Is riding a bicycle harmful to your bedroom activities?
In September 2017, a reviewer for “Bicycling” magazine, Ed Pavelka, made a sensational announcement. He had been diagnosed with impotence due to his frequent bicycle riding, writing at the time that:
“…the tests showed the blood flow to my penis had become so limited that I was unable to maintain a sufficient erection to have normal sexual intercourse.”
Ed Pavelka’s revelation about cycling sports causing his difficulties in bed was backed by physicians. Medical doctor Irwin Goldstein, an erectile dysfunction specialist at Boston University Medical Campus, was widely cited when he said that riding bicycle can cause men to develop erectile dysfunction and that they should consider stopping this activity if they want to maintain their current sex life.
Excessive panic or scientific fact?
Irwin Goldstein had a number of cyclists amongst his patients, and they all suffered from erectile dysfunction. He conducted research at Boston University Medical Campus in 1997 to determine a possible relationship. His research showed that cyclists experienced erectile dysfunction more often than other sportsmen who were not engaged in cycling sports. Cyclists frequently complained of erectile dysfunction, numbness in the inguinal area and penis, and problems with urination.
But what is it about cycling that causes impotence while other sports don’t? Goldstein couldn’t identify the reasons, but researchers at the University of California, San Diego proposed a new explanation. This research was conducted together with Serfas, a manufacturer of accessories for cycling sports in Lake Forest. As it turned out, the reason was not the bicycle riding process itself but the bicycle seats.
“Men might develop impotence after sitting on a rigid bicycle seat for several hours as it pushes against the groin area,”
tells MD Ken Taylor, a former assistant to the family medicine professor at the University of California. He was part of research in 1999 to discover the link between impotence and bicycle riding. The groin is the area between the anus opening and the scrotum.
MD Tim Roddy, a urologist from Edmonds, Wash Bay, agrees that the pressure arising from sitting on a bicycle seat can cause erection problems.
“Men can experience excess pressure on certain critical arteries and nerve endings that are needed for the normal implementation of sexual function, if they spend too much time sitting on a bicycle seat.”
Serfas is a cycling accessories manufacturer that attempted to develop new bicycle seats that would not put so much pressure on the groin.
The result of their work was a seat named “Eliminator”, which had a long groove down the middle and a hollow space at the front. The newly-designed seat was tested in 1999 and involved 15 cyclists who typically cycled around 250-500 kilometers per week.
The results were as follows:
While 80 percent of cyclists using the traditional seat experienced numbing of the groin, this effect only occurred with 14 percent of cyclists using the new seat. Today Serfas offers several new versions of this seat for city and mountain bicycles.
More research, more seats
Specialized Components For Bicycles Corporation in Morgan Hill, California, also now offers bicycle seats developed especially for men to ride safely. The designer is physician Doctor Roger Minkow. He participated in the development of a seat named “Ergonomic saddle” together with a team of urologists and bicycle police units. The specialized seat is very narrow, and V-shaped with a wedge cut from the back.
The company consulted Dr. Robert Kessler, MD, a professor of urology at the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, in order to test its new seat. Kessler hired 25 volunteers in March 1999 to try out the bicycles. Each of them had to ride for no less than 6 hours a week, and the prerequisites for participation in the study were preexisting pain in the groin area, numbness and erectile dysfunction. Cyclists used the new seats for one month and then shared their impressions.
14 participants completely lost their negative symptoms, nine of them had a total loss of some symptoms, one person had a partial loss of some symptoms, and another felt no different, according to Professor Kessler. His data was presented at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in 1999.
The Diamondback and Avocet companies also now produce bicycle seats designed not to put pressure on the groin.
Another study presented at the same annual meeting in 1999 showed that seats without stuffing limited blood flow to the penis less than seats with stuffing. The width of a seat with stuffing didn’t play any role.
“Certainly not every cyclist develops erectile dysfunction — the same as not every smoker develops lung cancer — but using a standard seat is another risk factor,” says Taylor.
There are also some other adverse factors detailed by Dr. Taylor that contribute to excessive pressure on the groin:
- extra weight;
- having a higher than average circumference of thighs;
- a tendency to bend over the wheel while cycling, thus putting additional pressure on the groin area.