The Taboo Behind the Taboo of Incontinence
Woman wearing incontinence diaper isolated on white

It’s an issue the majority of people don’t want to discuss and when they do talk about it they do so in hushed tones. Cheryle B. Gartley, president of the Simon Foundation for Continence calls it “a closet issue within the closet issue of urinary incontinence.” I’m referring to adult bedwetting. The clinical term for it is nocturnal enuresis and though most people associate it with children and adolescents, there are a significant number of people who deal with this issue their entire life. Adult bedwetting may be more prevalent than people realize but due to the stigma surrounding this condition the exact figures may never be known.

The National Association for Continence (NAFC) has this to say regarding adult bedwetting: “Adult bedwetting. It’s a rarely talked about condition, but is one that affects many people. In fact, NAFC receives more visits to the adult bedwetting pages than any other pages on our site. People struggle with this condition for all sorts of reasons – spinal cord injuries, neurological diseases, and even stress can cause bedwetting. And sometimes there can be seemingly no cause at all, which makes it all the more frustrating to address. Most people who wet the bed are desperate for a solution. They find it deeply embarrassing, and it greatly affects their quality of life, as they are constantly dealing with keeping things clean and worried about how it will affect current or future relationships.”                       

This article discusses my experiences with adult bedwetting. I have several reasons for writing this article. One reason is to provide suggestions on how to tell your significant other you wear nighttime protection because you wet the bed. The fact that you have to wear protection to bed is a very difficult topic to broach with your loved ones, but there are ways to discuss it in a way that can put both you and your loved ones at ease – using humor is one way to do this. Another is to discuss what I feel are the most effective forms of protection to manage nighttime urinary incontinence (if you’re sharing the bed with someone else you want to make sure they’re protected too). The final reason is to offer suggestions on how we  can alleviate the stigma surrounding wearing incontinence garments to manage bedwetting – there is a great deal of stigma associated with wearing diapers to manage incontinence, especially with those individuals who suffer from bedwetting – many people call diapers “babyish” – and there is a brief section in my article that discusses one possible way we can alleviate this stigma.

I wet the bed throughout my childhood and still have nighttime accidents as an adult. I just turned 50 this June and although part of me feels embarrassed and ashamed about having this problem, another part of me manages to have a sense of perspective and a sense of humor about it. Most adults in this situation wear protection at night to maintain comfort, hygiene, and make clean up easier. Some of these individuals feel ashamed about having to wear adult diapers to bed. This can be particularly embarrassing for those who wear disposable tape tab style diapers as they have to deal with the tell tale crinkling sound the diaper makes under their PJs as they move around, caused by the plastic outer cover of the diaper.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing adults that have a bedwetting problem is telling their boyfriend or girlfriend they wear protection to bed – after all it can be quite daunting telling your significant other you have to put on jumbo size pin-on cloth diapers and plastic baby pants or jumbo size Pampers before going to bed. This is a terrifying prospect for most individuals but it helps to be able to laugh about it and there are a number of ways individuals can use humor to cope with the situation. This article describe some of these strategies which are taken (with some modifications) from my wikiHow article How to Tell a Significant Other You Wear Diapers for Bedwetting. This advice may also be helpful for parents  of an older child or teenager who may be having difficulty adjusting to wearing diapers to manage their bedwetting.         

I sleep in adult size prefold nighttime cloth diapers fastened with safety pins and covered with an adult size pair of pull-on plastic pants (also known as “vinyl pants” – vinyl being a type of plastic) to protect my bed at night. As a brief aside (and to clear up some confusion) these pants are also called “rubber pants” by some people even though this is a misnomer – “rubber pants” were the style of baby pants worn over pin-on style cloth diapers before the advent of vinyl and plastic in the late 40s and were made out of actual rubber. At some point people started using the term “rubber pants” as a generic term for the waterproof pants used by mothers over their babies diapers.  As a result a lot of people used the term “rubber pants” even when referring to plastic pants. This seemed to catch on with incontinent adults as well, as some of them also use the term “rubber pants” when talking about plastic pants.

