Baby Talk: Intimacy Tool or Just Plain Gross?

Lo thinks that baby talk is an expression and facilitator of intimacy, that it encourages pair-bonding and protective instincts in romantic relationships. Which is to say, hating it outright is like hating kittens. Em thinks that baby talk is gross. So we decided to settle this once and for all like grownups — in an iChat debate:

LO: So, Em, how long have we been writing together for?

EM: It’s been exactly ten years this month since we started our original advice column on Nerve. Happy anniversary!

LO: And in that time, how many issues have we ever disagreed on?

EM: Pretty much just this one, if you don’t count the fight we had in the car on our cross-country road trip for the Big Bang book tour.

LO: Let’s not go there. So what, exactly, do you have against baby talk in relationships?

EM: Don’t you want to coo that to me in baby talk instead?

LO: No, because I know your frozen heart wouldn’t appreciate it.

EM: To use the S/M phrase, it just squicks me.

LO: The fact that you just used the word “squick” squicks me.

EM: I know, I can’t believe I said that either. It’s probably because I associate baby talk with kinky roleplaying — that’s the file I put it in. For whatever reason, most people don’t file it there, though — I think that babytalk has an undeservedly vanilla rep. Do you think it’s because I’m British that I can’t stand baby talk?

LO: Probably.

EM: Hard to do with a stiff upper lip.

LO: When I think of baby talk, it’s less about kinky sex, and way more about pair-bonding in romantic relationships. Think about it: parents use baby talk with infants to help them learn how to communicate, but it also has a bonding function. (Please don’t tell me you haven’t used baby talk with your own baby!)

EM: Of course I have! I think we’re programmed to. I thought I’d feel like a phony doing it, but you do it without even realizing it. And actually, you feel like an idiot talking to a baby in a regular voice.

LO: So it just follows that it would work for couples, too — it gets you closer, breaks down walls, makes you want to protect each other. It’s all about intimacy.

EM: That’s funny, because I remember one of the characters on “Sex & the City” saying that men use baby talk to AVOID intimacy. Not that S&TC is my sexual touchstone or anything.

LO: One study found that baby talk in adult relationships “functions in the process of intimate personal connections.”

EM: What the hell does that mean?

LO: No idea. But this bit from the researchers is a little more accessible: “We suggest that baby talk . . . expresses and facilitates intimate psychological connection…” And they found “Individuals who had baby talked to friends or romantic partners tended to be more secure and less avoidant with regard to attachments in general.”

EM: Is that because it taps into the unconditional mommy-baby relationship?

LO: I would assume so.

EM: Can we just take a moment to define what exactly we mean by baby talk? When I talk to my daughter, I use a high voice and simple language, and that’s it, really. But it’s my understanding that baby talk among adults means using words like “widdle” instead of “little,” etc. Is that right?

LO: Hahaha!

EM: It’s a serious question, I actually have no idea.

LO: I think it varies from couple to couple — I think both your definitions above can apply to romantic relationships, with “widdle” being on the more extreme end.

EM: So here are my other (totally serious) questions: Does it happen in bed? At dinner? Cuddling on the couch? When? And what is the topic of conversation when you’re using baby talk? The weather? Bodily functions? True love? Mawwaige?

LO: Before I address your questions, let me just state for the record that I’m not an expert baby talker myself, I don’t even use baby talk in my own relationship (okay, maybe once or twice, a long time ago). I’m just defending people’s desire and right to use baby talk within a relationship (in moderation) without being labeled mentally impaired.

EM: Okay, but you DO use pet names, which we’ll come back to in a little bit. So, what’s normal, average baby talk, then? “I wuv you”?

LO: I think in most cases it’s more about tone and pitch. You’re cuddling, you’re feeling that good cozy rush of oxytocin, and you’re giving each other lots of little kisses when you say “Oh, I could just eat you up, you’re so cute” — not necessarily with a pretend speech impediment, just in a tone and pitch that you would use if you were talking to a baby.

