Usually, physical arousal and sexual thoughts go hand in hand. You don’t often pop a boner when you’re awake without having some kind of sexy stimulus.
But there is such a thing called “restless genital syndrome” (RGS), which describes a feeling of persistent genital arousal that occurs without sexual desire. It’s a totally legitimate disorder, and not just a fake medical excuse for being horny.
Until the first case affecting a man made headlines last year, the weird affliction was thought only to occur in women. Alas, it’s an equal opportunity offender after all.
Here’s everything you need to know about RGS.
How Do I Know I Have Restless Genital Syndrome?
If you experience throbbing, tingling, or sensitivity in your genitals—but with zero sexual thoughts, you might have RGS.
“The guy we encountered said he was always on the verge of orgasm, but he wasn’t turned on,” says report author Tobias Köhler, M.D., associate professor and residency program director at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Division of Urology.
Beyond that, the symptoms seem to vary. Sometimes motion or stimulation (like riding a bike) will provoke an episode of RGS. Other times, the condition strikes when you’re simply sitting or lying down. And while episodes can be accompanied by an erection, they don’t have to be.
The one thing all instances have in common: RGS is said to feel intrusive and unwanted rather than pleasurable.
And there’s not really much you can do—besides taking matters into your own hands—to stop the feeling. “That’s why these individuals bring themselves to orgasm, because it feels like that is what will relieve the sensation,” says report coauthor Brad Stevenson, M.D., a urology resident at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
What’s Really Going on Down There?
RGS occurs in about 1 percent of women, and so far, has only been diagnosed in a handful of men. But there are probably more guys out there with the condition—and as it gets more attention, more might come forward. Men who may actually have RGS might have just thought that they had an unusually high sex drive.
Until experts can study potential patients, it’s hard for doctors to pinpoint what actually causes RGS. For now, the guess is that the disorder could stem from a sensory abnormality of the nerves that supply sensation to your penis.
It’s like the nerve signals in your penis are getting mixed up, Dr. Stevenson says. They send messages to your brain that something sexy is going on, when in reality, nothing is actually happening, he says.
There also seems to be some kind of connection between RGS and restless leg syndrome—a neurologic disorder that causes a throbbing or pulling sensation in the legs—though the common denominator is still unknown.
Is My Restless Genital Syndrome a Problem?
That kind of depends on your definition of “problem.” Because as far as docs can tell, there aren’t any negative health effects associated with RGS.
Still, the disorders can impose a hefty psychological burden. Randomly becoming aroused for no reason in the middle of, say, a meeting at work, can be pretty distracting. And if the sensations become really overwhelming, it might start to affect your social life.
“What makes this a disorder is if it causes you enough stress to seek attention for it,” says Dr. Stevenson.
If you feel like the problem is interfering with your life, talk with your doctor. Just know that since experts don’t understand the cause of RGS, there isn’t an established way to treat it yet.
But there are options to explore: A type of antidepressants called selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) often have the unintended side effect of lowering libido and making it harder to ejaculate—and for the case study’s patient, the meds helped without causing any negative side effects.
There have also been reports of others with the disorder finding relief from low doses of neurological drugs typically used to treat restless leg syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.
Even so, that doesn’t mean the treatments will work for everyone. For now, “it’s kind of a case-by-case basis,” Dr. Köhler says.