It took a while before the honeymoon was over. About twelve years ago, Dr. Irwin Goldstein reported the first case of erectile dysfunction (ED) in an avid cyclist. Other reports followed, and an “epidemic” ensued, despite very few verified cases of bicycling-induced erectile dysfunction. The current understanding is that the saddle (bicycle seat to you laymen), compresses the blood vessels and nerves in the perineum, the area between the scrotum and anus. This cuts off circulation in the penis, and decreases sensitivity. It has been reported that the pressure on the perineum when a man sits on a bicycle is sevenfold that of sitting in chairs. Currently, it is believed that adult men who ride a road bike for more than three hours a week have a seventy percent increased risk of getting ED, and five percent of cyclists will develop bicycle seat impotence. However, the exact risk factors (besides seat time) that predispose men to this problem are not understood.
So now we have a public health paradox. While bicycling is great exercise for your cardiovascular system, it may be detrimental to men’s sexual health. What is good to know is that the Feds are now involved with this issue, specifically the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This is a good thing, as it means that more studies will be forthcoming that will focus on preventing bicycle seat impotence. From what we know now, the safest saddles appear to be those that force men to sit back, keeping the pressure off of the perineum. Noseless saddles may be better too. Gel saddles may be better than foam ones, and split rail or cutout saddles, which have a depression or gap down the middle of the seat, are probably safer. For now, if any pelvic numbness occurs while bicycling, change the saddle so it doesn’t occur anymore. Keeping your pelvis happy may also keep your sex life going.