The Impact of Genital Psoriasis
Last updated: October 2018
Psoriasis is a chronic condition of the skin that affects about 2% to 2.6% of Americans.1 It most commonly occurs in the form of plaque psoriasis, which shows up as patches of scaly, dry red skin, often covered with silvery scales. It can be itchy and painful, and the affected skin can sometimes crack, bleed, and ooze.2
The symptoms of psoriasis can be different for different people. The condition tends to come in cycles, with periods of more severe symptoms, called “flares,” followed by periods of relative relief.
What causes psoriasis?
Scientists do not know precisely what causes psoriasis. It seems to stem from a combination of environmental and genetic factors that cause the immune system to malfunction and 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 redness and inflammation, which occur with psoriasis, as well.3
What is genital psoriasis?
Psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body, including on your genitals.2 According to a recent scientific study, 33 to 63% of people with psoriasis also experienced symptoms on their genitals.4 In addition to the genitals, psoriasis most often shows up on the scalp, knees, outside of the elbows, and lower back.
What does genital psoriasis look like?
Genital psoriasis generally occurs as a type of the condition known as inverse psoriasis. Inverse psoriasis is also found in body creases, like the armpits. It looks like smooth, dry, red patches of skin.5
Genital psoriasis mainly affects the outer skin of the genitals, since the condition tends not to affect mucous membranes, like the thin, moist skin near the vagina.
It can occur on the:5
- Creases where the thighs meet the groin
- Pubis, the area above the genitals near the pubic bone
- Upper thighs
- Crease between the buttocks
- Anus and surrounding skin
Quality of life with genital psoriasis
People often find it painful, uncomfortable, and at times even embarrassing to have a visible 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 is not contagious and cannot be transmitted, people sometimes worry that the condition could be mistaken for a sexually transmitted disease.
Negative impacts of genital psoriasis
A recent study showed the high impact on quality of life caused by genital psoriasis. The authors noted how much more genital psoriasis affect quality of life than psoriasis on other parts of the body.6
The most troublesome symptoms included:
- Itch (100%)
- Discomfort (100%)
- Redness (95%)
- Stinging/burning (95%)
- Pain (85%)
- Scaly skin (75%)
Negative impacts of genital psoriasis on sexual activity
A full 90% of participants with genital psoriasis felt that the condition negatively impacted their sex lives.6
The most common problems included:
- Impaired sexual experience (80%)
- Worsening of symptoms after sexual activity (80%)
- Decreased frequency of sexual activity (80%)
- Avoidance of sexual relationships (75%)
- Reduced sexual desire (55%)
Other negative impacts of genital psoriasis
Patients with genital psoriasis felt their condition affected their emotional life as well as their physical activities. People reported feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, and sad because of their genital psoriasis.6
The most common negative impacts affected:
- Mood/emotion (95%)
- Physical activities (70%)
- Daily activities (60%)
- Relationships with friends and family (45%)
For best results, be open with your doctor
It is possible to treat genital psoriasis. Even though the skin on the genital can be more sensitive than on other parts of the body, topical treatments and treatment with ultraviolet (UV) light can help.5
But in order to learn the best treatment options, it is important to speak openly with your doctor. For some people, it can feel embarrassing to talk to your doctor about sexual health and symptoms. But one of the most important parts of getting good medical care is communicating with your healthcare team. This helps you make smart, informed decisions.
Be sure to ask all questions and to be frank, open, and honest with your health care providers, no matter how personal or embarrassing the conversation might seem. Your doctor has probably heard everything before. In the end, your providers want to be sure you get the best treatment options and have the best quality of life possible, despite living with a challenging chronic health condition.
Does your psoriasis management change with the seasons?