For those who may not be familiar with this style of diapering, pin-on cloth diapers with plastic baby pants worn over top were the style of diapers and waterproof pants traditionally used by parents on their babies for many years. They make adult size versions of the pin-on style cloth diapers and plastic baby pants and although some consider pin-on style diapers and plastic pants old fashioned, these diapers and waterproof pants are an excellent choice for managing heavier forms of incontinence such as bedwetting. For additional absorbency you can add diaper liners (also called “diaper doublers”) to the diaper. Baby cloth diapers make good diaper liners – I’ve used both the Gerber brand prefold premium cloth diapers and Gerber flat fold cloth diapers to line the adult cloth diapers I wear to bed. I have used this method for many years and it’s very effective at keeping the bed dry.

Here is a humorous way to break the news that you have to wear diapers and plastic pants at night because you wet the bed – you can say something along these lines: “Our local theater group is doing a play on Paul Bunyan and here are some props from the play. These are Paul Bunyan’s baby clothes: here’s his diapers and here’s his baby pants.”     

I also use adult size disposable diapers with tape tabs (or “disposable briefs”) to manage my bedwetting. “Disposable briefs” are form fitting disposable undergarments that look and fit just like baby diapers such as Pampers, Luvs, and Huggies – they have an “hourglass” shape, tape tabs for fastening the garments, elastic leg gathers to prevent leaks, a waterproof outer cover made of cloth or plastic, and many also have elastic waistbands also designed to prevent leaks. As with cloth diapers you can also add liners to the disposable diapers to increase absorbency.   

As mentioned at the beginning of my article, one of the purposes in writing it is to offer some tips on how to approach your loved one about having to wear overnight protection to manage your bedwetting. This can be a nerve-racking prospect for most people, but there are ways to make it easier to have a conversation about it. The following are some things you can say to your partner or friend to break the news of your bedwetting and use of protection in a lighthearted way:

  • “I have a problem with bedwetting and I need to wear a diaper to bed. If I don’t wear protection at night the bed will be flooded so bad the local government will have to declare a state of emergency for my bedroom and they’ll have to call in FEMA.”
  • “I wet the bed every night and have to wear diapers and plastic pants at night. If I don’t wear  them to bed we’ll have to put some sandbags around the bed.”
  • “I predict there’s going to be flash floods tonight so I better put on my diapers before going to bed.”  
  • “I haven’t told you this yet but I wet the bed. I need to wear diapers at night so we don’t wake up with a rainbow in the room
  •  “I wanted to let you know that I wet the bed every night. To manage it I wear adult diapers to bed – it’s either that or wear a raincoat to bed.”                
  • “I have to tell you something – I wet the bed. I found the best way to manage it is by sleeping in adult diapers. At first I thought about wearing a life preserver or life jacket to bed but decided to wear a diaper instead.”   
  • “I’d like to talk to you about a medical condition I’ve had since I was a child. It’s very embarrassing to talk about but I’ve managed to keep my sense of humor about it. I have to wear diapers and plastic pants to bed because I have a bedwetting problem. Otherwise we’ll need to buy a wet vac to clean up the bedroom in the morning.”
  • “I have a problem with wetting the bed and wear diapers to manage the problem – this way we don’t have to buy some canoes  to row our way out of the bedroom in the morning.”
  • “I need to talk to you about a health problem I have. I wet the bed every night and wear adult size diapers to manage it. This is the best way to deal with the issue. The only alternative is to buy flood insurance.”   
  • “Do you remember the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”? My theme song is “Raindrops Keep Falling from My Bed.”     
  • “I have to talk to you about a medical problem I’ve dealt with for a long time. It’s called nocturnal enuresis which is the clinical term for bedwetting. I wear diapers to keep me and the bed from getting waterlogged.”  

 