EM: Huh. Well, I guess I’m not going to march in a parade against THAT sort of baby talk. Take away the lisp and it’s hardly controversial. Though, for the record, it still gives me mild heebie-jeebies. But on the extreme end of things, I guess I can see how being totally retarded in front of each other (sorry, being silly wabbits together) would be sort of bonding, in a we-could-totally-blackmail-each-other-about-this-later kind of way. It’s like exploring a new orifice together, but without all the lube.

LO: I would definitely agree with you that adults who use baby talk incessantly and in public might have a screw loose. But for the most part it’s the rare playful moment between couples that accesses that unconditional protective parent-baby love we were talking about before. I think the same applies to couples goofing around and tickling each other.

EM: See, we’re back to the S/M thing. Tickling and baby talk are BOTH forms of kinky bonding. Which I mean as a compliment, for the record: You have to be seriously bonded with someone to not laugh or roll your eyes when they make you wear a dog collar and bark for your dinner.

LO: Well, people seriously into the BDSM community do talk about how intense and emotional it can get — in a good way.

EM: For the record, I don’t think baby talk has anything to do with kinky adult baby play, other than the fact that they’re both forms of roleplaying.

LO: Maybe that’s just a super-duper far-out extreme on one end of the baby talk spectrum: ending up in adult diapers not because you need them.

EM: Something tells me I’ll never find out. So here’s another question: How do you break out the baby talk in a relationship, how does it come up? How do you know your partner won’t freak the fuck out (either openly or just on the inside)? Is there a gateway drug? I’m just wondering whether it’s pure luck that I’ve never been accosted with it, or whether I put out a no-baby-talk vibe without realizing it.

LO: I would hope it comes up naturally, gently, and in small doses. Ideally, it should be almost inadvertent, like you’re so overwhelmed with love that you can’t help yourself. And I don’t think just because you said something in baby talk one day means you’ll be constantly talking to your partner like Elmer Fudd six months from now.

EM: So baby talk that happens during — or in the vicinity of — sex is an entirely different breed of baby talk, right? I assume “I wuv your tittie-witties” isn’t the kind of small-dose pair-bonding that you’re talking about?

LO: Yes, I would say the majority of baby talk is done in romantic situations. The minority of baby talk happens in actual sexual situations, where I would classify it as kinky, like you said. The whole “Someone’s been a very naughty boy/girl” thing. And I would assume that those two categories are often mutually exclusive — that partners who engage in one version probably don’t engage in the other.

EM: But if it happens OUTSIDE the bedroom, isn’t there the risk of it hurting sexual chemistry. Once you’ve baby-talked together, can you really have hot monkey sex again?

LO: Well, that would be like saying that once you know each other really well, and are totally in love, and feel completely comfortable, that you can’t then have hot monkey sex together ever again.

EM: Touche.

LO: And maybe you can’t, but I’m still holding out hope.

EM: For newbies who want to experiment, I suppose the mildest, most innocuous form of baby talk is having squishy wushy pet names for your partner, right?

LO: Right. Don’t tell me you don’t have one for yours.

EM: Not a unique one, no.

LO: Not even a nickname that only YOU use in private?

EM: Am I a total cold fish?!

LO: Not ever in the history of all your relationships?

EM: NO! I use a term of endearment with my husband — “love,” it’s a British thing — but it’s the same term I use with my daughter and my sisters.

LO: Oh, THAT’S sexy!

EM: When we first dated I called him “baby” a lot, and then one day I heard myself and was totally grossed out by how whiny it sounded. I was using “baby” like punctuation, at least once a sentence. Even when we were arguing — which is totally ridiculous, obviously. Not exactly the point of a pet name.

LO: Well, in those situations, it’s good to remember that you do actually love this person, so the pet name may act as a small subconscious reminder during arguments not to cross the line and say something you really regret, something that ends the relationship.

