Does cycling affect sexual health?

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Does cycling affect sexual health?

Bicycling is one of the best exercises for providing 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 keeps your blood pumping, builds strength and endurance, and helps you maintain a healthy weight – all important factors for sexual health.

But over the past several years, concerns have been raised of whether cycling can potentially have a negative impact on your sex life. 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.

But what does recent research of today have to say on this matter?

What is the concern of cycling on sexual performance?

A big factor as to why cycling has been scrutinized on how it affects life in the bedroom has to do with the bicycle 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. 

When we sit on a bicycle this 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.

What past research has found

Research from the past has had quite a bit to say on the matter of how cycling may affect bedroom performance.  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.

Findings from new research

More recent research has taken a second look at cycling and the affect it has on both men’s and women’s sexual health. 

For men, research is now saying that cycling does not appear to affect men’s sexual function, according to research published in the Journal of Urology in October, 2017.  This study compared cyclists with runners and swimmers with almost 4,000 men participating.  About 30% were non-cyclists, 47$ were low-intensity cyclists, and the rest were high-intensity cyclists. Results showed that both high-intensity cyclists and low-intensity cyclists had better scores on sexual health assessments compared to the runners and swimmers. Histories of urinary tract infections were similar in the men.  However, the cyclists were at a higher risk for urethral stricture, a narrowing of the urethra (the pathway in the penis that allows urine and semen to exit the body).

This same study also suggested that men could lower their risk for genital numbness if they stood for at least 20% of the time. 

For women, a March 2018 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women who were high-intensity cyclists – biking over two years, at least three times a week, with a daily cycling average of at least 25 miles – had better scores on sexual health assessments.  The scores for low-intensity cyclists, runners, and swimmers were about the same. However, the women cyclists were still prone to urinary tract infections, saddle sores, and genital numbness when compared to runners and swimmers.

How to cycle smart avoiding sexual issues

Even though the recent studies do have encouraging results, anyone avid cyclist, male or female, will need to decide what is best for their body and sexual health. Any cyclists experiencing sexual difficulties, urinary problems, or genital numbness, should make an appointment with their doctor.

Before deciding to never ride a bike again in order to maintain 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 by specialists at professional bike shops.  They can help 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 positions 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.