All those miles you rack up riding a bicycle could be cycling down your sex life. Even though bicycling provides a vigorous cardiovascular workout, is easy on the joints for those with bad knees and hips and is an enjoyable way to stay fit and active, it does have a few drawbacks.
Many studies have demonstrated that bicycle riding can affect sexual problems in both men and women – it’s been linked to erectile dysfunction in men and it can negatively alter a woman’s sexual health.
The good news is there are ways to still enjoy riding a bike and to protect sexual health at the same time.
The problem is the bike seat
Sitting on a narrow bicycle seat is vastly different than sitting on a chair. When we sit on a chair we are sitting on our ischial tuberosities, our sit bones. This distributes our weight evenly across the buttocks taking pressure off the perineum, the area between the anus and our sex organs. In men the perineum contains nerves and arteries that supply the penis while in women the perineum contains nerves and arteries for the clitoris and labia.
The shape of a typical bicycle seat puts an unnatural amount of pressure on a very sensitive part of both a man and woman’s body. This pressure is exerted onto the perineum compacting those sensitive nerves and arteries which can lead to a loss of sensation along with other problems.
For men, added pressure on the pudendal artery can lead to nerve damage resulting in temporary or prolonged erectile dysfunction reducing blood flow to the penis by as much as 66%. Broader bicycle seats do help but even then, blood flow can still be reduced by 25%.
Women bicyclists may experience less genital sensation and often report feeling soreness, numbness or tingling as a result of sitting on a bike seat.
Research studies back up bicycle seat issue
Studies have shown bicycle riding can affect your sex life. One study evaluating 160 male bicyclists found one in five experienced impotence and numbness of the penis from riding a bike.
Another study looking at a bicycle police patrol unit in Cincinnati, Ohio found prolonged bicycle riding may have negative effects on nocturnal erectile functioning indicating a need for innovative bicycle saddle designs. Police officers who used a no-nose saddle had far less penile numbness than officers using a standard saddle.
A 2006 study looked at the effects of bicycling on genital sensation and sexual function in women. Findings showed women who rode two hours several days a week experienced decreased genital sensation compared to women who jogged. The problem points again to the bicycle seat as evidence from a 2011 study. This study found cut-out and narrower saddles put more pressure on the perineum leading to pain and numbness in this area of the body.
How to break the vicious cycle
Before you decide to never ride a bike again in order to maintain your sexual health, there are simple solutions to break the vicious bicycle cycle to avoid potential problems:
· Choose the right bicycle seat. Avoid racing seats with a long narrow nose. Wider seats with plenty of padding with gel-filled shock absorbers are available. Also consider the no-nose seats which put pressure on the sit bones rather than the soft tissue of the perineum.
· Tilting your seat upward increases pressure on the perineum – avoid doing this.
· Have your bike professionally fitted for you by specialists at professional bike shops. They can help you find the right bike seat to avoid problems in the perineum area.
· Raising the handlebars keeping you more upright is far better than lowering the handlebars. Lowered handlebars forces you to lean forward putting pressure on the perineum.
· Take frequent breaks and shift your position when on a long bike ride.
· If you notice numbness or tingling in the perineum area, stop riding your bike and take a break.
If bicycling riding is the only or main form of exercise you do to stay fit, it’s time to try alternative forms of physical activity for a balanced fitness program. You don’t have to give up your bike but mix it up by some days going for a walk, jog, or swim. If you use a stationary bike, break up the routine by also using a treadmill, elliptical trainer, stair climber or rowing machine to get and keep yourself fit.