Can cycling really cause sexual dysfunction in men?
This topic has been increasingly discussed and debated in recent years, but studies do show that men who engage in prolonged bicycle riding without a proper saddle fit may be at risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED), especially in older men. However, this risk is dependent upon several factors, such as weekly number of cycling hours, the cyclist’s weight and skill level, and the bike’s fit.
Erectile Dysfunction – What is it?
Erectile dysfunction (also referred to as “impotence”) is a condition marked by the continual inability to attain or keep an erection firm enough to engage in sexual intercourse. Normally, the cause for ED is health-related, such as heart disease, low testosterone levels, diabetes, atherosclerosis, neurological conditions and chronic alcohol consumption. Smoking, obesity, and an inactive lifestyle are the most common examples.
How Can Bicycles Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
Besides the health conditions listed above, there can be physical causes for ED when damage occurs to the nerves, muscles, blood vessels or tissues associated with getting an erection. Long-term perineal pressure (the area between the anus and penis) caused by prolonged cycling in the same saddle position can create this type of damage and lead to temporary ED. However, if the underlying problem is not addressed the damage to penile tissues could become permanent.
Some of the factors which contribute to bicycle-related erectile dysfunction include the style of saddle used, the cyclist’s weight (more weight equals more perineal pressure), and how intense the cycling is. Cyclists who race tend to have a lower risk for developing this type of ED because so much of their body weight is distributed to the pedals, relieving much of the saddle pressure.
What Are the Symptoms of Bicycle ED?
Reduced blood flow to the perineum causes pain, numbness or tingling in the perineum long before men develop ED. If you don’t have problems with pain, numbness or tingling, stop worrying and enjoy your ride. If you do have pain, address the problem before it gets worse.
Some symptoms of constricted perineal bloodflow include pain, tingling or numbness. These signs will manifest well before any ED issues come along. Luckily, for those who do develop symptoms of bicyle erectile dysfunction, reversing the condition before permanent problems occur is not difficult. If you don’t have any of these symptoms, don’t worry about it and enjoy the ride. However, if you do experience any pain or numbness, take the necessary measures to correct it before things get worse.
How to Prevent ED From Cycling
If you’re a guy experiencing numbness, pain or discomfort while riding your bike, try using the tips below:
- For longer rides, try standing on the pedals every so often to stretch the legs and allow bloodflow to return to normal.
- Keep in mind to alternate your position often as you ride, by standing and shifting back or forward as necessary.
- Make adjustments to the saddle in order to minimize pressure points.
- Try using a “no-nose” seat, or a seat with a cut-out area to eliminate excess perineal pressure.
- Ironically, seats with a too much padding can actually create more pressure and numbness; use something that’s on the firm side.
- To avoid unnecessary pressure, remember to always tilt the saddle downward or level, not in an upward position.
- Raise the handlebars if necessary in order to prevent leaning forward too much.
- Make sure to wear high-quality cycling shorts with a good pad.
- Position the seat just high enough so your knee is only slightly bent with the pedal down.
What Type of Bike Saddle to Use
Fortunately, there are more saddle designs and styles to choose from than ever before. One type available is a saddle with a cut out area in the middle which dramatically decreases pressure on the perineum and penile tissues. Studies have shown that this design is effective and many riders have found them to be superior in comfort when compared to traditional seats.
Other seats not only have a cut out middle section, but a nose which faces downward as well. Research has indicated that this design in particular seems to be best at reducing any restriction of penile bloodflow.
Other studies have also shown a benefit from using a wider saddle compared to a narrow one. According to computer analysis, the rider’s weight is more evenly distributed on a wider saddle, reducing more pressure on the perineal area relative to a narrower saddle.
By keeping a few of these guidelines in mind you’ll save yourself from any potential problems down the road and enjoy more comfortable riding, too.