dysfunction (ED) also known as impotence is the inability to get or sustain
an erection for a satisfactory sexual activity.
penile blood flow is a primary cause of ED
compression during bicycling may be responsible for some cases of erectile
A commonly prescribed non-medicinal course of action for men
experiencing sexual dysfunction is to undertake sport and exercise more, and
with good reason. Tight or restricted penile blood flow is a major physical
marker of erectile problems; therefore bettering cardiovascular conditioning
can help, not only to improve blood flow in general, but to facilitate better
blood flow to the penis.
One of the more popular choices (particularly for those who are relatively new to exercise) is cycling; be it the exercise cycle at the gym or an outdoor bike ride. But a series of studies have suggested that this activity, while improving overall cardio, can exacerbate or even cause erectile dysfunction
Investigations into the phenomenon are not a new development by any means, with studies being carried out into the subject as early as 1987. But the topic has arguably garnered more attention recently due to a growing awareness of sexual dysfunction in men
and an increased readiness of sufferers to discuss the subject openly.
‘Poorly fitting bicycle seat and cycling in an upright position may have an impact on erectile dysfunction (ED).’
One study by Norwegian scientists in Trondheim in 1997
assessed the effects of cycling on 160 men undertaking a 540km touring event.
20 per cent of respondents complained of decreased nerve activity in the
pudendal area, while 13 reported symptoms of impotence.
Another investigation carried out by German researchers in
2001 examined the effects of cycling on erectile function in forty men aged
25-35; the results of which were even more pronounced. Over two thirds of the
men studied were found to have 'decreased penile blood supply', with 61 per
cent experiencing numbness in the genitals. Furthermore, nearly one fifth of
men who cycled 400km or more per week reported episodes or erectile
An assessment carried out by London-based researchers in 2012-2013 refuted the above findings, however, stating that it found no significant association between cycling and ED; but did find one between cycling and prostate cancer
It argued that studies such as the Trondheim investigation
concentrated on men participating in large-scale events, and did therefore not
leave enough time for ED symptoms to 'plateau and subside'.
However, by its own admission this study was subject to
practical limitations. It used internet-based correspondence, and therefore an
opportunity for further investigation of symptoms and physical examination was
The study, nevertheless, maintained that cycling is significantly more beneficial
to erectile function than inactivity.
Research has shown that the type of seat used plays a large
role in the potential incidence of symptoms. Scientists at the University of
Cologne tested four different types of bicycle saddle, and their reductive
effects on participants' penile oxygen pressure (thought to be a pertinent risk
factor in the cause of cycling-induced erectile dysfunction).
It found that a seat with no nose and a wide base had
preferable results to a heavily padded narrow seat, causing respective drops in
penile oxygen pressure of 20.3 per cent versus 82.4 per cent.
Another study by the same scientists a year earlier also
found that cycling in a reclining position was also more beneficial to penile
oxygen pressure levels when measured against cycling in an upright position.
Whether the link between cycling and sexual dysfunction has
been exaggerated or not, these are surely factors for those men looking to
improve erectile function, through non-medicinal means via the adjustment of certain lifestyle measures, to
take into consideration.
- Impotence and Bicycling: A Seldom Reported Connection
- Impotence and Nerve Entrapment in Long Distance Amateur Cyclists br>http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9150814
- Impotence and Genital Numbness in Cyclists
- Cycling and Penile Oxygen Pressure: The Type of Saddle Matters
- Erectile Dysfunction in Cyclists. Is There Any Difference in Penile Blood Flow During Cycling in an Upright Versus a Reclining Position?
An Observational Study of Erectile Dysfunction, Infertility and Prostate Cancer in Regular Cyclists: Cycling for Health UK Study; Hollingworth Milo, Harper Alice, and Hamer Mark. Journal of Men's Health. July 2014, 11(2): 75-79. doi:10.1089/jomh.2014.0012