Ask Patrick: Don't upset the baby

By on October 18, 2010

Patrick: I was shocked and upset by your column about the married couple who were fighting about the husband’s involvement in adult baby activities. You stereotyped this fantasy as ‚”fetish‚” and pathologized it by saying it was the result of unmet developmental needs during early childhood. Then you proceeded to validate his wife for her intolerance toward her husband. If anything, you did an even better job of shaming him than his wife! How can you claim to write an expert’s point of view on our scene if you can’t educate yourself about the legitimacy of somebody else’s lifestyle. Presenting us as psychologically impaired and more self-centered than the sadists and masochists you repeatedly celebrate is disgraceful.–Baby Jenny

Dear Baby Jenny: I’m sorry that something I wrote upset you and made you feel judged or invalidated. That was not my intention. In retrospect, I wish I had phrased my answer more carefully and defined some of my terms.
You are certainly correct that the term ‚”fetish‚” has had negative connotations. In its original context, it was used to refer to sexual activity that was compulsive and pathological. Elsewhere, I have written about the fact that everyone (even those who are exclusively vanilla in their preferences) have erotic triggers and signals. But our culture validates the desire for things like big breasts or huge cocks. So nobody refers to these things as fetishes. But they are, Blanche, they are! When I use the term ‚”fetish‚” I am just referring to a sexual response to an inanimate object, a part of the body, or a detailed scenario. It’s meant to be value-neutral. I have a bunch of fetishes, including a fetish for caning quivering buttocks and pretty girls or boys dressed in corsets and high heels.
When I talked about the possible psychological origins of infantilism, I was trying to get this man’s wife to see that she had grounds for extending him some compassion and understanding. If the letter had been about masochism or some other kinky activity, I probably would have come up with some alternative reason for her to see somebody else’s sexuality in sympathetic terms. I sincerely apologize for any stigma that I might have reinforced. I should have picked some other way to make infantilism seem less frightening or strange to her.
I don’t know if it would repair your trust to let you know that I’ve topped people in scenes like this. It isn’t my exclusive favorite, but I do understand the appeal of age regression. People can be healed and very moved by the opportunity to be cared for completely, the same way that infants are cherished. I think infantilism makes people uncomfortable in part because an adult baby is very vulnerable and not trying to make themselves look good or be in control like a mundane adult. Maybe all of us are afraid to be that helpless or to let go and re-experience the fragmented consciousness and intense needs of a newborn. Even slightly older ‚”children‚” can be ridiculed. But we all have unfinished business from childhood. There’s some potent psychodrama waiting to happen there. Age play of all types may not look intense from the standpoint of pain or bondage, but there are many kinds of risk and many edges in the kinky world. One of those edges has to do with opening up to aspects of the self that are less mature, more spontaneous, perhaps naive or full of unquestioning love. Edge play can be emotional or psychological rather than solely physical.
Thank you for writing with a different opinion. I appreciate it when people let me know they are reading the column and have a reaction to it.

Patrick Califia is a therapist in private practice in Northern California. His practice includes internet consultations as well as face-to-face psychotherapy. He is a prolific author who has published widely about BDSM and sexual politics. Patrick’s books include Macho Sluts, Sensuous Magic, and Public Sex: The Politics of Radical Sex.

This column is not intended to offer medical or legal advice. It is for educational and entertainment purposes only. If you need medical or legal advice, see a doctor or lawyer!

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