These are just some of the things you can say to ease the situation and help you cope with the problem. They can also be used to tell a young child that mommy or daddy wears diapers because they still pee in bed. It’s extremely difficult if not impossible to keep bedwetting a secret from other members of the family – especially with younger children. After all, young children being the curious   individuals they are, are natural explorers and it’s only a matter of time before they notice plastic pants drying on the clothes line or adult size Pampers in the bedroom. Or after the parent diapers themself before going to bed the child or children may barge in the bedroom and see mommy or daddy diapered. It’s good to be prepared for this type of contingency. Young children as many people will attest, are not noted for their subtlety and often don’t hesitate to say immediately what comes to mind –  so when your 5 or 7 year old daughter asks “Daddy why are you wearing plastic underwear – do you pee in bed?” or “Why is daddy wearing jumbo size Pampers – does he wet the bed?” it’s good to be able to respond in a funny manner. Keeping the bedwetting and diaper use discreet is even more tricky on vacations. This is why it’s good to have a sense of humor about this and hopefully the suggestions offered will help – you may think of additional things to say to your loved ones. Here are a few ways to respond to a young child after they discover you wear protection to bed – “You know how they use dams to prevent cities and farmland from being flooded – well the diapers and plastic pants I wear to bed are like a dam that prevents the bed from being flooded when daddy pees at night”, “If daddy doesn’t wear diapers and plastic pants at night it’ll be like Niagara Falls in our bedroom”, finally you can say this – “Daddy is a superhero and the diapers and plastic pants give me superpowers – in my case the powers to keep both myself and the bed dry.”      

Hopefully over time we can eliminate the stigma associated with using diapers to manage bedwetting with people of all ages and get over our hang-ups in this area. One way to do this is change our ideas and conceptions about diapers. I’ve written another wikiHow article entitled How to Reduce the Stigma of Older Children, Teenagers, and Adults Wearing Diapers for Bedwetting which aims to do just that. I believe one important step to take in changing our attitudes in this matter is to redefine the word diaper. I touch on this idea in my article. Here’s an excerpt from the article: “Change the definition of diaper. Most definitions of diaper define it as being a garment worn by babies. If I were responsible for writing the definition of diaper found in dictionaries I’d write something like this: “An absorbent, waterproof, protective undergarment made of either reusable or disposable material which is drawn up between the legs and fastened at the waist by tape tabs, safety pins, or other methods. It is designed for managing episodes of incontinence experienced by individuals of all ages, including babies, young children before they are potty trained, and adults, in addition to providing protection for individuals that wet the bed.”

As mentioned it helps to have a sense of humor about it which includes being able to take some good natured ribbing about it as well as the ability to laugh at yourself. And I have to admit when I’m brushing my teeth and see myself in the mirror wearing oversize pin-on cloth diapers and plastic baby pants or oversize Pampers I can’t help feeling somewhat amused. Even though you might feel depressed about your bedwetting and using protection to deal with it keep in mind you’re not the only one – there are plenty of us in the same leaky boat! 


by Colin Ellison

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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10 Comments

  1. Have 2 regular bedwetters ages 8 and 6. Both wear cloth diapers and plastic pants to bed for 2 reasons. First is that disposables were not dependable for the volume of the wettings and second that it’s cheaper than disposables for both. I very very seldom have leaks with diapers and plastic pants.

    Reply
    • Hi Dawn I have a 12 yr old boy who is a heavy bedwetter> Did your boys resist when you first started using cloth diapers and plastic pants
      Thanks Sharon

      Reply
  2. Growing up in the 60’s I was a bed wetter. My mom used cloth diapers and plastic pants to help with the mess. I was not happy at first but soon learned that a wet diaper was much better than a wet smelly cold bed. It seems that you may out grow bed wetting but there is always the occasional accident. At least that has been my life experience. Now that I am older those accidents seem to be occurring more and more. So much so that I find myself back in the attire of my youth. It worked well back then and works well now. I am not quite so embarrassed as some, for having been there before, has broken the ice sort of. I encourage those of us with these issues to embrace the idea of wearing a diaper and get on with important things in life. You don’t have to let the world in on your secret but you don’t have to be ashamed of it either. You are NOT ALONE!

    Reply
  3. It is embarrassing to be an adult and have to wear diapers to bed, so much so that I never have a man stay over and am terrified to fall asleep while he is still here. I am so ashamed of my bedwetting and at 45 years of age I will never live with anyone.

    I know the article says to have a sense of humour but my fear is that if I tell my boyfriend that he will tell someone else and word will get around. People talk!

    I wear the diapers every night and that takes care of the problem and I manage it. My worry is that it will spill over into daytime wetting as I’ve noticed I don’t make it to the bathroom everytime anymore. I don’t seem to notice that I need to go and then seem to leave it until the last minute and make a dash but don’t always make it.

