Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome: A Descriptive Study


Candace Brown, PharmD, University of Tennessee Health Science Center—Pharmacy, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Psychiatry, 9685 U.S. Highway 70 Lakeland, Tennessee 38002, USA. Tel: (901) 448-6044; Fax: (901) 867-0749; E-mail:


Introduction.  Persistent sexual arousal disorder (PSAS) is a poorly documented condition characterized by persistent genital arousal in the absence of conscious feelings of sexual desire.

Aim.  To determine whether there are replicable features associated with PSAS, to describe salient characteristics of women reporting this condition, and to determine predictors of distress.

Methods.  A 46-item Internet survey containing demographic information, symptom description, triggers, exacerbation and relief measures, distress ratings, and life and sexual satisfaction was placed on a secure server.

Main Outcome Measures.  Frequency analyses of descriptive data, and stepwise multiple regression analysis to identify independent predictors of level of distress.

Results.  Of the 103 respondents, most were in good health, well educated, and in long-term relationships. Ninety-eight percent of respondents met at least one criterion for PSAS and 53% met all five criteria. Involuntary genital and clitoral arousal persisting for extended time periods, genital arousal unrelated to subjective feelings of sexual desire, and genital arousal not relieved with orgasms were the most frequently endorsed features associated with this syndrome. Symptom triggers included sexual stimulation, masturbation, stress, and anxiety. Distress about the condition was low in 25%, moderate in 35%, and high in 40% of respondents. The strongest predictors of distress were intrusive and unwanted feelings of genital arousal (P < 0.0001), continuous symptoms (P < 0. 001), feelings of unhappiness (P < 0.03), shame (P = 0.0001) and worry (P = 0.01), reduced sexual satisfaction (P < 0.004), enjoyment of symptoms some of the time (P = 0.01), and relationship status (P < 0.004).

Conclusions.  The results of this research support the description of a condition (persistent sexual arousal) involving involuntary genital and clitoral arousal unrelated to subjective feelings of sexual desire which persists despite one or more orgasms and which usually feels intrusive and unwanted. Varying levels of distress were identified with this condition as well as a variety of primarily negative emotional reactions.