At one time, cycling was associated with sexual problems, but experts’ views have changed.
Sitting on a bicycle seat (sometimes called a saddle) puts pressure on the perineum. For men, this is the area between the scrotum and the anus; in women, the area is between the vulva and the anus. The perineum contains nerves that are essential for genital sensation. When they are compressed, bike riders may start to feel numbness in their genital area.
It was thought that this compression could make it more difficult for blood to flow to the genitals, leading to erectile dysfunction (ED) in men and less sexual sensation in women.
In 2017, two new studies on cycling and sexual health were presented at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association.
The first study involved almost 4,000 men. Sixty-three percent were cyclists. The rest were swimmers and runners who did not bike. The men answered questions about their exercise habits and their sexual health.
The researchers found that the cyclists did not have worse erections than the swimmers and runners. In fact, a comparison of scores on a sexual health questionnaire showed that, on average, the cyclists had better sexual function than the other group. In addition, cycling did not appear to affect the men’s urinary function.
Similar results were found in the second study, which focused on women. In a group of 2,691 women, 39% were cyclists and 61% were swimmers and runners who did not bike regularly. The women provided information about exercise, sexual health, urinary symptoms, and any urinary tract infections (UTIs) they had had.
Overall, cycling did not seem to affect the women’s sexual or urinary function. In general, female cyclists had better scores on sexual health assessments than the non-cyclists.
However, the researchers did find that women cyclists were at higher risk for UTIs. Also, women who cycled a lot – over three times a week with a daily average of 25 miles for over two years – were more prone to numbness in the perineum and sores from the saddle.
Riders who feel numbness or discomfort in the genitals may consider taking breaks and walking around to take pressure off the perineum. Standing while riding can help, too.
If genital numbness persists, a doctor should be consulted.