I have a skin problem that is not contagious. Sometimes it goes away, but sometimes I have a flare, and it can be seen on my face and scalp. Or the red areas might just be on my body. What can I do when people stare at me? I have gone out on blind dates and had guys pretend they don’t see me, and walk out of the restaurant. If I get past the first impressions and find a man who likes me for myself, getting undressed is also complicated. I don’t like having the lights on; I am self-conscious about what the red, raised skin looks like. But it is also true that I don’t like to be touched where the skin is inflamed. It feels bad, the skin is too sensitive. So maybe it would be better to have enough light so he could see where to avoid touching my skin? I often wish my lovers would just relax in bed and let me make love to them. But that isn’t how male/female sex is supposed to work, so they try to caress me and make me feel good, and I am usually so tense that all I do is worry about how I look or whether they will hurt me. Can I handle this better? Because I don’t think the way I am doing this now is working at all.
I’m not sure what kind of skin condition you have, so I can’t give you much advice about how to deal with it medically. Nor can I help you much with people who stare at you. You simply can’t control that. Repeat the serenity prayer, focus on the business at hand (“I came to the mall to shop for new towels, and I’m going to have fun doing that.”), and let it go. When people stare at us, we often imagine that they are thinking negative or condemning thoughts (“She is so ugly,” “I hope I don’t catch that,” “She should stay home.”) But for all you know, their thoughts could be quite different. (“I have the same thing,” “She is so brave,” “I wish I could help,” “My little girl has that condition.”) Once again, you have no control—and no knowledge—of what’s going on inside their heads. Assuming it’s negative will only bring you down. I often smile brightly when people stare at me, and try to take the same advice I am giving you, to let it go and move on.
I probably would not agree to go on a blind date if I was having a flare, unless the guy had been informed about my health issue. I think that would prevent a lot of awkwardness. If he is not the kind of person who can deal with a health problem (and that is a lot to cope with in a stranger you are meeting for the first time), then you are better off not meeting him at all. When meeting a new guy, it is probably better to invite him to look and ask if he has any questions about it. This gives him permission so he doesn’t have to wonder awkwardly about such things as, “Can I touch her face there?” or “Will I hurt her?” or “Is it catching?” If he is a sensitive person, he may also be concerned for you and want to know how this happened, how you deal with it, and how it has affected your life.
When it comes to making love, I vote for low lights. Bright lights are not very sexy. But complete darkness is intimidating, and nowadays it is not really expected. It is completely acceptable for you to say, “Would you feel okay about letting me touch you? I would love to just explore your body while you relax on my bed.” If you have some baby oil or lotion you can pour into your hands and rub onto his chest, thighs, etc., he will be about 95% likely to agree. If he reaches for your body, just direct his touch. “That area is kind of off limits, but I would love to be touched here, oh yes, please, oh that’s so good.” Most men are starved for positive feedback from their female partners. To have something specific requested and reinforced is great for their confidence.
“You make me feel so safe and beautiful” is something that would help too. “I so much appreciate the fact that you listen to me when I tell you what wouldn’t feel good,” or “you really know how to touch me where I need to be touched” are other compliments that reinforce his staying within your boundaries. You don’t have to talk to him like a traffic cop, as I am sure you know. Sexy, flirty communication works the best in bed. With low lights, he can see where you have outbreaks and avoid them. When he is successful at pleasuring rather than irritating or hurting you, you can relax and feel more pleasure too.
Earlier in the evening, you can say, “I almost canceled this evening, but I don’t like to do that, I just have no idea when these outbreaks will happen. I’m sorry if it seems overwhelming. I’m really enjoying talking to you, but if it’s too much, I understand.” That gives him a tactful opportunity to say, “I have enjoyed meeting you too but I do think I will say goodnight. I have to be up early,” or whatever lame excuse he has. I think it helps you to know if the guy really wants to be with you or just can’t figure out how to get himself out of it. Being gentle with their fear or anxiety is a good way to help them to find a comfort level. It is a real drag having to be an advocate and educator. But we live in a society where everybody is supposed to be young and healthy all of the time, and there is no visibility for disabled or chronically ill people. Most folks are radically ignorant about health issues of all types. So the people who feel the least like doing it (the people who are ill) are the ones who wind up being the spokespeople. And we wind up doing these educational spiels when we are most vulnerable—when we need a job, when we are looking for housing, when we would like to make a friend or go on a date.
I hope things get easier for you, and some treatment is found to clear this up so it is no longer a problem for you. I don’t know if that is a reasonable hope or not. But a sincere wish for healing can do no harm.