Scarred and Feathered

March 4, 2009
Category: Dating

Dear Kirk,

Years ago I suffered from a extremely severe hereditary case of acne (almost all my family members have suffered it). Fortunately and after many years I took control of this but still have terrible scars on part of my back and chest and ironically not on my face. In order to boost up my confidence I started to work out, now I'm athletic and in excellent shape but I've grown very conscious of these scars. I'm very clean and always groomed and have an excellent appearance till I have to take my shirt off and show my scars. What I usually do when I hook up is just turn off the lights but there are cases where this is impossible. And sometimes I have to give explanations of why I have these scars. I've been celibate the past few months because I feel embarrassed about this.

I'm sorry you had acne – it can really do a number on your self-image. I had it all over my back as a teenager and felt like a total leper.

There are plenty of guys who think scars are sexy. Acne is one of those experiences that many of us have endured, or at least we had friends in high school who went through it. So I'm sure lots of guys understand. When you have sex with guys with scars from burns or surgeries or self-inflicted wounds, it's difficult sometimes to know what to do. Do you risk making your partner self-conscious by asking him to tell you the story of that part of his body? Do you ignore it? I find myself intrigued, even turned on, by scars.

I've learned some interesting things from my female to male transgender friends about scars and body image. When they had chest surgery to remove their breasts, some of them got tattooed around their scars. It was a way for them to deemphasize the scars and to put some marks on their body that they consciously chose, as opposed to acne, which is dictated by our hormones. I wonder if some kind of body modification (a tattoo, a nipple piercing) might be something to consider.

It sounds like it's stressful when someone asks you about your acne scars. This would be a great thing to work through, because it's human nature to ask our sexual partners about their bodies, so as much as I bet you don't want to hear this, people are probably going to ask you about those scars for the rest of your life. You might try doing some writing to explore the feelings you have about your acne. Try writing every day for a week, twenty minutes (or more) at a time. Write about times you felt self-conscious about your acne. Write about times you forgot about it. Describe your acne scars in great physical detail. Tell stories about being in school – convey what you looked like as a younger man and how people related to you. Recount things people have said to you. Are there any neutral and even positive things people have said about your scars? Include those. After a week, try these exercises on other areas of your body. If you're more visually inclined, you could take photographs of your acne scars, then get them printed and make a collage out of those pictures. You could paint on top of them. You could draw them. You could paint on or near your scars with body paint (or, even better, have someone else paint you!). Once we set down feelings and thoughts, we can gradually free ourselves from the emotional knots and tangles in our body.

Even if you don't feel like an artist, you can use art and writing as a healing tool. Every civilization has done this in one form or another, and it's worked for centuries.

Good luck!


Please send your questions to Kirk Read at

Tags: Advice, Dating Tips
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share this
View all posts by Kirk Read


Tattooing is an option, but not necessarily an obvious one: depending on the depth and severity of the scars, tattooing in the scars themselves with no ink can cause them to fill in, lessening their appearance.

I'm one of those people who think scars are hot. Not just ok, or something to live with, but actively hot. They make cool patterns. They change skin texture, and move differently under touch. Years ago I was with someone who had these great patterns I was admiring- until I practically got bitten for drawing attention to stretch marks. I didn't know, I just liked them. And scars on a muscly back are especially hot.

It seems to me that flawless, Adonis-like youth and beauty used to be so prized among gay men that we mere mortals were more or less made to feel irrelevant or invisible. Though to some extent we're still cursed with that destructive notion, maybe we've made some progress. People used to think baldness was ugly; now it's the hottest, hippest thing out there. And certainly nowadays a much more rough hewn masculinity is valued by many, many men-- even ones who may still feel a tinge of envy toward those pretty matinee idol types.
The scars our self-esteem and self-image suffer are the hardest ones to heal, and God knows we get those scars from all over the place, all through our lives. Shrinks, anti-depressants, lovers... those can all help, but finally we have to do what we can with what we are.
My hunch is that you're a hot man and that most men you might meet are more like me and Eric (who wrote the note above)-- more turned on by real humanity than by plastic perfection.
My heart sinks sometimes when I look at those enviable godlike faces and bodies we see online (who often turn out to be much less ideal than their photos suggest)-- but, you know what? ...if everybody in the gay world looked like a Prada model, how boring would sex be ?! I for one think it would be pretty dismal.
There's nothing wrong with withdrawing from the scene for a while to get your thoughts together-- but don't punish yourself for being a real man. That suggestion is offered with respect, believe me.

