Medical Mystery: Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome

Living with the Symptoms

Dearmon and her husband Jeremy have been dealing with PSAS since it began during her pregnancy 12 years ago.

"I felt like I lost myself," Dearmon said.

At first, they thought the sensations would stop when she gave birth. Instead they intensified, lasting 24 hours a day. Dearmon found only one way to stop them.

"I was masturbating in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night," Dearmon said. "I would be crying while I was, you know, masturbating because — nobody wants to do that all day long."

Dearmon is not a nymphomaniac: none of these women are. They hate the constant sexual arousal. Pinpointing the cause is difficult but Dr. Goldstein thinks one source may be a brain reflex gone awry.

"You could visualize at some level that this is a form of recurrent seizure activity — an area of the brain that activates without the person's permission," he said.

Brain scans of patients have turned up nothing yet, but the research is continuing. Without knowing the cause, treatment can be difficult, especially because the syndrome varies among patients.

Dearmon's PSAS began in pregnancy but Lauren's problem has been lifelong.

"I can remember episodes when I was three," Lauren said.

Emily's PSAS also began when she was a toddler. She remembers always moving her legs to stop the "itch."

"I always knew it wasn't normal — but I knew nothing else," Emily said.

Austin's PSAS began after menopause. Her doctor tried to block the nerves to her genital area, via an extremely painful process. But even that didn't work.

The women who suffer often resort to home remedies in an effort to get some relief.

"We have a woman who ices a condom and puts the condom in the genitalia to basically survive the day," Dr. Goldstein said.

Nancy tried ice, but found it too cold. Dearmon has also tried ice, and creams, but to no avail. PSAS still found a way to intrude on their lives. It even ended Lauren's relationship with her boyfriend

"I'd go sleep in the other room so I wouldn't wake him up with my thrashing," Lauren said. "You're flapping around, your legs are moving just to — it's like a tickle that you can't get to."

Lauren tried using vibrators but they only provided temporary relief.

"It works at the moment, but as soon as you stop, it's right back there again," she said.

And as she gets older, the symptoms get worse.

"Now it's every night," she said. "I don't sleep for days sometimes, maybe an hour at about five in the morning."

"I just want to sleep," Lauren said tearfully. "I just want to be normal. I want to sleep. That's what I want."

"It's Not Something We've Chosen"

Nancy said she wouldn't wish this on her worst enemy.

"You don't make fun of people who are sick," Dearmon said. "To me this is a sickness. This is not, it's not something we've chosen."

All of the women told "Primetime" it was not a yearning for sex.

Some women are so desperate to end PSAS they try electroshock therapy. So far it has produced uneven results, but Dr. Goldstein thinks it is helping "re-set" the brain in at least one of his patients.

"The electroconvulsive therapy causes her to re-regulate her sexual reflex, and she no longer has PSAS," he said.

Dearmon said if she knew for sure the electric shock therapy could work she would try it. She has even considered surgery "just to cut everything off down there."

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