EM: Good point. Though it kind of dirties the word, too — just like when people say “Excuse ME” in a totally sarcastic way. That’s another pet peeve of mine — don’t steal that nice polite language for your rude means. So are your pet names things that you’d never let anyne else overhear?

LO: I’m all in favor of keeping your pet names private, but I don’t think it’s a huge deal if you let one slip in public, so long as you don’t say it as part of mushy and romantic baby talk in front of other people (that’s just wrong). More like when you’re out at dinner with friends and out of habit you say, flat affect, “Could you pass the salt, Tush.”

EM: See, when you say that, I feel like I just overheard some dirty talk, or overheard you having sex. Then again, I get really uncomfortable seeing people tongue-kiss in front of me.

LO: How can you write about sex for a living and be so uptight?

EM: It’s a mystery. But can we at least agree that the lisp-variety of baby talk is extreme and out there and kind of freaky?

LO: It’s all about context! If a really hot, amazing guy you’re totally in love with says “I wuv you” ONCE in a lighthearted way while nuzzling your neck and cuddling up, it’s not extreme or out there or freaky — it’s awesome!

EM: Well, it’d freak me out.

LO: You’re ARE a cold fish…. but I still wuv you.


  1. My boyfriend is very Masculine. He doesn’t say Whittle, or titty-witties, but there’s a way he says Papa in bed in the third person. It’s really more like Pap-pa. Really hard consonants,like you’d say to a 3-year-old when you’re teaching a child how to speak. He likes me to call him “daddy” in bed, too, which is definitely role-playing… I think its super hot! It inspires dominance, and lets him dominate me sexually. He’s a SERIOUS misogynist. I’m trying to help him with it, (poor, pitiful male thing) and giving him a sexual outlet for his misogyny seems to actually help him. His rhetoric about the female has improved, and I really do my best to challenge him during conversations that are out of the bedroom. However, in bed, he wants to be in control. The tone and pitch that he uses in bed with me is the tone a father might use with a child. But what I’m getting out of it is his leadership and domination, and when I let him HAVE that, it seems to even out the battle of the sexes that we’re constantly having when we’re NOT in bed.

  2. I like most kinds of roleplay but not adult baby :/

    I am infantile in many ways being 5ft looling ten years younger than I am, liking stuffed animals and hello kitty. I do however have my intensely sexual side too. I dont say goo goo ga ga but my BF and I have special words for penis (cakestack), vagina (tastyfish).. Both to do with his chef profession and obsession with seafood.

    We tend to pluralize some words or turn nouns into verbs (bed to bedding as in getting into bed) or putting a before things. Like going a sleepies or getting in a cosies. Fart is poot, and both bathing and masturbating are ‘lobster/lobstering’. Orgasms are making a sparkly, sex is sexytime.

    I ask him if he luffles/luffs me. We refer to eachother in 3rd person as Bear and Pup. (He is the bear) and butternut and pumpkin are pet names for bedtime only for some reason. We have special names for out favorite/routine meals like Feeshy, prawny, nüdly, snackles, (bbq) reebs and crunchles describes anything like crackers or potato chips.

    We both tend to go waaa or simply type ‘tantrum’ when frustrating circumstances arrive. We give eachother snuffles and nuzz nuzz.

    But never actual baby stuff like calling eachother mummy and daddy or that would be weird. But i cant imagine not speaking to eachother this way. Its our special vocabulary, integral to our emotional intimacy (and taking any awkwardness out of the physical) and sometimes that method just communicates our feelings or intentions more clearly than standard english funnily enough.

    Importantly, no one is talked to in a condescending way and even though he is older and over a foot taller than me he doesnt use it like an ‘im your daddy’ power trip thing. I like that he isnt worried about acting macho and isnt afraid to tell me he needs a snuggle or is hungerful. We try to keep our voice down in public but we dont go out much anyway. When doing something important like navigating london we use normal talk but for personal exchanges not related to the immediate surroundings we tend to lapse into our language

  3. ^ Ever consider that he might be into infantilism, aka a sexual “I’m-a-big-baby” fetish?

