Disambiguation Part 1: Adult Diapers vs. Adult Briefs

One of my favorite parts of the collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia is the disambiguation feature. Disambiguation literally means to remove the ambiguity from language, or—practically speaking—to choose the closest possible meaning from many interpretations. Wikipedia’s disambiguation feature allows users to better understand what they’re looking for by offering several results for every search. Consider this post, and my next, a kind of disambiguation for you, dear reader. I’ll be addressing the most common terms that we use in the incontinence care market when naming our products.

Adult Briefs or Adult Diapers: Which is Right?

Adult briefs or adult diapers: which is right? Technically speaking, both are correct. I’m not sure which was the first company to refer to an adult incontinence undergarment as a “brief” or a “diaper,” but I can say this: many of the first designs of adult-sized incontinence care products, briefs in particular, were basically adapted maxi-pads that were remodeled in the fashion of baby diapers. In the world of diaper manufacturing, there is no difference between an adult disposable brief and an adult disposable diaper—the only difference is the name! So why use more than one name? Let’s take a closer look.

The name for the product lines is rooted in psychology: the term “diapers” was deemed to be more baby-like while “briefs” was more mature, and pertained to an older generation. Some companies have gone even further and simply labeled their incontinence care products “undergarments.” We label ours “briefs,” but there is certainly no shame in calling Secure products “adult diapers.”

Public perception, however, records a different perspective: the media often mentions “adult diapers” hand-in-hand with seniors, aging, caregiving and, as of late, a certain astronaut, whereas mentions of “adult briefs” are reserved for medical journals and nursing discussion. Even Google gets in on the act: Google recorded over 80,000 searches for the term “adult diapers” last month versus only 600 or so for “adult briefs.


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What's Wrong With Wearing An Adult Diaper?

Perhaps in the public eye, the term “diapers” carries an unnecessary connotation of weakness or deficiency, and here I would like to discuss the damaging stigma associated with adult diapers. As I’ve mentioned before, nearly 20 million Americans are incontinent and wear adult disposable products—pads, diapers, briefs, underwear and more. Despite the enormous need for these products, the term “adult diapers” often carries a stigma with it, as the Defeating Stigma campaign of the Simon Foundation points out. The campaign aims to defeat all forms of stigma, including those directed at incontinence. I urge you to take a look at the Simon Foundation’s informative Web site and see for yourself how damaging this adult diaper stigma can be. There is nothing wrong with wearing an adult diaper!

What Do You Think?

So, readers, I’ll close by asking this: what do you think about this diapers vs. briefs business? Is there a stigma associated with the term “diaper,” and if so, what can we do to remove that stigma from the very real and important need to wear these adult incontinence products?

In my next post, I’ll recap the discussion here with regard to adult diapers, and I’ll take a look at another naming menace that needs clarification: the types of absorbency in incontinence care products sold at your local supermarket.

Until then, be well.

Your Partner in Comfort,



Learn everything about adult diapers by visiting Everything About Incontinence.


Gary is an adviser to online incontinence care products provider SecurePersonalCare.com.

Read Disambiguation Part II