I can feel most deeply for the gentleman who writes about his acne scarring on his back. I have gone through the same horroble ordeal in my youth only the acne didn't stop at my continued up my neck and enveloped my face as well leaving me with very rough, and tough features. Over the years I have had many different procedures to alleviate the scarring on my face and, as I have aged, they have lessened and I have also learned to accept myself more as well, although I will never be one of those guys we all aspire to look like (which is "unattainable" just as women in our society try to all look like runway models - ridiculous!). However, the skin on your back and torso is much different than the skin on your face - its thicker and does not usually respond well to the same procedures as the skin on your face - which is more elastic and "thinner". So, as our writer has said, I too, have gone to the gym and have learned to build muscle which seems to have filled in some of the deep crevices and pits left behind by the ravages of the acne. I also go to a tanning salon regularly and use a very high quality tanning lotion designed for indoor tanning to keep the skin supple and soft. Because I am Italian (and naturally have dark pigmentation) a dark tan also helps in hiding a great deal of the scarring. The secret is to keep the skin as "healthy" as possible. Oh, and I see my dermatologist on a regular basis.

I wish the young man much luck in his search for inner peace with himself in this regard. Did you ever see a dented can on the shelf in the grocery store? The can/ container may not be perfect or the "ideal" of what it should look likeon the outside to others but that doesn't mean that its contents aren't delicious! :-)


My mother always had sound advice... 'count your blessings'. Do you really think ppl care about other
ppl's backs? It could have been your face, deal with it and move on to something more redeeming.

To Topshotdad,
I don't usually get involved in these blogs but having suffered cystic acne as a teen and literally backed out of rooms (in my younger years) to avoid a guy seeing my zits I can relate.
Gay people DO care about appearance (stating the obvious here) ,as do you from what I read in your ad, and the kind of acne this fellow is talking about is not a passing teen issue but leaves deep pits and scars on the skin and on the psyche. Yes we can always look at those less fortunate than us but is that really the issue? I recall an episode of 'Will and Grace' where Karen joked about having Backne then recanted saying of course she didn't .. I didn't get all bent out of shape about it, but it did bring back a moment from the Gay Games in Vancouver where I had dared to wear a tank top and my 'best' friend called me aside at a dance to say I should stand out of the light as it picked up on my scarring.. ya nice. I still manged to enjoy the evening and the freedom of a tank top which I still rarely ever wear. Nor do I go shirtless even though I have a decent build. So I'll 'count my blessings' that I have decent looks, a decent paycheque and live in a decent country but don't be so quick to put yourself in other people's shoes unless you've walked a mile in them. Thanks, Bill

Treatments now for acne and scars
like laser,and chemical peels.
Go to a dermatologist and get a exam.
look into diet and antioxidants too.
Gone are the days of pizza face.
And Robert Redfords ugly skin.

You men are making mountains out of mole-hills. I never had acne, but I have scars from accidents and surgeries, and my body was never perfect in the first place. If anybody does not want to have sex with me because of such an inconsequential matter, then he can just go fuck himself. If I have learned anything in my life, it is that the world is full of people who want to have sex. If you come across an asshole who rejects you because of acne scars, believe me it is easy enough to finds hundreds of others who are not that shallow.

Usually dont respond to these blogs but this issue is something that ive had to deal with as well. Although people tell you not to worry about what people think, as a young person it can fall on deaf ears. It is true and someone who is preoccupied with acne on your back is probably not someone worth your time anyway, so think of it as a filter ;) There is also plenty of methods you can try to minimize their appearance ive had success with a few.

I had acne on back and shoulders as well, finally in my 30s did Accutane treatment which stopped the onset of new boils but earlier ones left scars, which you can see if you look at my back. It has never been a problem that I know of with my lovers and sex partners though I did have a catty friend or two who called attention to it. It may be a much less big deal than you beleive. FYI, I have no problem being attracted to guys with facial acne scars or otherwise. Wish you the best.

I too have had very bad cystic acne on my back and went as far as having Acutane treatments which, while getting rid of the acne still left me with terrible scarring that the above letter references. Its important to remember that scars can last forever, even when they are tattooed over. Speaking as someone who has many tattoos and over 180 stitches on my face from childhood accidents which I can't tattoo over, the best thing I ever did was learn to accept them by NOT shying away from talking about them-even when they were rudely commented on. But what empowered me most was understanding that-by meeting new people and not being afraid to talk-that the problem was both common and ultimately not my fault. Gay men DO get taught to be body image conscious from the ads in magazines to watching the pretties and most socially acceptably looking men get prized over those that are considered less so. Its a fact. Its awkward at first to think that someone would want you ANYWAY, even with the scars. And being younger makes that even harder to reconcile-at a time when we are just redefining ourselves as men. I'd say give yourself time. The more people you meet and get to know, the more you will find that scars and scarring in general comes in many ways. The ones who are brave enough(and kind enough to ask with sensitivity)have been worth the rare odd comment. They have taught me to value who I am and not base my worth on the values of others.

My BF is amazingly gorgeous and built like a college football player.
But he has acne and needs to see a dermatologist from time to time.
I don't think about or at all or notice it. I've never had much of a problem with this.
Maybe that's why it's not on my radar.
The only thing I think is that I want him to understand how hot he is.
If the condition is inconvenient he can take practical steps where practical measures exist.
Flaws are human. I still love him.
Lots of things turn me on -- love handles, grey hair, bald heads, short guys...
I like what I like -- I don't give a fuck about what prissy homo fashion designers think I should like.