The influence of persistent genital arousal (PGA) on romantic relationships
Persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD) is characterized by sensations of physiological genital sexual arousal that occurs in the absence of subjective feelings of sexual desire. Although partner factors have been examined in prior research among other conditions affecting the genital region and sexual response, to date no research has focused on the interpersonal context within which PGAD occurs. There are gaps in the current literature on (1) the relationship, sexual, and psychological well-being of individuals with PGAD who are in a relationship, (2) whether individuals disclose their symptoms to romantic partners, and (3) whether interpersonal variables (such as partner responses, symptom disclosure, and catastrophizing) are related to relationship adjustment and symptom severity. Seventy-six individuals (N = 62 women, N = 10 men, N = 2 Non-Binary, N = 1 Two-Spirit) with symptoms of persistent genital arousal (PGA), as well as 76 age- and sex-matched controls participated in a one-time anonymous online survey. Individuals with PGA reported significantly lower relationship and sexual satisfaction, greater sexual distress, and more symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to controls. Over three-quarters (85.5%) of the PGA sample disclosed their symptoms to their partners in some way. Greater supportive partner responses and lower symptom catastrophizing were related to better relationship adjustment among participants with PGA. Greater symptom catastrophizing also predicted greater PGA symptom severity. Partner responses were not related to PGA symptom severity. Results of the current study suggest that when one member of a couple experiences symptoms of PGA, there may be associated consequences for relationship, sexual, and psychological well-being. Although interpersonal factors have been linked to symptom severity in chronic pain and genital pain conditions, the results of the current study suggest that interpersonal factors may play a slightly different role in PGA symptom experiences and in the conceptualization of PGAD more broadly. Results and implications are discussed in the context of interpersonal models of sexual and relationship functioning.