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Sex Health Blog

Psoriasis and Sexuality

May 31, 2016

Psoriasis and SexualityBrenda was excited about her new relationship with Jake, the guy from her wine tasting class. He was attractive, funny, intelligent, and adventurous. Their dates had included binge watching Star Wars movies and hiking in the state park nearby. She felt they were getting closer with every meeting, and while that pleased her, it also filled her with dread.

She wasn’t sure how to tell Jake about her psoriasis. She’d been grateful for the cooler weather, since she could hide her red, scaly skin under long sleeves. While her psoriasis wasn’t severe all the time, and she took her medicine just as the doctor ordered, she still felt self-conscious. She wondered if Jake would be turned off when he saw her elbows.

Even worse, psoriasis sometimes flared up in her genital area and on her upper thighs. The area got itchy and red and sometimes she felt pain.

Brenda liked Jake and had to admit she thought about sleeping with him. A lot. She was getting vibes from him that he was interested in a sexual relationship, too. But she couldn’t imagine being naked in front of him. And she was afraid he’d think she had a sexually-transmitted infection. Her doctor had assured her that psoriasis wasn’t contagious, but would Jake believe her?

Brenda’s concerns are common. Psoriasis can affect a person’s sex life. There’s good news, however. With treatment, open communication, and some adjustments, people with psoriasis can enjoy satisfying sex lives.

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Psoriasis can affect a person’s sex life, but people with psoriasis can enjoy satisfying sex. (Click to tweet)

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What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin disease caused by problems with the immune system.

Normally, skin cells develop inside the skin’s surface and gradually make their way to the top. This process is called cell turnover and it usually takes a month. But for people with psoriasis, cells from the immune system go into overdrive and accelerate the pace of cell turnover. As a result, skin cells turn over in a few days and accumulate on the surface, leaving thick, red, scaly patches. The areas are often itchy and painful.

Psoriasis can be treated with ointments, creams, oral medications, or injections. Some patients also benefit from light therapy. While these approaches can help keep the condition under control, times of stress and illness can lead to flare-ups.

It’s important to know that psoriasis cannot spread to another person, sexually or otherwise. It is not contagious.

How does psoriasis affect someone sexually?

Psoriasis can have both physical and psychological effects.

As was the case with Brenda, psoriasis can occur on the genitals and surrounding areas – the vagina, vulva (the “lips” surrounding the vagina), pubic area, and near the anus. During a flare-up, women may feel pain and experience bleeding during sex.

For men, psoriasis can develop on the penis, scrotum, as well as in the anal and pubic areas and upper thighs. Studies have shown that erectile dysfunction (ED) is common in men with psoriasis, too. Often, men with psoriasis have other health problems that are linked to ED, like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety.

Indeed, the emotional and psychological aspects of psoriasis can be a problem for both men and women. Because psoriasis affects appearance, people may feel unattractive and embarrassed. They may worry that potential romantic partners may not want to be with them. Their self-esteem may suffer and they may shy away from starting new relationships.

What can people with psoriasis do?

Luckily, treating psoriasis can alleviate some of the sexual problems. If you have psoriasis, be sure to see your dermatologist regularly and take your medicine as directed.

Here are some other steps you can take:

·         Communicate with your partner. It may feel awkward to discuss psoriasis, especially with a new partner. But being open about it can take pressure off of both of you. Help your partner understand what psoriasis is and how it’s treated. Reassure him or her that it is not contagious. Be willing to answer any questions. And be honest about your feelings. If you are anxious about your partner’s reaction, say so. But remember, your partner is interested in you – the whole you. You are so much more than psoriasis, and your partner knows that.

·         Make some adjustments. If you’re having a flare-up, especially on the genitals, you might need to put off sex until the symptoms settle down. Or, you might need to experiment with other ways of being intimate. Try to relax and tell your partner what feels good and what is uncomfortable. Some men with psoriasis on their penis find that using lubricant under a condom helps relieve irritation. Having sex in a darkened room can help the partner with psoriasis feel less self-conscious, too. Your doctor can tell you more about managing genital psoriasis.

·         Consider counseling. While your dermatologist can treat the physical aspects of psoriasis, a therapist or support group can help you with the emotional side. When you have psoriasis, it’s common to feel depressed and anxious about relationships. With a therapist, you can work to build up your self-esteem and confidence and learn ways to discuss psoriasis with a partner. In a support group, you can ask questions and seek advice from others who have “been there.”

Overall, don’t let psoriasis stop you from pursuing a happy sex life. If you feel that you need help, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Resources

International Society for Sexual Medicine

“How does psoriasis affect sexuality?”

http://www.issm.info/education-for-all/sexual-health-qa/how-does-psoriasis-affect-sexuality

“Is there a link between psoriasis and male sexual dysfunction?”

http://www.issm.info/education-for-all/sexual-health-qa/is-there-a-link-between-psoriasis-and-male-sexual-dysfunction

“Psoriasis and Sexual Dysfunction”

http://www.issm.info/news/sex-health-headlines/psoriasis-and-sexual-dysfunction

“What happens when psoriasis occurs on the genitals?”

http://www.issm.info/education-for-all/sexual-health-qa/what-happens-when-psoriasis-occurs-on-the-genitals

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

“What is Psoriasis?”

(November 2014)

http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/psoriasis/psoriasis_ff.asp

Reuters

Rapaport, Lisa

“Men with psoriasis may be more prone to erectile dysfunction”

(March 24, 2016)

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-psoriasis-erectile-dysfunction-idUSKCN0WQ1LR