Navigating Relationships & Intimacy With Psoriasis
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2016. | Last updated: August 2018
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition and causes symptoms called plaques to develop on the skin anywhere on the body. Plaques are patches of raised, red, scaly skin that can be painful and itchy. Living with psoriasis can be difficult at times, both physically and emotionally. It can have an impact on relationships of all kinds, including family, friends, and romantic or sexual partners.
When a person with psoriasis is going through a challenging period of time with symptoms of the condition, it can also have an effect on family members and significant others. It is difficult to see someone you love going through physical and/or emotional pain, yet it can be hard to know the best way to support a family member with psoriasis. Sometimes people with a chronic health condition have trouble communicating their feelings about their physical and emotional health to loved ones. They may also be reluctant to take part in activities or social events outside the home that the family would love them to participate in, and may not understand why the family member with psoriasis is reluctant to join.
It can also be difficult for some people with psoriasis to form new relationships with friends or romantic partners because they feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their symptoms and are worried that the other person will not understand their health condition or accept them. In a dating context, people with highly visible psoriasis symptoms may be particularly concerned about the impact of their condition1. When psoriasis lesions are in the genital areas this may be of particular concern. Sex can be painful sometimes, especially during psoriasis flare–ups2.
What does current research suggest about the links between psoriasis, relationships, and intimacy?
A range of studies has examined the impact that psoriasis can have on a person’s relationships1. One study surveyed family members of people with psoriasis; around one-third of family members said that their relationship with the family member with psoriasis had worsened, and only 8% reported that psoriasis had not affected the relationship at all.
Another study of almost 1000 people with psoriasis found that around one-third of the people said that psoriasis had impacted their sex life in a negative way. This included not being as sexually active as they would like to be, for example, because they felt self-conscious or because sex caused discomfort2.
Tips for dealing with the impact of psoriasis on your relationships
The good news is that there are ways to reduce the impact that living with psoriasis can have on your relationships. The first step is to manage your condition and control your symptoms as effectively as possible. This involves sticking to your recommended treatment regimen, leading a healthy lifestyle, and identifying and avoiding your psoriasis triggers that tend to cause flare-ups.
The next key step is communication – try to be as open as possible with your friends and family members about your feelings and concerns1. This will help them to learn the best ways to support you when you’re having a difficult time. Managing stress effectively is also crucial. Feeling stressed can make others around you feel stressed too, and for many people, stress can trigger a psoriasis flare-up. There are many different relaxation techniques and strategies that people find effective in managing their stress levels and reducing anxiety.
Communication is also very important when starting a relationship with a new romantic or sexual partner. Many people find that being honest about having psoriasis from the very start of the relationship is the best approach because you will feel more relaxed and not worried about telling them later. If the person is not familiar with psoriasis explaining a few of the basic facts about the condition (or providing a leaflet or website link) can anticipate and answer some of the questions the person may have about the condition, but might be worried about asking2.
There are ways to help make sex more comfortable and enjoyable for people who have psoriasis symptoms on their genitals. For men with symptoms on the penis, sometimes using condoms can be more comfortable. Certain types of oils or medications that may have been applied to the penis can make the condom unsafe in preventing pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases, however, so be sure to check with your healthcare provider for advice3. Oil-based lubricants or lotions can cause a condom to tear or break and will make the condom unreliable for contraception of for prevention of a sexually transmitted disease. Some men find that using a moisturizer that contains a mild topical corticosteroid can help to soothe symptoms on the penis. For some women who have symptoms on their genitals, applying a moisturizer or Vaseline type product can make sex more comfortable. If you find sexual intercourse too painful or uncomfortable, experiment with other ways to enjoy intimate contact with a partner that do not involve penetration.