By Dan Savage
5:00 AM EDT, August 21, 2013
I recently discovered that my 14-year-old stepson, who lives with us full-time, has been stealing, wearing, soiling, and hiding his toddler sister's pull-ups. I've found them after he hides them in his closet, which also serves as a general storage area. After discussions with him, I'm certain that wearing them is a pleasure thing for him. (He says "curiosity," but this has been going on so long that he knows what it feels like.) He has even stolen some of the neighbor girl's Baby Alive doll diapers to wear and soil. We've told him he has to stop stealing diapers — from our neighbor, because stealing is wrong, and from us, because these things are flippin' expensive. We are pretty grossed out by it, despite being pretty open-minded people. I may be more grossed out by the prospect of piles of dirty diapers hidden somewhere in the house, but the thought of purposely peeing your pants isn't pleasant, either. I believe we have a fetish growing here, and I don't think a parent needs to be involved in it, but he's stinking up the joint.
— Parent Is Seriously Stumped
Is your stepson a diaper perv? Maybe he is, maybe he isn't.
"This may only be a case of 'curiosity,' just as his stepson says," said Jesse Bering, PhD, a research psychologist and science writer who regularly contributes to Slate, Scientific American, and other publications. "Young teenagers can't express their overwhelming urges easily. We provide no 'socially appropriate' sexual outlets for 14-year-olds, masturbation aside — which, let's face it, can get monotonous. So his stepson may simply be exploring the available materials that he, ahem, comes across."
Bering, who just finished his second book about human sexuality (Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us), remembers doing some pretty freaky stuff himself at age 14. "I recall some exciting moments involving peeing in the bathroom sink," said Bering. "It's hard for me to get into the head of that lascivious kid I once was. The idea of pissing in the sink with an erection while looking at myself buck naked in the mirror isn't particularly arousing to me these days."
Since it's share time in group: I remember stealing panty hose when I was 14 — I've never told anyone about this — and I enjoyed some exciting moments looking in a mirror while wearing them. Just as Bering didn't grow up to be a pee-in-the-sink fetishist, I didn't grow up to be a panty-hose-in-the-mirror fetishist. So while it's probable that your stepson is a budding diaper fetishist, it's also possible that he's just horny and experimenting. That said…
"Even if it turns out that his stepson is really into diapers, it's a pretty harmless fetish," said Bering. "As with any paraphilia, it would be next to impossible to 'cure,' even at his young age. It's just something he'll need to learn how to handle responsibly. You may be grossed out and, yes, a festering pile of discarded diapers stuffed under his bed would be a sanitary problem, but never underestimate the power of a frank conversation grounded in truly unconditional love."
Start that frank conversation by reassuring your stepson that you love him. Tell him that most humans are a little bit perverted — that's what Bering's new book is about — but our kinks are private, and you're only talking to him about his thing for diapers because he hasn't been very successful at keeping it private. Then cut him a deal: If he makes an effort to discreetly dispose of any diapers he soils, you won't go looking for them and you'll keep your mouth shut if you find one or two in the bottom of the trash bin out back.
"On the theft problem," said Bering, "a 14-year-old diaper fetishist can't just run to the store to buy erotic supplies out of his own paycheck. So let him earn enough money to buy a few pairs of pull-ups here and there by doing chores around the house. And while the stealing is definitely worrisome, it does provide a convenient, less awkward way for you to address the fetishism issue. Stealing from the neighbors is the main reason, you can tell your stepson, that you've decided to bring him to see a therapist. A good psychologist can then explore the reasons for his kleptomania and lend a sympathetic and nonparental ear for him to talk openly about any taboo feelings."
I'm a 19-year-old male college student. I lost two and a half fingers on my right hand in an accident when I was 13. I am otherwise good-looking and in shape — but what does that matter? A counselor once told me, "A true lady of class will love you for who you are." I have never wanted to punch someone so hard. Bullshit. I don't want to listen to politically correct "feel-good" crap. I'm disfigured, not stupid. Children fear me! And what sort of woman would look at me with desire when whole men can be found everywhere? Don't tell me to go to counseling. I go to counseling. Do not give me the link to some useless "support" group's website. What is there to do? How could I possibly approach a woman with confidence?
— Don't Insult My Intelligence
Here's something you can do: Get the fuck over yourself.
I know that's harsh, DIMI, but I'm thinking harsh is what you came to me for. If it isn't — if what you wanted was more ladies-of-class bullshit with a side of warm and syrupy sympathy — then you might wanna skip the rest of my response.
Look, motherfucker, there are people out there with missing limbs, who were badly burned in fires, with disfiguring birth defects. One day volunteering in a burn ward or at Walter Reed might help you put your mangled hand in some sort of perspective. Because it could be worse. And burn victims and people with missing limbs and people with birth defects? Lots and lots of them are out there dating and getting laid and finding partners despite the cruel looks they sometimes get from thoughtless children.
Yes, some women will be turned off by your right hand, and that sucks. But some won't care. And while there might be one or two women out there who'll find you more attractive as a result of your accident — I've never received a letter from a woman with a fetish for missing fingers, but I'll doubtless hear from at least one after your letter runs — I can tell you this for sure: No one is attracted to a person who is paralyzed by self-pity. Each and every one of us moves through life covered with scars, DIMI, some more visible than others. Life has a way of carving chunks out of all of us — literal chunks in some cases. All we can do is make the best of what we have or what we have left.
So get the fuck over yourself, get the fuck out of the house, and go meet women. If you're worried that your right hand is the first thing a woman notices, get a prosthesis made or wear a glove. And while you may be tempted to blame your right hand for your lack of romantic success, DIMI, remember that very few people your age — people with 10 intact fingers — have met with much romantic success.
I'm sorry about your accident, DIMI, I really am. Good luck.
On this week's Savage Lovecast: Dan chats with OKCupid cofounder Christian Rudder about strategies in online dating, at savagelovecast.com.
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