Genital psoriasis affects 33% to 63% of people with the chronic skin condition known as psoriasis.1 Overall, psoriasis affects around 2% to 2.6% of Americans.2
What does genital psoriasis look like?
Genital psoriasis generally occurs as inverse psoriasis, which is often found in body creases, like the armpits. It looks like smooth, dry, red patches of skin.4Genital psoriasis mainly affects the outer skin of the genitals, since it tends not to affect mucous membranes, like the thin, moist skin near the vagina.
It can occur on the:4
Pubis, the area above the genitals near the pubic bone
Creases where the thighs meet the groin
Crease between the buttocks
Anus and surrounding skin
Quality of life
A recent study noted the negative impact on quality of life that genital psoriasis can cause—much more than psoriasis on other parts of the body.5 A full 90% of participants with genital psoriasis felt that the condition had a negative impact on their sex lives.
People often find it itchy, painful, uncomfortable, and sometimes even embarrassing to have a skin condition like psoriasis on your genital area. Genital psoriasis can affect day-to-day activities, and it can reduce pleasure during sex.
In addition, even though genital psoriasis cannot be transmitted and is not contagious, people sometimes worry that the condition could be mistaken for a sexually transmitted disease.
Genital psoriasis can be frustrating to manage, but it generally responds well to treatment. Because the skin in the genital area is more delicate and sensitive than other skin on the body, it is important to use gentle preparations.4
gentle moisturizers free of perfumes and strong chemicals
topical prescription ointments, including ones that slow an overactive immune system
low-dose corticosteroid ointments, which can reduce itching and swelling
moderate-dose corticosteroid ointments for short periods so they don’t permanently thin the skin
ultraviolet (UV) light
You can also reduce the severity of your flares by limiting friction and exposure to irritants, which can cause your condition to worsen. For example:8
Wear loose-fitting clothing
Choose underwear made of natural fibers
Rinse promptly after physical activity and sex
Use a lubricant or lubricated condoms during sex to reduce friction
Use soft toilet paper
Wipe gently but thoroughly after using the toilet
Use a gentle laxative, to keep stool soft and less irritating
Communicating with partners
Some people can fear that genital psoriasis could be mistaken for a sexually transmitted disease (STD) by their sexual partners.5 Unlike STDs, genital psoriasis is not contagious and cannot be caught or transmitted by sexual contact.
It is important to be direct, open, and honest with your partners and to reassure them that psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that cannot be caught. It is not caused by a virus or bacterium. When you are in a relationship, it can also help to talk openly with your partner about what hurts when you engage in sexual activity and about how you need to manage your condition.
What causes psoriasis?
Scientists do not know exactly what causes psoriasis. It seems to stem from a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause the immune system to inappropriately attack healthy skin cells. This then causes new skin cells to be produced too quickly. The buildup of scaly psoriasis patches, also known as “lesions,” results from this overproduction of skin cells. Other immune processes also cause inflammation and redness, which happens with psoriasis, as well.9
Meeuwis KAP, Potts Bleakman A, van de Kerkhof PCM, et al. Prevalence of genital psoriasis in patients with psoriasis. J Dermatolog Treat. 2018 Mar 28:1-7. doi: 10.1080/09546634.2018.1453125. Accessed September 1, 2018.
Psoriasis. NIH Fact Sheets. National Institutes of Health. US Department of Health and Human Services. Updated June 30, 2018. https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=61 Accessed September 1, 2018.
About Psoriasis. National Psoriasis Foundation. https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis Accessed September 1, 2018.
Genital Psoriasis. National Psoriasis Foundation. https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/specific-locations/genitals Accessed September 1, 2018.
Jennifer Clay Cather, Caitriona Ryan, Kim Meeuwis, et al. Patients’ perspectives on the impact of moderate-to-severe genital psoriasis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology , Volume 76 , Issue 6 , AB192 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2017.04.749 Abstract accessed September 1, 2018.
How can I treat genital psoriasis? American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/psoriasis/diagnosis-and-treatment-of-psoriasis/how-can-i-treat-psoriasis-on-my-genitals Accessed September 1, 2018.
Brian Wu. What’s to know about genital psoriasis? Medical News Today. August 23, 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315217.php Accessed September 1, 2018.
Genital psoriasis: How to treat and manage it. National Psoriasis Foundation. May 6, 2015. https://www.psoriasis.org/advance/genital-psoriasis-how-to-treat-it-how-to-manage-it Accessed September 1, 2018.
Psoriasis. Mayo Clinic. Updated March 6, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/psoriasis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355840 Accessed September 1, 2018.