How to Have a Healthy Sex Life when You Have Psoriasis
Sex is a natural part of life. And it’s something most of us crave on some level. A healthy sex life can lead to greater emotional intimacy in relationships, and even provide some much-needed stress relief. Unfortunately, psoriasis can often get in the way of a healthy sex life, creating both physical and emotional barriers to the intimacy you might otherwise desire.
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It’s extremely common for psoriasis to impact a person’s sex life, said Anna Chacon, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic Florida, Weston Hospital. “In fact, one of the most common locations for psoriasis is in the groin, genitalia, and buttocks area—specifically, in the gluteal cleft,” Chacon recently told Kopa, adding that there is a type of psoriasis called inverse psoriasis that appears in skin folds. “Even for plaque psoriasis, the groin, genitalia and private areas are common, which sometimes causes embarrassment for the patient, hindering their sex life.”
Genital psoriasis impacts two-thirds of patients with psoriasis, according to The National Psoriasis Foundation. And research has found genital psoriasis to be associated with significant impairment in sexual functioning, likely because of the discomfort the condition can cause.
“There are many ways that psoriasis—particularly [if it’s an] uncontrolled disease—can impact a person’s sex life,” Chacon said. “For one, it can be very symptomatic and itchy.” But it’s not just the physical discomfort that might inhibit one’s sex life. Chacon explained that some people may also be embarrassed to have their partners see the scaling and redness associated with psoriasis in the genital area.
Dealing with Shame and Embarrassment
Then there are the emotional impacts of psoriasis, which can affect a person’s libido even if they don’t have genital psoriasis.
Shame and embarrassment can be some of the most significant emotions psoriasis patients experience when it comes to sexual intimacy with a partner, said Jameca Woody Cooper, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in St. Louis, Missouri, who suffers from psoriatic arthritis herself.
“These feelings would result from having to hide the plaques or patches on the skin,” Cooper explains. “Guilt could also be prominent if the individual feels as though they are causing modifications to be made in their sex life.”
Cooper said body image can also come into play, especially for those people who feel their condition prevents them from having a better body or better skin. “Body image is a factor that directly impacts a person's sex drive. If you feel good or satisfied with your body, you are more likely to want to engage in sex and will feel more comfortable engaging in sex.”
But if you don’t, sex may be the last thing on your mind. Or worse: It may become something you actively dread.
Overcoming the Hurdles
The good news is: There are ways to prevent psoriasis from having a negative impact on your sex life. And there are also ways to revive your libido if it’s been low.
The process starts with being honest with yourself and your dermatologist about what’s bothering you in the bedroom, said Chacon, and what you’re hoping can be done to improve the situation.
“It is difficult when a patient still has one remaining plaque and is otherwise well-controlled elsewhere, but the remaining plaque happens to be in a [hidden] area like the groin, genitalia, or buttocks,” Chacon said. “The patient’s dermatologist may think everything is fine and their disease is well-controlled, particularly if the patient doesn’t show the dermatologist or doesn’t mention how uncomfortable it is to live with that.”
In other words: Your doctor can’t help you if you don’t clue them in on what’s going on.
Cooper has twofold advice for addressing some of the mental roadblocks that may be holding you back:
- Talk to your partner about your feelings. Most of the time, individuals feel more shame about issues that they are attempting to hide. By discussing it, you can reduce or eliminate the shame associated with it.
- If these issues stem from other issues in your past, don't be afraid to seek out a therapist to further explore these elements.
If you have a partner with psoriasis whom you want to help, Cooper said there’s no such thing as too much support. “Show appropriate affection and let your partner know that their psoriasis doesn't change your feelings for or attraction to them.”
If you’re the one with psoriasis, she suggests allowing your partner to be involved in your treatment plan. “By discussing it more, it becomes a ‘we suffer from psoriasis’ issue instead of an ‘I suffer from psoriasis’ issue,” Cooper said.
You Are Not Alone
It can be hard to talk about these issues, especially if you don’t know anyone else struggling with them. That’s why Cooper suggests reaching out to a support group of like-minded people who can help you to work through what you’ve been experiencing. You may find a local in-person group, or swap stories and advice on an online group like Kopa.
Meanwhile, Chacon reminds her patients that psoriasis is very common and nothing to be embarrassed about.
“There are many other people in this world like you, and there are tools and measures to help you overcome it and live a normal, healthy, and fulfilling life with it,” she said. “Psoriasis should never become so burdensome that it interferes with your sex life or quality of life.”
When it does, it’s time to talk to your doctor and start seeking solutions to better control your psoriasis and to get back to enjoying sex.