Squeamish Girlfriend
by Pittsburgh

Dear Ed: I'm a 23 yr-old male in college in Pittsburgh and have psoriasis on my chest, back, butt, arms and legs. Fortunately it is not on my hands, face, in my hair or on my privates, as you call those parts in Flake. People don't know I have psoriasis because I keep all the evidence covered. I have been dating a girl for six months and we were getting very serious but I still had not told her about my psoriasis. I didn't know how to do it. Then I read Flake and your own experiences gave me courage. I think she had been waiting for me to take the plunge for a long time, so finally I suggested it and just said "But there's something you have to know," like you did in the book. She did not know anything about psoriasis and cooled right away. I got so far as to show her one arm and that was the end of it. Now I do not know whether to dump her because she's a closed-minded dunce, or mail her some psoriasis brochures and try again. So what advice do you have for someone who was not so lucky as you?

~~~~~

Ed's Response:

Dear Pittsburgh: Wish I could have been a fly on the wall during your confession to your girlfriend. Did you spend a few minutes talking about psoriasis before you "showed her"? Or did you shock her first and then try to explain? Perhaps I should have added to the scene in FLAKE you reference that the involved woman and I talked for a few moments about the disease before we ... carried on.

Obviously, an intimate relationship between a psoriatic and a non-psoriatic has to take into account the disease. It can't be ignored, but neither can it be considered too important. It sounds like—all things considered—you're pretty lucky by not suffering psoriasis in places that count most in these situations. (You may recall another scene in FLAKE where this was NOT the case and the outcome was less blissful....). Did you let your girlfriend know that your psoriasis was not a "mechanical problem"?

Prospective partners may have two reasons for "cooling" to maximum intimacy with a psoriatic. The first is what I (being a non-expert and probably misusing the term) would call "psycho-sexual"—the unsightliness just turns them off. I believe all sexually functioning human beings carry around some sort of baggage like this. It's like a three-column list. The first column is a list of physical characteristics that turn me ON, the second column is a list of physical characteristics that turn me OFF, and the third is a list of physical characteristics about which I am INDIFFERENT. The condition of a prospective lover's skin probably falls in one of those columns for everybody. A logically good mate for a psoriatic is an individual who places "skin perfection" in the third column. (I cringe to imagine someone who finds psoriasis lesions a "turn on.")

The second reason a prospective mate may "cool" upon learning their partner is psoriatic is simply fear. And as all knowing psoriatics realize, anyone who is afraid of our disease is simply ignorant, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. One of the burdens we psoriatics bear in ALL relationships is to overcome the other's fear stemming from ignorance. We owe to anyone with whom we wish to associate (intimately or not) the reassurance that our psoriasis is NOT contagious and NOT debilitating. This doesn't mean you have to walk around town wearing a sandwich sign that says "Be Not Afraid of My Psoriasis." If you can hide it, hide it; but when you can't hide it don't let ignorance rule the day!

It's up to you, P-in-P, to determine whether your girlfriend is simply turned off by unattractive skin, or if she's afraid when she need not be. If your lesions turn her off, that doesn't mean she's a bad person. Smile graciously, shake hands, be friends ... and look elsewhere for a mate. However, sending her those brochures you mentioned and trying again might not be such a bad idea. Maybe we should task the National Psoriasis Foundation to print wallet-size membership cards with this statement: "This is to certify that [NAME OF MEMBER] has psoriasis, a non-contagious skin condition, but is otherwise a very nice person with whom you should enjoy all appropriate associations." What do you think? -Ed

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