Men can pedal without fretting about performance

June 18, 2018 Providence Health Team

Concerns that bicycling causes ED are common but not supported by research.

Cycling has clear health benefits that make it worth your while.

Proper fitting of bicycle to body can address genital numbness issues.

Men: Don’t be afraid to mount your bikes and ride. Your sex life shouldn’t suffer.

Raymond Lance, M.D., a Providence urologic oncologist in Spokane, has heard the concerns that because riding can cause genital numbness, it may also cause erectile dysfunction, or ED. As a medical specialist and avid bike rider, he doesn’t buy it.

“It’s sort of an urban legend,” he says. “There’s no science to support that.”

What the science says

A recent major survey of bicyclists and others published in the Journal of Urology found “cyclists had no worse erectile function than noncyclists and no worse urinary symptoms.” 

This finding echoes the results of earlier studies of the effects of bicycling on sexual function, including the extensive 2014 “Cycling for Health UK” study, which determined “there was no association between cycling time and ED or infertility.”

However, the numbness in the genital area is real. It occurs because, unlike a chair, which distributes your weight, a bicycle seat provides a focused point of contact for the crotch area. With pressure focused on a narrow area, blood flow is restricted and numbness often follows.  It happens with all kinds of bicycle seats, but may be most obvious when riders sit on the long, narrow seats of touring bikes. 

Yet even on racing seats, riders can make adjustments to lessen the numbing. As the Journal of Urology study put it,  “increasing the time standing out of the saddle while cycling, and adjusting the handlebar height above or even with the saddle reduced the likelihood of reporting genital sores and numbness.”

The study did note that bicyclists may have more strictures of the urethra, which carries urine out of the body from the bladder. The strictures may result in a weaker stream of urine but not erectile dysfunction. Dr. Lance suggests such strictures may have resulted from “straddle injuries,” or injuries other than simply sitting on a bicycle seat.

“It’s very common to get numbness in the genital area,” says Dr. Lance. “I tell people, ‘Go get fitted.’”

In other words, he says, make sure the bicycle fits a rider’s body, that its seat isn’t too high and that its handlebars aren’t too low.

Benefits of bicycling

Dr. Lance and the authors of various studies all note that riding a bike has clear health benefits. Because the exercise is good for your cardiovascular system, “you live longer,” he says.

Dr. Lance rides from 30 to 100 miles a week in and around bicycle-friendly Spokane, and he also rides an indoor trainer at home when the weather is uncooperative. He understands why people may worry about the effects bicycling may have on their sex lives, but he hopes they get the message that the benefits outweigh any concerns.

Riding a bike, he says, “is fantastic.”

If you’d like to talk to a Providence provider about men’s health issues or anything else, you can find one near you in our online directory. Did you find this story helpful? Subscribe to our blog and you’ll never miss a health update.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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