The New Diaper Primer

Chapter 2: Diapers Get A Bum Rap

As if incontinence were not bad enough to deal with by itself, we also face the extreme negative image of diapers. Diapers are generally admitted by most to be the most practical and perhaps even most effective way of dealing with incontinence, but the image of diapers as strictly infantile is rooted in our minds from our days of potty training. Are not the majority of children urged out of diapers because "only babies wear diapers?" If a youngster has an accident, he's referred to as "a baby" and threatened with: "We'll have to put you back in diapers if ...." That is such a universal approach for parents in their haste to get past the diaper stage with their kids, that diapers have this unshakable stigma of symbolizing infantile behavior. Wearing diapers means that you haven't progressed; you are going backwards; you are not making the grade; you are not up to par; and so on.

This social stigma forces diaper manufacturers to devise interesting names for diapers! Notice that you will not find the word "diaper" on any package of anything that cannot be marketed strictly as baby diapers. Our adult disposable products have become "undergarments," "shields," or "briefs". The same stigma applies to diapers for older kids. Look at the marketing approach there. Diaper will not appear on the package: Good Heavens, no! If they are labeled "diapers," they won't sell because no kid would wear them. Instead, we have "Pull Ups Disposable Training Pants," and "Good Nites Disposable Protective Underpants". The "underwear" idea has caught on: manufacturers are now making pull-on protective underwear for us adult users!

An anecdote on these euphemisms showing the real confusion that can result comes from a recent shopping experience when collecting a case of disposable diapers at Sears at the package pick-up counter. There, big, heavy or bulky items are carried or wheeled to your car. A young man toting a case of diapers on his shoulder says, as he and the driver proceed to the car, "This is a good idea, disposable underwear! I hate to do laundry! Are they expensive?" The driver had no choice but to tell him quietly that they were diapers. The young man was astounded and, of course, embarrassed. He really didn't know and took the wording on the package, "disposable brief" very literally.

Formal definitions do nothing to dispel the infantile image; here are two standard definitions:

American Heritage dictionary defines diaper as a baby's garment consisting of folded cloth or other material used to cover the genitals and anus.

For Webster's New Collegiate dictionary, the definition runs as a diaper being a basic garment for infants consisting of a folded cloth or other absorbent material drawn up between the legs and fastened around the waist.

The term "infant" or "baby" is employed in both these definitions! Neither one directly tells us what purpose a diaper serves ... that's left up to your imagination.

This infantile image keeps many, if not most, incontinent children and adults out of diapers and struggling with leaks, wet beds and so on. We can still cringe to hear the oft-told story of a bed-wetting youngster and the mounds of laundry daily with sheets, blankets, pajamas, not to mention the emotional stress and loss of sleep from interruptions during the night. But if we were to suggest it might be much easier on everyone if the youngster wore diapers to bed, the reply would be an astonished and/or indignant stare while maintaining that the youngster is too old to be wearing diapers. Again, that unshakable stigma!

We, the great number of incontinent adults in society, want to dispel this negative image. It won't be easy, but we are thinking and sensible adults, are we not? Try our definition of diaper:

An undergarment consisting of waterproof plastic sheeting and absorbent material such as cellulose fluff and polymer gel crystals worn in place of underpants, fastened with adhesive tapes at the waist. Bodily waste excretions are contained and disposed along with the diaper after use.

An alternate, older definition would be:

Absorbent cloth, usually cotton, folded or layered and worn as an undergarment drawn up between the legs and fastened around the waist to collect and hold body waste excretions when the wearer is unable to manage such functions due to lack of maturity (as with infants) or incontinence. Waterproof pants must be worn over diapers to protect other clothing.

We consider these definitions to be fairer and more realistic, but we also recognize that the long-standing negative social stigma will not disappear overnight or possibly ever.

You will continue to find well-meaning people challenging your choice of diapers to manage incontinence, not the least of which may be our health-care professionals. They are most likely the ones to point out clean intermitted self catherization, external collection devices, certainly exercises and drugs and possibly surgical procedures. Usually they do NOT recommend diapers and may even ask you why you would ever consider wearing a diaper... after all, diapers are for babies. Yes, we have been handed that line!

We do feel sympathy for those unfortunate incontinent folks who are struggling, and we do mean struggling, through life with exercises, drugs, timed toileting, external collection devices, etc., and LEAKS. Their lives are filled with embarrassing episodes, damaged furniture, ruined social events and...even worse, withdrawal from social contact and activities. Talk about incontinence running your life; that's more like incontinence RUINING your life!

Diaper users also include Adult-Baby and Diaper-Lover folks, usually referred to as AB/DL. Their postings and websites are easy to find on the internet while surfing for incontinence and diaper issues. AB/DL individuals have no problem wearing diapers; they love them and wear them with, for the most part, no physiological need to do so. This writer has become somewhat intolerant of the AB/DL crowd primarily because of frequent take-overs of internet sites that have been intentionally constructed to address incontinence and bedwetting. In spite of hundreds of sites already dedicated to diaper fantasies, there seems to be a delight in infiltrating serious sites while posing as incontinents. Those who have experienced regression to child- or babyhood and baby play will enjoy the AB sites. Or, if sex and X-rated activities are of interest, you will enjoy the DL sites. But we do not have to belabor this point. We mention it principally to add one more "drawback" to wearing diapers. You could be considered DL- or AB-oriented merely because you choose to wear diapers to manage your incontinence.

But with these negative observations aside, let us give the AB/DL crowd their due. They outnumber incontinent persons in the world by a huge majority. If incontinents were alone in clamoring for better cloth diapers and higher-quality plastic pants, these improvements would never have happened. We have no doubt that the growth of the cloth-diaper industry and the availability of high-quality plastic pants in a huge variety results from market demand primarily by the AB/DL crowd. So we need to live and let live.

We, incontinent folks, now benefit from a wide selection of vendors offering excellent diapers and waterproof pants, thanks largely to the demand provided by the AB/DL crowd. Many of you may not remember or have even heard about the limited the selection of diapers and plastic pants just a couple of decades ago before the internet expansion and before the purchasing power of the AB/DL crowd. On the word of a veteran incontinent person; it was pathetic! So bad, in fact, that some took to sewing their own diapers and plastic pants! Now that was the pits!

So times have changed. There are at least two distinguishable sets of diaper users - incontinent persons and those mainly without physiological problems who have grown attached to diapering for other reasons. The market for diaper products has thus expanded with demands for higher-quality products. But the stigma remains. Diapers are still a bum (w)rap!

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©2005 Incontinence Support Center