While there are a lot of legitimate medical uses for adult pacifiers, there’s a fair chance that you haven’t heard about them too often. If you have, that’s great. If you haven’t, it's most likely because of some negative stigma that has begun to surround them due to their portrayal in media. The two negative uses that have been featured in media with increasing frequency in recent years are in rave parties to counteract side effects of drug use, such as lockjaw, and in the “Adult Baby” fetish.
Although some people do use adult pacifiers for these more negatively viewed purposes, it is unfortunate that we as a society have allowed their choices to stigmatize a medical item. This stigma has made this medical product inaccessible to a lot of people who may benefit from their use. For some, it’s inaccessible because they are still young and at home with their parents who may not allow it thinking that it is only a “drug” or “kink” thing. For others, it's teasing or harassment that they may face from their family, peers, and even complete strangers.
To add a little more perspective, I’m going to bring up a personal note. I am a young adult with an invisible disability. I don’t have any visible deformations. I don’t look pale, weak, and malnourished. When people look at me, they don’t see what they expect a disabled person to look like. They see a young, 20 something-year-old girl who doesn’t look injured or deformed. This gets me a lot of dirty looks for using public handicap services. People ask invasive questions about my health. They tell me I’m too young to be disabled, that I’m just lazy. They make me feel like I have to prove my right to use these handicap services.
Some days I’m just too tired to defend myself or I don’t have the time to. On those days I give up the services that would greatly help me just to avoid these people. I risk injuring myself or triggering a flare up in my condition, just because these people have a stigmatized view of what a disabled person “should” look like. This stigma sometimes makes handicap services inaccessible to me because of people who enforce it. It’s the same thing with adult pacifiers. When people assume they are for or say they can only be used in relation to drugs or fetish, they make a legitimate medical item inaccessible to people who could use them.
I market my adult pacifiers for medical use, not drugs or fetish, but I know the stigmas. I know they may influence how people think of both my shop and me, but I’m not going to let that discourage me. Instead, I am going to take my time to educate people. I will give them a chance to learn about the medical uses and hopefully they will not judge people who use one. Maybe they will find that they could use one, maybe they won’t. Either way, it’s fine, as long as they can have the opportunity to learn, which I think is something everyone deserves.
The Original Target Market: Mental Health Industries
Adult pacifiers were originally designed and created for the mental health industry. Initially, they were made with those with developmental disorders in mind but due to cross-over in behavioral symptoms in mental illnesses, the target market was expanded to the mental health industries as a whole.
Pacifiers for infants are often called “soothers” since that is what they do. They soothe an upset or fussy baby. The pacifier itself, however, is not what soothes the baby. It is the sucking motion. For most people, sucking remains a self-soothing behavior well into adulthood. This is recognized in habits such as sucking one’s thumb, a lollipop, hard candy, a cigarette, or the tip of a pen. These habits, while soothing, may not be healthy.
People with autism, ADHD, anxiety, OCD, and even depression, just to name a few, tend to engage more in self-soothing or self-stimulating behavior. Adult pacifiers were created as a positive and healthy way to self-soothe to help patients avoid developing unhealthy or potentially habits. Some may chew on the teat of their adult pacifier, which usually falls under self-stimulation, or stimming. Other tools for self-stimulation, such chewable jewelry or “chewelry”, are also a very common thing to find in the mental health fields.
Replacing Negative Oral Fixations
As brought up earlier, people sometimes pick up bad habits to self-soothe such as smoking. To add on to that, some people have oral fixations. Oral fixation is a term first coined by Sigmund Freud to describe a stage of development in which a child will have an obsession with stimulation of the mouth. This is also known as the “teething” stage where a child will attempt to chew or suck on anything and everything that isn’t kept out of reach.
In later years, in the psychological field, it was discovered that this compulsive behavior can continue well into adulthood just like self-soothing behavior. This is what causes people to develop bad habits like smoking, overeating, nail biting, and other habits like these. These compulsive habits can be incredibly difficult to overcome without a healthy replacement. Just as with negative self-soothing habits, an adult pacifier can be a healthy alternative. It both keeps your mouth occupied and satisfies the compulsion to chew and/or suck on something.
Stopping Teeth Grinding and Preventing Tooth Damage
Teeth grinding is the action of grinding your teeth together, which may sound harmless, but it can cause a lot of damage or even injury. Grinding the teeth together long term can wear down the teeth and in some cases teeth grinders may develop temporomandibular joint dysfunction, also called lockjaw or TMJ. How an adult pacifier helps, in this case, is that it encourages a sucking motion over teeth grinding. Even if you continue to grind your teeth, it keeps the teeth separated and prevents damage.
Teeth grinding has many causes. A teeth grinder may be awake or asleep while grinding their teeth. It could be caused by anxiety or stress. It could be a habitual action. And yes, it may be a side effect of entactogen and stimulant drugs. I understand this may make you think of recreational or illegal drug use, and while sometimes that is the case, stimulant drugs are also a prescribed medication and do have legal uses. Using a stimulant drug legally or illegally does not affect the chances of developing teeth grinding as a side effect, so I do include it as a non-negative use of adult pacifiers.
Improving Sleep and Symptoms of Sleep Disorders
We have already covered that pacifier use, in infants or adults, is soothing. Therefore it makes sense that it would help both in relaxing and falling asleep faster. However many adults using them also reported that their quality of sleep improved as well and they felt more rested upon waking up.
Although I wrote this to educate people, I don’t expect to change the negative stigma overnight. I wrote this to educate who I can reach, however few or many that are. I wrote this to help those who may need adult pacifiers find the courage to use them. I also wrote this to help those who already do use adult pacifiers medically. So they can feel secure with themselves and remind them that they are not, and do not have to be, a part of that negative stigma. So that they can educate the people in their lives if they wish.
- I forgot to mention under mental health: People with Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID) may have child alters who use a pacifier. Of course, although these alters may be kids, the body is not and therefore they would need to use adult pacifiers to prevent harming the teeth or jaw.
- Although they are called "adult" pacifiers, they are not exclusive to adults. Baby Pants recommends their pacifiers for use by ages 13+ while Nuk recommends theirs for "large children" and adults. Ultimately it is about comfort and ease of use. Even some adults have smaller mouths and find themselves needing to use a toddler sized pacifier instead of an adult one. You should be able to close your mouth around the pacifier teat easily and be able to hold it in your mouth without needing to strain your jaw.
- Since I first wrote this post on another site, I have learned that some use adult pacifiers for speech therapy and even POTS. I have included a combination of articles and first hand accounts regarding medical use: [x] [x] [x] [x] [x] [x] [x] [x] [x]
- If you have any articles, forums, or blog posts regarding medical use of adult pacifiers, feel free to send them my way and I can add them to the above list. A huge part of creating awareness is banding together to share information and experiences.