  4. Lol I only just discovered this page as like the last comment I typed it in google. My man is sickening with his baby talk =( at least the majority of the day talking to me like I’m a baby, tells me I am 1. I have told him I hate it with a passion but he wont stop. He gets “frights” and acts like he is 2, luckily I am the only 1 who knows he’s lke this.I can’t even have a normal adult conversation with him without it. Unless of course he instigates an adult convo,which isn’t often. I can’t stand it! Every other part of him is great but acting like a 2 yr old is actually killing us. I’m emotionally shutting down but he doesn’t get it. *sigh*

  5. The issue that I have with my boyfriend’s baby talk is that he does it absentmindedly, in much the same way you’d talk to a pet dog if you’d been alone in a house for hours. Nonsensical hypothetical questions asked repeatedly, in a strange high-pitched, children’s tv presenter voice with a rising infliction.

    Example – “It’s too hot to wear a jumper today, isn’t it?”, said in a normal voice, quickly develops into baby talking – “no, it’s much too hot for a jumper, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Too hot for a jump-jump for widdle wabbits?”.

    Gag me with a spoon.

    By the way, Em and Lo, I only just discovered you due to the google search term “my boyfriend has started baby talking and it’s freaking me out”.

    I can tell that I’m going to spend hours on your site, now. Brilliant article!

  6. This article was definately an eye opener!

    When I first saw it I just dismissed it as “weird” and horrible and something I’d never be in to. But actually having read it, I’m surpried to say that I might be one of these people!

    Don’t get me wrong, my boyfriend and I have NEVER used baby talk as a sexual thing in any way, shape or form. I just think that over the years, it sort of unconsciously developed. When I look back, the times we used it were either if we wanted something done (not in a sexual way), if we wanted some attention or (especially in my bf’s case), if we had done something wrong.

    I guess it just makes you look more vunerable than you are.

    Although I must say, I think there was always more emphasis on the way we said words and our body language/facial expressions then actual words.

    I think if I had not read this article I wouldn’t have thought twice about it to be honest. It never struck me as “baby talk”. I thought it was more about “being cute”.

    I’m sure a lot of people use one or two “baby” phrases. Especially when it comes to pet names and stuff like that.

  7. I have one thing to say, I HATE IT! My husband uses baby talk all the time and I swear he does it just to annoy me! So I ignore him whenever he does it. I don’t understand why he thinks anyone would want to listen to it, but one of these days he’s going to use it in front of someone he shouldn’t and he’ll be Soooo embarassssed!

  8. Well, I baby talk a lot, and I didn’t even realize it was “bad” or “gross” until I came across articles like this… now I feel slightly guilty, or like a freak…

    In my case, It’s a habit I picked up from when I was little. I don’t do it in public, but I used to do it around my family, even when I was supposed to be old enough to know better– about ten or twelve. I realized being the cutest and youngest and only girl, I could get what I wanted by acting younger still, and changing my voice. I suppose it’s the spoiled youngest child in me. Even now, over ten years later, I sometimes take on a cuter persona when I am talking with the brother I am closest to. I don’t really do it around the rest of my family, anymore though, and It’s not constantly ‘on’– I noticed I often do it when I am acting mad, ‘I totally hatings you right now,’ and stuff like that.

