Bicycling is a safe, popular activity that improves cardiovascular and metabolic health. It is also an excellent form of exercise, providing the same health benefits as walking, jogging, swimming, and other aerobic activities. Despite the overall health benefits, some men avoid bicycling because they worry that it may put them at risk for numbness, genital/pelvic pain and harm their sexual performance and overall sexual functioning.
Medical science supports this concern, however while there is a relationship between genital pain, numbness, and erectile dysfunction, it is not inevitable. You don’t have to give up your bike riding! There are many things you can do to protect your sexual health as you continue to cycle to improve your overall health.
Bike Seat, Beware!
When you sit on a chair, your weight is typically distributed evenly across both buttocks. This takes pressure off the perineum, a region of the body that runs from the anus to the sex organs. It contains the nerves, arteries and veins that form the critical blood supply the penis in men. Sitting on a bicycle seat puts pressure on the perineum, compressing those crucial nerves and arteries. This can lead to loss of sensation and other medical problems.
Nerve damage accounts for the penile numbness that some male bikers experience. Pressure on the pudendal artery can add to this nerve injury to produce temporary or even prolonged erectile dysfunction. A narrow bike seat can reduce blood flow to the penis by as much as 66%, and even a broad seat may reduce flow by 25%. Similar nerve damage and blood flow impedance account for bicycling-related sexual problems in women.
What the Research Shows
The research shows there are a variety of risk factors that contribute to the development of sexual dysfunction in male cyclists. One clinical study conducted by medical experts on cyclists from several professional cycling groups studied the impact of saddle preference, equipment use, time spent riding on men across several demographic categories including age, BMI, race/ethnicity, marital status, medical history and cycling habits. The men who participated in this research study rated their own sexual health and cycling preferences. The study documented the impact seat design, usage patterns and time cycling had on sexual dysfunction.
What You Can Do
To keep your potential sexual health risk low, here are ways you can protect yourself while cycling:
- Get a professional bike ‘fit’ so your bike fits your body and how you ride
- Get a properly fitted bicycle seat. Hint: Tip the nose of your seat down a couple of degrees from the level.
- Maintain an upright posture as much as possible while in the saddle.
- Shift your position often and stand on the pedals frequently while riding to reduce pressure and numbness.
- Consider using padded bicycle shorts when riding.
- Use a nose less saddle (with gel seat) if possible.
- Try split rail or cutout saddles, which have depressions or gaps down the middle of the seat.
- Watch for pelvic numbness or tingling while riding, which can be early warning signs of a developing problem.
- Keep in mind that competitive cyclists are at higher risk than casual cyclists (more seat time, usually forward sitting position in the saddle and the use of harder seats).
- Take breaks during long rides and stretch
Be alert for early warning symptoms. If you experience tingling or numbness in your penis or groin area, get off your bike. If the problem recurs even after trying all the tips presented try a treadmill, elliptical trainer, stair climber, or rowing machine to maintain your exercise and stay fit.
Since these issues can be multifactorial it is appropriate to seek medical care. When you are having issues with sexual pleasure or performance it’s wise to get a medical evaluation and assessment. Not all cyclists have seat induced ED; some may have abnormal hormones that are easily fixed, and others may have different, more serious medical concerns such as elevated blood pressure or high cholesterol.
If you are an active cyclist and have experienced any issues or symptoms described in this cycling study please reach out to your local Universal Men’s Clinic medical provider to learn more about the methods or treatments for erectile dysfunction that may be right for you.
Read a copy of the research discussed in this post.
Adithya Balasubramanian, BA, Justin Yu, BS, Benjamin N. Breyer, MD, Roger Minkow, MD and Michael Eisenberg, MD “The Association Between Pelvic Discomfort and Erectile Dysfunction in Adult Male Bicyclists” The Journal of Sexual Medicine. January 23, 2020.