Last week, a Florida woman afflicted with a rare sexual disorder committed suicide. Gretchen Molannen, 39, suffered for 16 years from Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder, which is characterized by spontaneous, unwanted genital sensation and arousal in the absence of sexual stimulation or emotion, and the sensations can be unrelenting to sufferers. (For more information on PGAD, click here.)
In Ms. Molannen’s case, her struggle with PGAD prevented her from having any sense of normalcy in her life. She couldn’t hold down a job, couldn’t sustain a romantic relationship, and couldn’t even sleep peacefully. While PGAD is considered a rare sexual disorder and most women who suffer from sexual dysfunction do not commit suicide, the depressive symptoms that led Ms. Molannen to suicide are not uncommon.
For many women with sexual dysfunction, the feeling of disconnect from their body is painful and frustrating. Everything else can be going great in their lives — their career, their families, their health — but their sexual dysfunction maintains an intense void that cannot be filled by anything else. Even during joyous moments, the feelings of emptiness and loneliness lurk in the background and make it difficult to be truly present for life.
Dr. Abraham Maslow, a prolific psychologist who created the Hierarchy of Needs, assigns sex as a basic physiological need along with breathing, food, water, clothing and shelter. Thus, it is no surprise that those who suffer from sexual dysfunction may feel as though they are operating below a fundamental baseline that would enable them to feel satisfied in their lives. For Ms. Molannen this certainly was the case.
Female sexual dysfunction is not just about being unable to connect with a partner. It entails watching your life from the sidelines, feeling broken and disconnected in your own body. For some, the years of isolation and depression find no respite and translate into utter hopelessness.
The tragedy of Gretchen Molannen isn’t just that she died. It’s that she was never able to truly live.