Tabloids on both sides of the Atlantic had a field day last week when The Sun ran a story about a 44-year-old New Jersey woman with a rare condition that causes her to have up to 100 orgasms a day. Diagnosed with persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD), Kim Ramsey, a nurse, even sat on a bag of frozen peas during one four-day episode of constant climaxing.
Writers and readers responded with one orgasm pun after another. “Come again?” asked a Sun commenter, while the New York Post lamented that “some girls have all the fun.”
But it’s no laughing matter for Ramsey. “People who don’t understand the disorder think multiple orgasms are a luxury, but I’m constantly in pain,” she said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t warrant much medical merit right now, because many doctors will write it off as hypersexuality.”
Dr. Robert Echenberg, a gynecologist and founder of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Women in Pain, says women like Ramsey are often misdiagnosed or even dismissed by gynecologists, who tell them to think of the gals who can’t achieve orgasm and consider themselves blessed. “Doctors aren’t addressing the pain,” he says. Dr. Marcel Waldinger, a neuropsychiatrist and leading authority on PGAD, compares Ramsey’s condition to a “toothache in the wrong place.”
Echenberg says PGAD needs to be considered in the context of chronic pelvic pain—an issue that 20 percent of reproductive-aged females experience at some point. The phenomenon was introduced to the medical world in a 2001 study by the late Sandra Leiblum, a pioneer in modern sex therapy. Waldinger and other experts have since concluded that PGAD is a neurological disorder stemming from the pudendal nerve, the biologically crucial sensory neuron that triggers arousal.
According to Waldinger, PGAD develops when the pudendal nerve is compressed and starts firing off at random, sending the clitoral dorsal nerve into overdrive. As a result, women afflicted with the disorder feel perpetually on the brink of the big O. In rare instances, the slightest touch or movement of their genitals can put them over the edge. Not only does this make for an uncomfortable situation in the boardroom or on the subway, it puts a real damper on their sex lives: orgasms, once the peak of sexual pleasure, become a source of agony. “The persistent arousal is a restless, painful feeling that drives these women mad,” said Waldinger.
Beyond frozen peas, is there any relief for these exhausted women and their haywire genitals? “We’ve found that some drugs may diminish the sensation,” said Waldinger. “But at the moment there is no long-term effective treatment.” As for Ramsey, she says there’s nothing she can do but pray “that more women who think they have PGAD will tell their doctors so that the medical world will give the disorder the serious attention it deserves.”