Psychosocial Functioning in Women with Symptoms of Persistent Genital Arousal
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Persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD) is characterized by physiological sexual arousal (vasocongestion, sensitivity of the genitals and nipples) that is described as distressing, and sometimes painful. Although awareness of PGAD is growing, there continues to be a lack of systematic research on this condition. The vast majority of published reports are case studies. Little is known about the symptom characteristics, biological factors, or psychosocial functioning associated with the experience of persistent genital arousal (PGA) symptoms. This study sought to characterize a sample of women with PGA (Study One); compare women with and without PGA symptoms on a series of biopsychosocial factors (Study Two); and undertake an exploratory comparison of women with PGA, painful PGA, and genital pain (Study Three)—all within a biopsychosocial framework. Symptom-free women, women with PGA symptoms, painful PGA, and genital pain, completed an online survey of biological factors (medical history, symptom profiles), psychological factors (depression, anxiety) and social factors (sexual function, relationship satisfaction). Study One found that women report diverse symptoms associated with PGA, with almost half reporting painful symptoms. In Study Two, women with symptoms of PGA reported significantly greater impairment in most domains of psychosocial functioning as compared to symptom-free women. In particular, catastrophizing of vulvar sensations was related to symptom ratings (i.e., greater severity, distress) and psychosocial outcomes (i.e., greater depression and anxiety). Finally, Study Three found that women with PGA symptoms reported some overlap in medical comorbidities and symptom expression as those with combined PGA and vulvodynia and those with vulvodynia symptoms alone; however, there were also a number of significant differences in their associated physical symptoms. These studies indicate that PGA symptoms have negative consequences for the psychosocial functioning of affected women. As such, future research and clinical care may benefit from a biopsychosocial approach to PGA symptoms. These studies highlight areas for more targeted research, including the role of catastrophizing in PGA symptom development and maintenance, and the potential conceptualization of both PGA and vulvodynia (and potentially other conditions) under a general umbrella of ‘genital paraesthesias’ (i.e., disorders characterized by abnormal sensations, such as tingling and burning).