    I suppose because of this, it was inevitable for me to do it around my boyfriends, and yes, I am guilty of this. I can’t really help it, but even though I don’t start off doing it, it eventually comes out. I’m a childish person, (my current boyfriend would disagree and say I’m just plain weird/adorable), so I guess the baby talk is an extension of that. So far, all my boyfriends have found me and it cute, and they haven’t minded– in fact, they often respond in kind. I don’t do it sexually, however, (maybe once?) because it’s not really a turn on at all, and mostly I do it to tease. Unfortunately, my ex boyfriend (who is 12 years older than me) took my lead and ran with it, to the point where his baby-talk to me overshadowed mine– and it would annoy me that he used it so much. I started seriously curbing mine in an effort to get him to stop. It didn’t work. I think in his case, I unleashed his inner child. Maybe thanks to an emotional problem he had he never felt he had a way to express himself before, or a deep seated desire to not grow up. Unfortunately, he used it so often, that it became a problem in our relationship and a turn off for me– because using it constantly was basically undermining his masculinity. I mentioned it a few times, but he’d still do it. It got to the point where, even in serious emails or chats to me, he’d never say; “I”, rather, it’d be all like: “Me goies to the shop now.” Not even I did it 24/7 like that. And yes, sadly, he still does it if we ever chat online– I cringe when he writes ‘waaaaa’ to me, when I tease him or such– I mean, this guy is in his forties this year! Not even I ever, ever say ‘waaa’ because to me it’s a little too close to ‘goo goo’ and ‘ga ga’ and that might lead to diaper role play which I am definitely NOT into. But he actually never does it in person to me, like I said– he only ever ‘writes’ it to me. It’s weird though, but I blame myself– I suppose I contaminated him by doing it in the first place. However I do feel in his case, it’s kind of bordering on fetishism.

    That isn’t to say I hate it when a guy does it, and only think it’s okay for women to do it. I don’t. I agree with the article– in my current relationship it establishes deep intimacy when we use it. My current boyfriend uses it sparingly, and we seem to have a good balance of when to use it versus when not to use it. I like it when he calls me pet names, and sometimes says the dreaded ‘w’ word– wuv. But he’ll never baby talk sexually, because he knows that doesn’t do it for me, at all. He knows that for me, I like it when he’s all commanding and masculine, and to me, masculinity is mutually exclusive with baby-talk.

  9. Well I have to say very entertaining.. My lovely girlfriend who I adore has this habit of talking to be as if she was a 3 year old and it’s driving me insane.

  10. I’m so torn! My best friend had a serious boy friend long before I did, and when she would simply answer his phone calls with “hiiii babbyyy! how aaare yooouu?!” in the dragging out high pitched kind of way, I would gag. Now I totally do it. I think it’s the subconscious way of being totally silly and happy and giddy and not ever wanting to come across short or bored or disinterested. I have this overwhelming urge to make him smile and laugh all the time, so I have to admit it. I baby talk a lot. Not in the lisp-y way, but in the making up silly names for stuff, or kind of vaguely playing dumb at times.

    I’m unsure if that all made sense.

  11. Viz, The Man and I do the same thing. It’s hilarious. We call it “channeling the dogs.” LOL! For some reason our bunny has an English accent. “Cheers, old bean. Would you mind terribly depositing some hay in my feed box, and removing the feces from my cage? Jolly what!”

  12. Like ML, baby talk isn’t huge for my bf and I EXCEPT when we are narrating our dog. It’s super lame and I’m sure people would vomit if they heard us, but it’s kind of like a private joke with us.

  13. As long as they don’t do it around me, more power to anyone who chooses it. I didn’t even really use that much baby-talk with my kids other than the normal mother cooing stuff when they were infants- I’d hate to see my reaction if someone tried it in the middle of sex. I think that I’d be so convulsed with laughter that it would likely be the end of that session.

    When I have been present when couples baby-talk to each other in public I’ve often found that it often verges on demeaning for one of them- more of a put-down masquerading as cute teasing. That’s kind of embarrassing for everyone involved, I think.

  14. I agree with Em. No baby talk. I only use it when I am really teasing The Man, “Oh, poor baby, did you drink last night, too much with your little friends and have a headache this morning? Poor baby.” I do it really loudly in a high pitched voice. He loves it. LOL!

    Other than that, we reserve baby talk for when we are pretending we are channeling our dogs. “Mama said you gonna take us for walkies, Daddy!” That’s about it.

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