Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder: Way Worse Than It SoundsS

"During my second semester of senior year, I counted orgasms on a sheet of paper," writes an anonymous woman on BoingBoing. "I was having 100 and 200 a day." She has persistent genital arousal disorder, and it's not very sexy.

The author's disorder causes her to have orgasms all the time, in totally nonsexual situations. At first, friends said, "You're so lucky!" and "Dude, I'd love to date you" — but the condition makes her life really difficult. She writes,

Every time I do something, I have to evaluate my situation. Where am I? Are there other people around? How well do I know them? What is the likelihood that, if I don't get someplace private in time, things could get complicated? Can I make noise? (Being vocal isn't necessary, but it helps release more of the pressure.) I avoid triggers - things like music with heavy bass, vibrations from riding a train or an idle car, cold air, musky cologne, darkness, stress, scary movies, romantic movies, unexpected touch, a full bladder. [PGAD] is completely unrelated to sex drive. Watching sex scenes does nothing for me, but the other day, when a friend put his hand on my back, I found it really hard to contain a screaming orgasm. If my heart rate shoots up too high for too long, I flare up. I avoided exercise and gained a lot of weight. One time, I was hugging a male relative and I felt an orgasm arise. It felt really dirty and wrong, and I totally freaked out. Now, I try to avoid hugs in general unless I feel ready for them.

In a sad irony, her condition actually keeps her from having sex with her boyfriend of six years. She has a vulvar pain disorder that sometimes accompanies PGAD, and other sufferers say "sex is not satisfying at all - the orgasms associated with sex are nothing compared to the ones induced by the condition." "Honestly," she adds, "I just enjoy being held by him and not having it feel inappropriate" — which makes sense coming from someone who has to time even her hugs to avoid "feeling dirty." Heather Dearmon, who also has PGAD, told MSNBC that she avoided sex with her husband "because she treasured any time she was not feeling aroused."

PGAD remains poorly understood. According to BoingBoing's Lisa Katayama, it's going to be included in the 2012 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And Brian Alexander of MSNBC writes that it is sometimes accompanied by depression and panic attacks, and can be relieved by antidepressants. But it can also occur along with yeast infections or dermatological problems, and there doesn't seem to be clear evidence that it's a psychological problem. In fact, attributing it to solely to psychology may just compound the misunderstanding of the condition — one therapist of Dearmon's "said I must be sexually repressed and needed to experiment more. He suggested I try lesbianism."

Sufferers in general have a hard time being taken seriously by doctors, friends, and the general public, and the commenters on BoingBoing are no exception. Despite the fact that the writer had to take a leave from college, quit exercising (she has since picked up dance), and avoid sex, the first comment on her piece reads, "I'll have what she's having." More annoying is this one:

Uh, not trying to be obnoxious, but if this woman has a boyfriend of six years and they havent had sex, that guy's not her boyfriend; he's her friend.

Or this:

6 year boyfriend with no sex != boyfriend. Based on her description, there is no end in sight for the lack of sex either.

It sounds like her condition has put her off from sex completely and she just doesn't want to have it ever (understandably). Until she gets it fixed (if that is even possible) she will probably never have a normal, healthy relationship.

If PGAD tells us anything, it's that human sexuality is complicated, and that physical arousal can be influenced by many factors aside from actually wanting to have sex. This could be a jumping-off point for a discussion of the complexities of sex itself, of what sex means to someone who's aroused all the time, and of how a relationship can be fulfilling when vaginal intercourse is not, for the moment, an option (a situation that can come up at times for lots of couples, even without rare conditions like PGAD). Unfortunately, the BoingBoing commenters prefer to keep things simplistic.

The Woman Who Can't Stop Orgasming [BoingBoing]
Always Aroused: A Good Thing Gone Awry [MSNBC]