The Uncomfortable Truth About Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder

Persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD) is a condition where an individual becomes sexually aroused without any stimulation or sexual activity. You may experience all the symptoms that come with arousals, such as vaginal swelling or an erection, even when there’s no reason to feel aroused.

PGAD has very little to do with orgasms. It is defined by a relentless feeling of genital congestion, which is often accompanied by pelvic pain. Those who suffer from the condition constantly feel like they’re on the verge of an orgasm. The feeling can last anywhere from a couple of hours to several weeks at a time.

The condition mostly affects women, although it has also been reported in men. In such cases, it is referred to as priapism. Priapism is characterized by an erection that lasts several hours without any sexual arousal.

What is it like to have PGAD, and is there any persistent genital arousal disorder treatment available for individuals with the condition? Here’s everything you need to know.

When Arousal Doesn’t Equate to Pleasure

For people who don’t suffer from PGAD, the idea of being in a constant state of arousal and even experiencing spontaneous orgasms might not sound like such a bad thing. The condition is anything but pleasurable.

While genital arousal disorder is considered rare, experts believe that the number of women living with the condition is much higher than reported. The reason for this has to do with the stigma attached to it. Most women are often too embarrassed or afraid to seek treatment for it mainly because of the illness’ taboo nature.

For most individuals, the subjective elements of sexual desire are directly linked to the physical aspects of sexual arousal. In other words, feeling “turned on” or “in the mood.” In individuals with PGAD, the subjective and physical aspects of sexual arousal don’t happen at the same time. Sexual desire and genital arousal are not in sync.

Other feelings come with physiological arousals, like an elevated heart rate during a workout. More often than not, the thoughts and feelings attached to these bodily responses are positive, for instance, what you would feel if you were on a rollercoaster. Those same feelings can be interpreted negatively in a different situation, for instance, if you were running away from a bear in the woods.

That’s how individuals with persistent genital arousal disorder feel. The physical sensations that come with vaginal arousal are distressing, unwanted, intrusive, and embarrassing.

Effect of Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder on Quality of Life

A woman seated at a desk with a laptop

Women who are diagnosed with PGAD feel out of control. Anything from a bumpy car ride to sitting in a work meeting to inserting a tampon can trigger arousal. Even wearing your favorite pair of stilettos – which throws off your pelvic balance – can aggravate genital sensitivity. You never know what will induce a public flare-up.

Then there’s the pain that comes with it. Imagine being on the edge of an orgasm 24/7 to the point where you can’t think, you can’t concentrate, you can’t sleep, you can’t function optimally – it’s not fun.

The genital area, especially the clitoris and pelvic floor muscles, ache due to constant inflammation; even going to the toilet results in severe pain. Doing what you would consider everyday tasks becomes an excruciating endeavor. This waters down the quality of life among those with the condition.

Persistent genital arousal disorder is related to several conditions, including:

  • Tarlov cysts: These are tiny, spinal-fluid-filled sacs that form on the root of the sacral nerves located at the bottom of the spine. These nerves receive neurological signals from the brain and relay them to the genitals, colon, and bladder.
  • Pudendal nerve compression: The pudendal is the nerve responsible for sensation around the genitalia.
  • Pre-existing mental health issues: These include stress, depression, and anxiety.

In the same way that stress and anxiety are known triggers for PGAD, the distress brought about by the condition also triggers stress and anxiety. This results in a vicious cycle that reinforces and aggravates flare-ups.

Many people who suffer from genital arousal disorder feel an overwhelming urge to masturbate to relieve the symptoms of the disorder. This only offers short-lived, superficial relief and only intensifies the symptoms. The good news is – there is hope.

Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder Treatment

The avenues for treating patients diagnosed with PGAD revolve around the management of symptoms. This is because the exact causes of the condition are shrouded in mystery. Below are some of the treatment options available for patients.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT has proven quite effective in helping women identify potential triggers for PGAD flare-ups. It also equips you with coping mechanisms and techniques for distraction to help manage the symptoms that come with the condition. Additionally, CBT helps in the management of stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which have been linked to the worsening of PGAD symptoms. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can also help.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Studies have shown that treating severe cases of PGAD using (ECT) has proven beneficial to patients with the condition. In this treatment, a patient is sedated, and small electric charges are passed through the brain. These small pulses of electricity trigger changes in the brain chemistry which, in turn, alleviate the symptoms of genital arousal disorder.

Ice Baths and Topical Applications

Individuals diagnosed with PGAD can manage the pain and discomfort that comes with the condition by taking an ice bath or applying ice directly to the genital area. There are also topical applications such as numbing gels that can be applied to relieve symptoms.

Prescription Medication

Medication that increases the level of milk-stimulating hormone or prolactin in the blood has proven to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of PGAD. Anti-seizure medications and antidepressants have also been beneficial in the treatment of the condition.

Keep in mind that any medication you’re currently on should be free of PGAD aggravators like herbal estrogen and other ingredients that are likely to induce flare-ups.

Do you need more information on persistent genital arousal disorder? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

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