    I applaud your confidence in telling your family but for now, I must keep my secret and that can be very isolating.

    Reply
    • Fiona do not be embarrassed or feel ashamed of something you can’t help. I myself like and enjoy wearing diapers for comfort and peace of mind. There are really cute diapers with playful designs on them like Rearz Safari diapers but there are some really good ones like Abena plastic backed an molicare but i like the ab/dl one’s and they are way better than any other diaper out there. Store bought are terrible if you get the right diaper you will see what i mean because store bought just leak and leave your mess on you good medical diapers like the ones above i mentioned or ab/dl diapers is a game changer.There’s a big group of growing people out there that wear adult diapers for fun Thousands of them if you have not found them yet and we will except you with open arms. Some like to act out being treated like a baby or just wear diapers. I’m both. I have been since a child. I love wearing diapers and have done for so long that i leak or have accidents. If your abandoned by friends they were not really your friends. I lost alot of friendswho i thought were my friend’s at the time but i looked back and thought real hard to who was my friend and who was not in reality you will find you may only have one or 2 true friends. If you got questions feel free to ask. I hope this helped. Stay Diapered and happy.
      Baby Eric

      Reply
    • Fiona, do you wear glasses? Have you ever needed a crutch for a term while you had an injured leg? Wearing diapers & plastic underpants (PUPs) or a disposable adult diaper is the same thing for logical usage. I was fortunate as a child having nocturnal enuresis my parents gave me the option to wear secure undergarments to manage my off / on bedwetting from age 4 – 12. It was never treated as a big deal but was MUCH better than waking up in wet sheets and pjs any night. Plus my mom did not have to wash my sheets as often. By age 13 I was finally dry from bw issues at night.

      However in college it came back and based on my experience as a young boy I immediately decided to wear snap on diapers & PUPs again to keep my dorm bed dry. My dorm mate was fine with this (he had issues up to age 10) and actually told me he was glad I was taking steps to limit this nighttime occurrence from showing and making me uncomfortable. I made a commitment to inform any of my personal relationships in college and beyond that I would tell them of my security undergarments as it became timely. 98% understood completely and were glad I took steps to keep myself & the bed & them dry!

      At some point your boyfriend will need to know this and if he is a great guy he will understand and keep it private. He may end up noting it to others but it is important to know that your true friends will understand and still like you for who you still are, not because of the bedtime (or daytime) undergarments you wear to manage your situation.

      I do not have as much of a nighttime issue today at ~age 50 but I still wear adult training underwear and plastic underpants to bed each night since I have some sort of significant wetting about 1 – 4 x per year for the last 20 years; my wife understands my nightly wearing based on my history as I told her about with bw in the past. Eventually if it becomes more significant I am happy to know there are plenty of adult products on the market I can obtain to manage it, even if day and / or night. My diapers / training underwear / plastic underpants have neve defined me; I use them as a responsible adult and treat it like I would typical underwear; mine is just more secure. If you can overcome any stigma you have (or think others will have) you can enjoy your life with others!

      Reply
    • i am a 16 year old girl who wets the bed at night and i wear cloth diapers and plastic pants because of it.My parents require me to wear them and every night before bed time mom puts them on me.I have to keep them hidden from my boyfriend and he doesnt know about my bedwetting problem.

      Reply
  4. I am a girl 15 and a bedwetter,but also sometimes have accidents during the daytime! My parents require me to wear cloth diapers and plastic pants to bed every night and during the daytime i wear a disposable diaper with the plastic pants over it.I feel different than my friends and it is harder having to make adjustments when i go to sleepovers or slumber parties.

    Reply
    • I wear diapers at night along with rubber panties I like wearing diapers I found rubber panties are more comfortable and not as hot as plastic panties. I buy my rubber panties from HDIS. They have a catalog. Ph–1-800-269-4665. The are very helpful and understanding.

      Reply
  5. I’m an adult male, age 46 yrs. and I still wet my pants, and sometimes my bed. I’ve never understood why the stigma surrounding incontinence and wearing diapers. No one can hold on indefinitely, however healthy one may be, however physically able-bodied one may be, or how mentally aware one may be of the need to pee or even poop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to pee, but I was nowhere near the nearest toilet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to poop, but I was nowhere near a toilet.

    Reply

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