Savage Love: Kinky Kid

Dear Dan —

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, Ph.D., 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."

Bering's new book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, will be released October 8, but it can (and should!) be preordered now. Follow him on Twitter—@jessebering—to read his highly entertaining #DailyDeviant posts.

On this week's Savage Lovecast: Dan chats with OKCupid cofounder Christian Rudder about strategies in online dating, at