Persistent Genital Arousal Syndrome (PGAS) is Rare, Disruptive
It is very possible to have too much of a good thing. Just ask Michelle Thompson, who has a rare condition called persistent genital arousal syndrome (PGAS). In a recent Daily Telegraph article, she noted that PGAS has “ruined my love life.”
Persistent genital arousal syndrome, also known as persistent sexual arousal syndrome, can affect women of any age, premenopausal or postmenopausal, married or single. The condition is characterized by persistent feelings of vaginal congestion and other physical signs of sexual arousal without any awareness of sexual desire along with the intense arousal. The arousal may be triggered not only by sexual activity, but also by seemingly nonsexual situations or no obvious stimulus at all.
Although masturbation or sexual activity with a partner that results in orgasm may relieve the vaginal congestion, the relief is temporary, and the physical signs of sexual arousal may persist for hours, days, or months. The physiologic signs of persistent arousal are intrusive, unwanted, and disruptive to the women who experience them.
The exact number of women who suffer with this distressing and intrusive condition is not known, as women tend to feel embarrassed or ashamed of their feelings and are afraid to talk to their doctors about it. For years, women who experienced persistent genital arousal and did decide to report it to their doctors were told it was all in their head and that they should seek psychiatric help.
Some women have come forward and talked about their experiences with PGAS. In addition to Michelle Thompson, the stories of two women, Jeannie Allen and Heather Dearmon, were reported in April 2008 on Fox News. Jeannie Allen, a mother of three who lives in California, was fortunate to eventually connect with two means of understanding and support: Dr. Sandra Leiblum, director of the Center for Sexual and Relationship Health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey; and an online support group, PSAS-support.com, which Allen now moderates and which offers women a place to share their experiences and get information about the syndrome.
Thus far, the causes of PGAS are not known. Some researchers have suggested that it may be related to use of antidepressants, although this has not been verified, nor do all women who have persistent genital arousal syndrome have a history of antidepressant use. Since recognition of the syndrome near the turn of this millennium, there have been an increasing number of studies conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, but much remains unknown at this point.
Daily Telegraph, Nov. 16, 2009-11-29
Goldmeier D. International Journal of STD & AIDS 2009 Jun; 20(6): 373-77
Leiblum S and Nathan S, Persistent sexual arousal syndrome in women, www.femalepatient.com
Leiblum S, Seehuus M, Brown C. Journal of Sexual Medicine 2007 May; 4(3): 680-67