How Psoriasis Can Affect Your Sex Life

What To Look Out For and How To Keep Things Spicy

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Whoever said that the brain is the most important sex organ was probably equating self-image with sexual readiness, both of which can be hurdles for people with psoriasis, whose red, scaly skin can make the prospect of intimacy intimidating. Psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells build up and form scales and itchy, dry patches. It can be hard to feel desirable when your body is transformed by psoriasis. And although the disorder can affect people of any age, most cases of psoriasis begin between ages 15 to 35—prime time in an adult's sexual life.

Challenges to Intimacy

"It kind of puts the kibosh on your sexy 20s," says Leah Bird, a 55-year-old Newton, MA, resident who has dealt with psoriasis since she was 12 years old. At times, Bird has been covered with lesions over as much as 85 percent of her body.

Unfortunately, Bird's experience is echoed by many with psoriasis, who find that the strange appearance, rough texture, and constant flaking of their skin hampers either their desire or their ability (or both) to have satisfying sexual relations. According to a 2007 study in the journal Dermatology, one-third to two-thirds of psoriasis patients (called "psoriatics") experienced sexual problems because of their disease.

One month later, those study participants whose symptoms had abated by 75 percent or more (after treatment) were twice as likely to report a "substantial improvement" in their sex lives.

Psoriasis and Self-Image

Psoriasis's impact on sexual health is not caused by the psoriasis itself, but rather the emotions the disorder generates. One way for psoriatics to feel more comfortable about becoming intimate with prospective partners is to slowly educate others about their condition, says dermatologist Doris J. Day, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center. Day advises psoriatics to use phrases such as, "It's not contagious," "It's partly genetic," "I have medications for it," and "It's just a part of me."

Patients should be direct with their partners, Day says, about which parts of their body do or don't respond well to touch because of their psoriasis. But physical comfort is only part of the intimacy equation. Psoriatics visiting Internet support sites will find many suggestions to increase their emotional comfort during lovemaking, including dimming lights, using candles, or even replacing standard light bulbs with red ones, all ways of diverting focus from affected areas on the body.

Genital Psoriasis

Genital psoriasis, whether on the labia, penis, or scrotum, generally doesn't flake as much as lesions elsewhere, showing up instead as reddened areas that can itch intensely. Steroids have the tendency to cause skin to thin. Because the skin of male genitalia, in particular, is naturally thin, doctors often prescribe non-steroidal creams and ointments for genital psoriasis.

Men coping with genital psoriasis may find more comfort wearing a condom, which not only can preserve lubrication but keep abraded skin from becoming more inflamed. Men with genital psoriasis who wear a condom should apply lubricant prior to applying the condom. Men and women using psoriasis medications on their genitals are advised to wash the medications off before sexual intercourse and re-apply afterward.

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Article Sources
  • Bird, Leah. Telephone interview. 15 Apr. 2008.
  • Day, Doris J., clinical assistant professor of dermatology, New York University Medical Center. Telephone interview. 21 Apr. 2008.
  • "Genital Psoriasis and Intimacy." June 2004. National Psoriasis Foundation.
  • "Genital Psoriasis Treatment Tips." June 2004. National Psoriasis Foundation.
  • Sampogna, Francesca, "Impairment of Sexual Life in Patients with Psoriasis." Dermatology 214. March 2007:144-150.