Medical Mystery: Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome

If you thought "Grey's Anatomy" writers invented Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (PSAS), think again.

PSAS, identified and named just six years ago, remains a mysterious condition that thousands of women wish they didn't have. They are constantly on the edge of orgasm regardless of time, place or circumstance. And while this situation might sound desirable, funny or just plain weird it is actually akin to being a prisoner: a nightmarish reality where a woman's body acts independently of her own desires.

ABC News spoke with four women who all experience unwanted sexual sensations. Heather Dearmon, Nancy Austin, and two women who requested anonymity (referred to as Lauren and Emily) all suffer from unintended sexual arousal.


"It's unwanted sexual sensations in your vagina," Dearmon said.

"And sex doesn't help it," Lauren said. "Orgasm doesn't relieve it, sometimes it makes it stronger. This is to me, irritating, torture."

"You spend a lot of time avoiding situations that will set you off," Austin chimed in.

Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a professor of surgery at UC San Diego and the head of the Sexual Health Program at Alvarado Hospital, is one of the few researchers studying it.

"It's spontaneous, intrusive, and unwanted genital arousal — consisting of throbbing, pulsing or tingling without the person's sexual interest or desire," Dr. Goldstein said.

Searching for the Cause

Dearmon, Austin, Lauren and Emily searched for years to find out what was wrong but their doctors couldn't help them.

"I thought I was alone in this," Dearmon said. "And this is after seeing every kind of doctor imaginable, gynecologist, psychologist, psychiatrist — you know, everything. And none had ever heard of anything."

The medical consultations were not only confusing but, at times, condescending. Dearmon said one of her doctors told her to get a hobby, and another doctor suggested she become a lesbian.

Dr. Goldstein thinks thousands of women may suffer from PSAS, but the actual number is not known because so few seek a doctor's help -- and most doctors do not know about it.

"Every lecture I give on this, there's always smirks in the audience: 'Oh I wish my wife was like this.' These are professional physicians," Dr. Goldstein said. "And I said, 'No, no, you're, you don't really want this. You do not want your wife to have this, please.'"

Constant sexual arousal is not due to raging hormones. In fact, it isn't at all sexual in nature. Nobody really knows what causes this strange ailment, or what sets off these sensations.

"Is it coming from the brain? Is it coming from the body? Is it, is it a nerve?" Emily asked.

Men can have a similar problem with unwanted and prolonged arousal called Priapism, which is an engorged penis lasting for more than four hours. In males it is a medical emergency that includes complications such as blood clots and gangrene.

PSAS affects women differently, but the impact upon their lives can be equally devastating.

"Their genitals are aroused 24/7, 365 and they can't concentrate," Dr. Goldstein said. "They can't work. Anything that moves or vibrates will lead them into orgasmic release."

Dearmon was one of those women who had symptoms day-in and day-out. "It's like it's living on its own, with its own mind," she said.

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.

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