Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It’s a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes dry, itchy skin and other symptoms.
Atopic dermatitis is most likely to affect your hands, but symptoms may also occur on other parts of your body. Some people develop symptoms around their genitals or anus. This may cause itchiness, dryness, and discomfort, including during sex or other intimate activities.
Visible symptoms of atopic dermatitis may also negatively affect your body image or self-esteem. Feeling embarrassed or self-conscious about symptoms may undermine your comfort or confidence in relationships.
Some people cope with these challenges by avoiding sex or relationships, but this may negatively affect your quality of life. Sex and intimate relationships are important sources of connection and pleasure for many people.
Managing symptoms of atopic dermatitis can help limit its potential effects on your sex life and relationships. It’s also important to communicate with your partner and take steps to build self-esteem.
Following your doctor’s recommended treatment for atopic dermatitis can help reduce symptoms, which may decrease discomfort during sexual activities and limit body image concerns.
Depending on your specific symptoms, your doctor may recommend:
- changes to your skin care routine or other lifestyle habits
- medicated ointments, creams, or other topical treatments
- oral or injected medication
- light therapy
It’s also important to limit any triggers that make your symptoms worse.
You can learn more about skin care and avoiding triggers below.
Practicing good skin care
A gentle skin care routine can help keep your skin moisturized and healthy.
For example, your doctor may encourage you to:
- Take short baths or showers using lukewarm water.
- Use a gentle cleanser or soap to clean your skin.
- Gently pat rather than rub your skin dry.
- Regularly apply moisturizer.
It’s best to avoid personal care products that contain fragrances, dyes, or other common irritants. These ingredients are common triggers that may worsen symptoms of atopic dermatitis.
Avoiding common triggers
Atopic dermatitis triggers can be anything that worsens your symptoms. Triggers can vary from one person to another. Identifying your triggers and taking steps to limit or avoid them may help reduce your symptoms.
Common triggers for atopic dermatitis include:
- extremely hot or cold temperatures
- friction against your skin
- scented personal care products
- household disinfectants
- rough fabrics or clothing
To prevent or reduce symptoms around your genitals or anus, it might also help to avoid:
- waxing hair around your genitals or anus
- wearing tight-fitting pants, leggings, tights, or thongs
- using douches, cosmetic powders, or sprays on your genitals or anus
Wearing soft underwear made from breathable fabric, such as cotton, and laundering underwear and other clothing with gentle, fragrance-free detergent might also help prevent or reduce symptoms around your genitals or anus.
Using a water- or silicone-based personal lubricant during sexual activities may help limit friction and discomfort. It’s best to avoid flavored lubricants.
If symptoms of atopic dermatitis negatively affect your sexual desire, sexual pleasure, confidence, or comfort in a relationship, talking with your partner may help you manage it.
“It can be an embarrassing topic to discuss, and some [people] may not feel comfortable talking about their symptoms with their partner. This may cause misunderstandings and challenges within a relationship,” Lisa Lawless, PhD, told Healthline.
Lawless is a clinical psychotherapist who specializes in sexual health and the CEO and founder of Holistic Wisdom, a company that provides sexual wellness education, resources, and products.
“Open discussions about what [atopic dermatitis] is and how it impacts you and your relationship can alleviate a great deal of stress,” she says.
Lawless shared the following tips for talking with your partner about atopic dermatitis:
- Be honest: Talk with your partner about your atopic dermatitis triggers, symptoms, and how the condition affects your body image, sexual comfort, or other areas of life.
- Educate: Help your partner learn more about atopic dermatitis, including how they can help support you.
- Explore: Work together to find ways to stay intimate or feel connected during a flare of symptoms. You might find it helpful to avoid certain sex positions or try a new sex position, sex toy, or lubricant.
Finding nonsexual ways to be physically intimate may also help you maintain a sense of connection when sex is uncomfortable. These might include holding hands, cuddling, hugging, or enjoying a slow dance together.
If you find it hard to talk about the challenges you’re facing with your partner, consider connecting with a couples’ counselor or sex therapist. They can share strategies to help you communicate. They may also have tips for adjusting your sex life in ways that promote mutual comfort and pleasure.
How you think and feel about your body can impact your self-esteem, mental health, and quality of life. It may also shape how you interact with others in relationships.
To build a positive body image, it may help to purposefully think positive thoughts about yourself. Make a conscious effort to think about things you like about yourself, including not only aspects of your body that you like but also your strengths and skills. You might find it helpful to write these thoughts down in a journal.
Taking time to explore new activities, build new skills, or give back to your community may also help improve your sense of self. It’s important to remember that you’re more than someone with atopic dermatitis.
You might also find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional who has experience supporting people with chronic conditions. They can help you develop strategies for coping with negative body image, low self-esteem, and relationship challenges.
Atopic dermatitis can cause uncomfortable physical symptoms, which may interfere with your sexual desire or comfort. It may also contribute to body image concerns, which may negatively affect your relationships or sex life.
Taking steps to manage the condition is important for reducing symptoms and limiting their effects on your life. It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommended treatment. Practicing good skin care habits and avoiding triggers may also help limit symptoms.
Try to communicate openly with your partner about how atopic dermatitis affects you. You may be able to work together to address challenges related to sex or intimacy.
Recognizing and cultivating your strengths and skills may also help you develop a positive sense of self, which may have benefits for your mental health and relationships.
To learn more strategies for navigating intimacy and improving your body image with atopic dermatitis, consider talking with your doctor or a mental health professional.