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

6 months, said...

I think they should be called diapers for two very good reasons. First, it causes confusion. There are underwear (pull-ons), briefs which most people think of as underwear, and diapers. When you NEED a diaper, a pull on will not work in most cases. I've been incontinent for over 10 years, If I need a diaper, I need a diaper nothing else has the protection a diaper can provide. Second and I feel more important as it relates to stigma, is that it is intellectually dishonest to call it by any other name. You can call it a brief all you want, it's still a diaper by any other name, and that is the way the rest of society sees it. This only promotes the stigma that it is "wrong" for adults to wear or need to wear protection. It's just a name, you don't have to advertise that you wear or need it, but it is what it is. I feel shame when I see the label "briefs" on a package or box of diapers, because I know what's in there and they ARE NOT "briefs!!!

over 1 year, said...

I use adult briefs 24/7 for bladder and bowel. It's devastating to my self image and I regularly mess while outside and have to change. This has been going on for four years and I'm only 41. I produce about 5 wasted briefs per day. I also wear on planes, at the beach while exercising and even at the doctor's office. I wear gary plastic pants all the time for odor and urine containment. I have awful diaper rash. I use seni quatro briefs, tena and lille. Cloth diapers are poor for complete loss of control and are hard to clean and dry. I have tried anal plugs but they don't work well and I need to deficate at some time. Usually I awake in the morning with urine and bm. If I take a nap - say on a place - I also mess. My best friend sometimes changes me but nobody else. Normally I change in public while standing in a stall. Only close friends and family know I wear diapers.

over 1 year, said...

I am wearing only a adult diapers in bed now I am diapered dependent need too wear adult diapers badly

almost 3 years, said...

I have been wearing adult diapers for about thirty years. I have no problem with calling them adult diapers. It looks like a diaper, feels like a diaper and does what a baby diaper does. I'm glad that there is a product available that saves me from soiling my clothing and furniture and most importantly public embarrassment. I can conceal my diapers but not the public embarrassment of not wearing them. In modern times it seems we spend a lot of time renaming things to save people from being labeled as something embarrassing such as mentally retarded now being labeled as mentality challenged but in the end we all know what it means. Having said that, I'm not ashamed to say I'm a diaper wearer and I'm happy that I can buy and wear diapers since I would not have a normal life without them.

about 4 years, said...

I find it insulting that a young person wearing regular underwear presumes to comprehend the emotional burden of wearing "diapers" as an adult. Shame on you.

about 4 years, said...

It really makes no diffierance to me i have been wearing diapers from early age, and mine were old style cloth i have been called every name in the book , from baby, to mommies boy, its part of my long term life

over 5 years, said...

Id say the stigma comes straight from the people wearing them. The fact that people use all kinds of off the wall names to hide what thy wear shows shame and embarrassment.. Just call them what thy are Diapers ;) stop being ashamed, and the stigma well go away!!

almost 6 years, said...

I certainly think just calling them 'briefs' as opposed to diapers won't help. People will still think of them as diapers. I used to wet my bed (up until around 12-13 or so) and my parents made me wear GoodNights sometimes. I hated wearing them, partly because they were uncomfortable, but partly because I didn't like the thought of wearing 'diapers'. My parents *never* called them diapers, but I could tell that's what they were. Now I know there's no shame in this, but when I was younger I was very ashamed of it. Pretty much the only part of my undiagnosed autism that I was truly ashamed of.

almost 7 years, said...

I use Poise pads daily due to incontinence as a result of MS. I may have to increase protection as I age. I'm 54 now, and have been incontinent for about 6 years. Having to use "grown-up Pampers" would be an immeasurable blow to an already fragile ego regarding this issue. What I'm saying is.....PLEASE use something other than "diapers" when referring to incontinence apparel. -Patti B. P.S. I prefer adult briefs