Regular contributor Simone Ivatts writes this week on the sensitive - and under-discussed - subject of how eczema can affect sexual and romantic relationships.
As those of us who have eczema or other skin conditions know all too well, when the condition is active and flared up, it can make you feel very self conscious and unattractive. Feeling this way can really affect your self esteem, which, for those of us who are single, can make it hard to feel we will ever find a relationship.
If I’ve just described you, please know that there are so many people out there who will find you desirable no matter what your skin is like! I know this because I’m lucky enough to be able to say that, in all of my romantic relationships, my eczema just wasn’t an issue in my partner’s attraction to me, no matter how bad it got. Maybe that’s cos I don’t date assholes, but I can assure you that there are lots of people who will be attracted to and love you for so many reasons, even if it’s hard to really feel that sometimes.
For those of us in romantic relationships, flare ups can be challenging in the same way; it can be hard to believe that our partner (or partners, for the polyamorous amongst us!) still fancies and loves us , even when what we see when we look at our body makes us feel awful and like we want to hide away from the world.
Skin, Mental Heath & Your Relationship
The depression and anxiety that can go hand in hand with these kind of feelings, and the sheer exhaustion and irritability that comes with a flare up, can make us feel withdrawn and disconnected from our partners. When my mental health takes a dip due to my eczema, I try to remember that if someone I love is ill, it’s painful for me to see them suffer and I want to help them in any way I can; this helps me realise that my partner is probably feeling that way about me, which makes me want to let them in and share how I’m feeling. If I have this sort of honest, open communication with my partner, it always brings us closer and makes me really feel how much they love me.
Self care, self acceptance and self love (sometimes literal self love, when our skin is too painful for sex with a partner!) can help us accept care and love from others. When we see our worth beyond our skin condition, we can start to see how others see us in a positive light too. It can also work the other way round, where the love and acceptance shown to us by someone else can help us love and accept ourselves.
There have been very few studies done on how skin conditions affect romantic and sexual relationships, but a French study from 2017 found that more than 80% of the 1,024 study participants said that their condition affected their sexual behaviour.
Our libidos can be very low when we feel physically ill and in pain, as well as being emotionally affected by our condition, and we often aren’t able, or don’t want, to be intimate when we’re feeling like this. Make sure your partner understands that when you don’t feel comfortable with being touched, it’s nothing to do with them and definitely doesn’t mean that you don’t want - or are no longer attracted to - them.
Sometimes it’s just going to be impossible to have sex, and you and your partner will have to accept that. For both of you, having an active sexual relationship with yourselves can really help, though this can sometimes be difficult too, especially if your genital area is affected by your skin flare up. However, one positive to having very sore skin is that it can make you more creative about what constitutes sex and help you learn how to get off in different ways.
- You are so much more than your skin condition; finding ways to build your self esteem will help you in every part of your life and your relationship will benefit enormously.
- People are attracted to you for so many reasons that have nothing to do with your skin condition, and your partner is with you because they like/love you and enjoy spending time with you.
- If you like or love someone, you think they’re beautiful no matter what they look like; this is true of how your partner feels about you.
- Communication is key to maintaining closeness and intimacy with your partner through skin flare ups.
- It can be incredibly healing if you can accept that someone really does find you attractive and love you in spite of a condition that can make you feel unlovable.
Simone Ivatts is a riot grrrl/book nerd who works for a community charity in Leeds and volunteers as a trustee of the wonderful and ancient Leeds Library.