilic Infantilism and Pedophilia

Though both paraphilias are connected to childhood, paraphilic infantilism and pedophilia are decidedly and crucially distinct. Adult babies do not feel sexual attraction to actual children. Rather, they want to be a child - a baby, to be exact. Paraphilic infantilists do not seek children as sexual partners or to harm minors.

Nonetheless, the public, child welfare agency social workers and others may confuse the two, associating the dangerous, harmful, and illegal connotations of pedophilia with paraphilic infantilism. While many may find the paraphilia to be unusual or even distasteful or objectionable, paraphilic infantilism is not comparable to pedophilia and, in fact, many infantilists actively seek to avoid and distance themselves from children and may even be protective of actual children.

It should be noted that paraphilic infantilism, when undertaken between consenting adults, does not break any laws. It may be socially taboo, but adult babies are not comparable to pedophiles and the paraphilias are distinct. While reactions to pedophilia of anger, disgust, and outrage can be explained by the paraphilia’s damaging nature - to put it lightly - applying the same response to paraphilic infantilism constitutes, to use a recent term, no more than “kink-shaming.”