The day after the Tampa Bay Times published 39-year-old Gretchen Molannen's devastating account of her persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD), which took a severe toll on her personal and professional life, Molannen committed suicide. Talk has since abounded about the responsibility that journalism owes to its subjects and whether the tragedy could have been avoided without her media exposure. That kind of navel-gazing speculation is hardly the thing to focus on in the wake of Molannen's death: the fact is that PGAD is still a major medical mystery, one undermined by many physicians. (One of Molannen's doctors once joked," I wish my wife had it.") What needs to be done now is to determine its origin, not point fingers.
PGAD was only characterized as recently as 2001 and Rutgers University researcher Dr. Barry Komisaruk, one of the frontrunners in current research, says that it's not recognized in the medical community as an official condition. This is the reason that women like Molannen are denied disability benefits, and some women don't even come forward about having the condition due to embarrassment. Thought to be caused by malfunctioning nerves, Komisaruk found another commonality in a group of PGAD sufferers: 12 out of the 18 women had Tarlov cysts—located on the base of the spine. These are only found in 1-9% of the general population. He published his findings in Journal of Sexual Medicine.
After all, awareness is the reason Molannen did the interview in the first place. In her words: "I just hope this will educate people that this is serious and really exists, and that other women who are suffering in silence will now have the courage to talk to a doctor about it."