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Sex Health Blog

Practice Safer Cycling to Protect Your Sexual Health

Jul 17, 2012

Bike riding is a popular activity among both men and women. But did you know that it can also harm your sexual health?

You might have heard this warning for men. Too much time on a bike saddle can compress nerves and blood vessels, leading to genital numbness and erectile difficulties.

Now, women are also being warned.

In a recent edition of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine researchers reported that female cyclists can experience decreased genital sensation from bike riding, especially if their handlebars are too low.

So what’s an avid cyclist to do? You don’t have to give up cycling – and its exercise benefits – to save your sex life. But choosing your equipment carefully can help substantially.

Concerns for Men: The Saddle

bike saddleThe shape of a bike saddle, or seat, can cause major problems for men. Many saddles force men to put pressure on their perineum while riding The perineum is the soft tissue between the scrotum and anus, where many of the nerves and arteries for erection are found. Too much nerve compression can numb the penis. And too much compression on the arteries can restrict the blood flow to the penis. Blood flow is critical for an erection; without it, the penis doesn’t become rigid enough for sex.

What can a man do?

First, if you’re feeling a loss of sensation in your penis, take a break from riding and see your doctor.

Second, consider a no-nose bicycle seat. This type of saddle has no “nose” extending from the seat, allowing you to put weight on your sit bones (in the buttocks) and decrease the pressure on your perineum.

Be sure to try out different saddles to determine which one is best for you. A bike shop professional can help you choose.

Third, sit in an upright position (on your sit bones) when you ride. Try not to lean forward, as this puts pressure on your perineum. You can also try riding your bike standing every once in awhile.

Finally, think about how much time you spend riding. Long-duration riding might increase your risk for erection problems.

Concerns for Women: The Handlebar Position

The effects of cycling on women’s sexual health has not been studied as extensively but the Yale University School of Medicine study has shown the need for further research.

Like men, women have a perineum – in their case, it’s the soft tissue between the anus and the vulva. And like men, women can put pressure on the perineum when they cycle. This pressure can lead to numbness in the genital area.

In 2006, the Yale researchers found that female cyclists had less genital sensation than a comparison group of female runners. The more recent Yale study aimed to learn more about bicycle setup and genital sensation.

The researchers discovered that women were more likely to lose genital sensation when a bike’s handlebars were positioned lower than the saddle. When handlebars are lower, women need to lean forward more, which puts more pressure on the perineum. Women who place their hands on the “drops” of the handlebars (as opposed to the tops) are especially vulnerable, as this position puts even more pressure on the pelvic floor.

What can a woman do?

We still don’t know if no-nose saddles benefit women; that’s an area for further research. However, women can adjust the height of their handlebars, keeping in mind that the less pressure on the perineum, the better. This might protect the pelvic floor from damage and decrease genital numbness.

A bike shop professional can help determine the best fit and make any necessary adjustments. Women cyclists who are concerned about genital numbness are advised to see their doctors.

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and it can enhance your sex life, too. Just be sure to exercise safely and consult a healthcare professional with any questions or concerns.

Resources
Boston University School of Medicine
Kraus, Matt
“Achieving a Safe Bike Fit”
http://www.bumc.bu.edu/sexualmedicine/patienttips/achieving-a-safe-bike-fit/

Medical News Today
Rattue, Petra
“Female Cyclists’ Sexual Health May Be Affected By Handlebar Position”
(July 10, 2012)
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247665.php

The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Partin, Sarah N., MSPH, et al.
“The Bar Sinister: Does Handlebar Level Damage the Pelvic Floor in Female Cyclists?”
(Full text. First published online March 5, 2012)
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02680.x/abstract

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
“See the No-Nose Saddle Concept Explained”
(Video. August 2009)
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/bike/saddle.html

New York Times
O’Connor, Anahad
“Can Bicycling Affect a Woman’s Sexual Health?”
(April 2, 2012)
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/can-bicycling-affect-a-womans-sexual-health/

PsychCentral
Nauert, Rick, PhD
“Sexual Health and Cycling”
(July 10, 2012)
http://psychcentral.com/news/2012/07/10/sexual-health-and-cycling/41385.html

Psychology Today
Castleman, Michael, MA
“Extended Cycling: A Ride to Erection Problems?”
(November 14, 2009)
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-sex/200911/extended-cycling-ride-erection-problems

REI
“How to Choose a Bike Saddle”
http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/saddle.html

ScienceDaily
“Handlebar Level Can Affect Sexual Health of Female Cyclists”
(July 9, 2012)
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120709121626.htm

WebMD
Valeo, Tom
“Biking and Erectile Dysfunction: A Real Risk?”
(Reviewed on September 11, 2007)
http://men.webmd.com/features/biking-and-erectile-dysfunction-a-real-risk?page=2

Photo
Siodełko kolarskie-szosowe Gipiemme
Peter.shaman, CC-BY-SA
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gipiemme_bike_saddle.jpg