Atopic Dermatitis: Sex and Intimacy

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 06, 2024
4 min read

Sex and intimacy can be challenging when you have atopic dermatitis (AD). In fact, 1 in 3 adults with AD say the condition has gotten in the way of relationships and their sexual health.

Atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema) causes pain and discomfort, which can leave you not-in-the-mood for sex. But there may be other factors at play, too, like:

  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of desire (called low libido)

Your sexual health can affect both your relationships and your quality of life. So it’s important not to let your skin -- or your worries -- kill your sex life. Taking steps to manage both your eczema and your fears can help you enjoy more intimate moments.

Reducing skin irritation not only eases discomfort, but it also boosts your feelings of well-being, helps you build a more positive view of your body, and helps you feel more confident in intimate situations. So taking steps to control your AD can improve intimacy too.

Certain triggers, or things in your environment, can cause an eczema flare-up. Knowing what your triggers are -- and doing your best to avoid them -- can reduce outbreaks. Common triggers include dry air, cosmetic and body-care products (especially those with perfumes), and long, hot baths or showers.

Try using a journal or app to track your flare-ups and things that could have led to them. This can help you spot problem products or even particular seasons that make your eczema worse.

Talk to your doctor if your eczema symptoms are troubling you. They can recommend medications and other products to help reduce flare-ups and ease your discomfort when you have them.

If you have genital eczema, ask your doctor about treatments, which can include prescription topical steroids (the kind you apply to your skin) and soap substitutes. These can relieve symptoms, such as itching and irritation, that may make sex uncomfortable.

Cosmetic and body-care products can also trigger genital eczema or make it worse. Watch out for products with perfumes, bubble baths, and hygiene wipes. Be wary of tight clothing, which can cause irritation.

Personal lubricants you buy over the counter can make sex more comfortable and enjoyable if eczema affects the area around your genitals. They help reduce friction during intercourse.

If you use steroid creams or other treatments on or around your genitals to treat eczema, talk to your doctor about whether they’re safe to use before sex. Steroid creams, for example, should be fully absorbed into your skin before you have sex to avoid risks to your partner.

Condoms and diaphragms don’t irritate eczema, unless you have a latex allergy. (If you’re allergic, you can find ones made of silicone or another material.)

But be careful if you use a medical moisturizer or topical steroid. They may damage a diaphragm or condom and make them less effective.

Ask your doctor whether any treatments or creams you apply around your genitals may cause this risk, and how long you should wait after applying them before you have safe sex.

Many people with eczema, especially those with an aggressive case, report a loss of sexual desire. If you notice major changes in your sex drive, talk to your doctor or a therapist.

Your libido -- or desire for sex -- could be low because of physical discomfort, stress, anxiety, side effects of medications, feeling disconnected from your partner, or something else. Your doctor or therapist can help you figure out what’s causing your low desire and find solutions.

One of the most important ways to improve your intimacy with a partner is to talk to them about your eczema. Be open about how it affects your desire and your experience during sex. When you share what it’s like to live with AD, this helps build emotional intimacy and gives them insight into your thoughts and feelings.

Also, make clear to your partner what kinds of touch and activities feel good and which are uncomfortable for you. They may be afraid to touch you for fear of hurting you. Knowing what you’re comfortable with helps put them at ease and can improve the experience for both of you.

If sex is uncomfortable during a flare-up, be open about this too. Look for other ways to stay connected with your partner. You can hold hands, go for walks, or enjoy a favorite activity together.

If you and your partner need help starting this discussion or navigating sex with eczema, a counselor or therapist -- especially a sex therapist -- may be able to help.

Remember, all relationships go through their share of ups and downs, whether a skin condition is involved or not. Therapy can get you through the rough patches and strengthen your relationship. And that can do wonders for your sex life.

Many people with eczema say they feel self-conscious about their skin, which makes them uneasy about being intimate. While this is understandable, it's important to find healthy ways to process these feelings while also embracing your body.

Eczema is just one aspect of your body and your life. Don’t let it overshadow your other qualities. Even when you’re going through a flare-up, strive to focus on your positive features.