Sex and the skin: A qualitative study of patients with acne, psoriasis and atopic eczema

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Journal Article
Psychology, Health and Medicine, 2010, 15 (4), pp. 454 - 462
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Quantitative questionnaire-based research has suggested a considerable effect of skin disease on the sexual life of sufferers. In this study, we explored the effects of acne, psoriasis and atopic eczema upon sexual functioning and sexual relationships in the context of a wider exploration of the psychological sequelae of these diseases. We employed a qualitative methodology employing in-depth semi-structured interviews and involving thematic analysis and constant comparison. Participants were patients with currently active acne, psoriasis or atopic eczema. Purposive sampling aimed to obtain a sample reflecting a wide range of participant characteristics including skin disease severity, age, sex, and care by general practitioner or dermatologist. Sixty-two semi-structured interviews were conducted. Acne had adverse effects on participants' self-perceived sexual attractiveness and self-confidence, as did psoriasis and eczema. But psoriasis and eczema also had marked effects on sexual well-being and on capacity for intimacy. These were related to issues of self-esteem and sexual self-image and were often pervasive, resulting in marked behavioural avoidance of intimate situations and continuing effects on sexual well-being even in long-established sexual relationships. Effects of psoriasis and eczema on sexual well-being and sexual relationships were mediated more by appearance and texture of non-genital skin than by involvement of genital skin. We conclude that, while recognising the distressing effects of acne on self-perceived sexual attractiveness, clinicians should be especially aware of the capacity of psoriasis and eczema to profoundly affect patients' psychological and sexual well-being. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.
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