A “sensitive” subject for women

Here’s one from the New York Times‘ “Well” column, entitled “Can Bicycling Affect a Woman’s Sexual Health?

Spending time on a bicycle seat, which has been linked to erectile dysfunction in men, may also be a hazard to a woman’s sexual health, a new study shows.

Many women who cycle or take spin classes are familiar with the numbness that sometimes can occur from sitting on a traditional bike seat. Bike seats are designed in such a way that body weight typically rests on the nose of the seat, which can compress nerves and blood vessels in the genital area. In men, this raises the risk of erectile dysfunction, something that has been documented in studies of male police officers on bicycle patrol.

First off, correct positioning on a bicycle can alleviate/eliminate most of the negative pressures involved in cycling. Secondly, although the author of the above essay mentions links to erectile dysfunction in men (and links directly to one study), I have personally read a number of other studies that suggest erectile dysfunction in long-distance cyclists is rare. Also, have you noticed how many children the pro peloton has? Those folks arguably spend more time on their saddles than anyone…and they’re popping out kids left and right!

I have read very little on the health effects of saddles/positioning on female cyclists, and am glad to see that there’s some focus being directed their way…but the important thing to take away from this article (and study) is that proper positioning and saddle choice is KEY. There are a number of articles addressing saddle choice and positioning for comfort. Also, most cycling experts discount the need for gimmicky “noseless” or “slotted” saddles.

Get positioned right…and if you experience numbness in your nether regions, think about getting a professional fitting at your local bike shop. Ladies, I’d sure like to hear your thoughts on this issue, as well.


14 Comments

  1. Graham April 17, 2012 5:22 am 

    “Bike seats are designed in such a way that body weight typically rests on the nose of the seat”

    I don’t know about any of you, but this statement seems like it was made by someone who’s never actually sat on a bicycle. Does anyone sit on the nose of the saddle on purpose? Sometimes I slide forward on my saddle, but I always think, “This isn’t very comfortable, I better scoot back a bit… ahh, there we go!”

  2. Ghost Rider April 17, 2012 5:29 am 

    Graham, I agree…and one of the commenters on the original column called the author out on it, too!

  3. Elizabeth April 17, 2012 6:00 am 

    As a female, I have struggled with this issue. (and I know plenty of guys who struggle too).

    I have done a fitting – which has helped… as does having the right saddle and the right shorts (especially for the more race style bikes). No skimping on shorts with a good chamois.

    This year I’ve got a “test” saddle on one of my bikes from the designer Cobb.

  4. Karen April 17, 2012 6:07 am 

    Since I ride a Breezer Uptown 8 my seated position is very upright so I’ve never noticed any problem in that “area”. Same with my Dahon. I also tend to sit back on my saddled rather than on the nose, which actually sounds very uncomfortable.

  5. nic April 17, 2012 6:22 am 

    I can see how it would cause problems if a woman isn’t positioned correctly. Even riding on a good seat, in padded shorts, on a bike that’s been fitted eventually becomes problematic. Spend five hours in the saddle and things are going numb regardless of the precautions. Even if there isn’t any permanent damage, there’s enough soreness to put a damper on (if not a complete halt to) “fun time,” and that’s bad enough.

  6. Mike Myers April 17, 2012 8:27 am 

    Buy a Brooks. Or a Selle An-Atomico. The hammock effect of the leather saddle eliminates pressure on the pernineum.

    I’m a fan of an upright cockpit for everyone except racers, but that’s just my opinion. Spending hours leaning forward not only increases saddle nose pressure, but contributes to all sorts of ailments, like carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder impingements.

    No, I’m not Grant Petersen.

  7. John April 17, 2012 9:01 am 

    It has a lot to do with the length of reach of your arms on the Handlebars and also on how the Saddle is adjusted and what kind of Saddle you have. I did suffer years ago on very long rides with stiff numb Fingers and Palms and also in the Crotch area with numbness. After years of many different types of Bikes and Saddles and experimentation I no longer have any problems.

    If your reach to the bars is too long ,you will suffer from Numbness in the hands and aching arms and back and also your Genital area will be pressed down on the Nose of the Saddle and you will also be sliding forward on the Saddle. Solution is adjust the Height of the Bars and also the forward and aft of the Saddle and a slight tilt upwards of the Nose of Saddle. You should make sure you have a good Bike fitting first of all before the adjustments are made. I got rid of the Gel and Plastic Saddles and use Brooks B17 and Brooks Flyer B 17 for comfort.

    Four of my Bikes have Brooks Saddles and only one has a Gel Saddle,the Raleigh Metro for any area around the City that I would not take my best Bikes to.

  8. Iron_Man April 17, 2012 9:04 am 

    Rule 1) buy an anatomically designed saddle. Rule 2) No matter what saddle you have, position it properly so you are sitting on your sit bones in back and not your Jolly Rancher. And Rule 3) THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE, no matter what saddle you have STAND UP periodically to relieve pressure and aid blood flow. There’s no rule that you must keep your arse planted on the saddle all day just because you aren’t struggling up a climb or sprinting.

  9. BluesCat April 17, 2012 10:51 am 

    Gotta go with the Brooks and the standing up advice (heck, my butt gets numb whenever I’ve sat in a DESK CHAIR for over an hour!)

    ‘Course, you could avoid the whole issue and just get a recumbent!

  10. Iron_Man April 17, 2012 3:34 pm 

    I’m sure women would not like all that extra facial hair that recumbents cause. :)

  11. Like2Bike April 17, 2012 6:09 pm 

    Terry has done a lot of research into bicycle saddle design for women and men. I have a Terry saddle and absolutely love it. Online at http://www.terrybicycles.com

  12. BluesCat April 17, 2012 6:37 pm 

    Iron_Man – HA! ‘Bents don’t CAUSE the facial hair, facial hair is one of the byproducts of WISDOM; and that wisdom leads to riding ‘bents!

    And you don’t see any facial hair on world champion, and recumbent rider, Maria Parker!

  13. Mir.I.Am April 17, 2012 8:59 pm 

    Hmm…. I was professionally “fitted” on my current road bike when I first purchased the thing. I used to have sleepy-nether regions after a one hour+ commute, despite standing up and several lights and hills at times. This did cause a “damper on fun time” as Nic mentioned before, but not since I’ve moved to town and rides are shorter.

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