Can Bicycle Seats Cause Erectile Dysfunction and Impotence?
Study explores erectile dysfunction from bicycle seats
The question of whether bicycle seats can cause erectile dysfunction and/or impotence is currently still an unresolved problem. A recent study in progress is taking a biophysical approach to the question of bicycle seats and erectile dysfunction by measuring the pressure on the artery that supplies blood to the penis. Wearing a special pressure sensor in their riding shorts and a portable monitor in a backpack, participants in the study are measuring the degree to which blood vessels connected to the penis are impacted and whether there is a direct correlation between bicycle seat design and erectile dysfunction and impotence.
Erectile dysfunction is a serious problem for many men as they age and develop health issues that can affect sexual performance. A diagnosis of erectile dysfunction is typically made when a man is unable to maintain a firm erection throughout sexual intercourse. Although the term impotence is generally interchangeably used with erectile dysfunction, technically, impotence has more to do with reproductive success than sexual performance.
According to medical studies, 70 percent of the cases of erectile dysfunction are due to medical disease such as obesity, diabetes and vascular disease. Physical trauma that damages the blood vessels and nerves that are part of penile physiology, however, can also lead to temporary and possibly permanent erectile dysfunction.
One of the earliest signs that a male bicycle rider may be experiencing trauma to the nerves or blood vessels connected to his penis is a tingling sensation at the end of his penis and/or a numbness of the perineum where direct contact is made with a bicycle seat. Prolonged and/or numerous periods of riding a bicycle can cause constant swelling of the tissues surrounding the nerves and blood vessels resulting in temporary erectile difficulties and a feeling of discomfort “down there.” However, normal sensation and function generally return after a period of rest.
Part of the difficulty with clearly attributing erectile dysfunction with bicycle seat design is that the riders themselves often report conflicting experiences with a variety of bicycle seats and riding styles. For example, a trained cyclist who puts in hundreds of miles weekly and rides a narrow, hard seat may never experience numbness and tingling because the majority of his pedaling forces are concentrated on the pedal and not the seat. An amateur level cyclist with the same seat or one that is more cushioned, however, may experience just the opposite after a few miles.
To address the actual physiology between a rider’s groin and bicycle seats, researchers from the University of Chicago, Illinois have devised a special sensor array that fits in the crotch of riding shorts that is attached to a backpack-outfitted monitoring system. The goal of the study is to determine whether the blood flow to the penis is cut off by the pressure between the riders groin and a bicycle seat.
Four sensors positioned near the blood vessels feeding the groin, electronically measure the degree of blood flow (or lack of) as participants of the study ride for five minutes at a time on six different styles of bicycle seats. The seats range from classic design to modified designs with increased padding for comfort. According to Dr. Craig Niederberger, professor and head of urology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine who is leading the study, “Many new bicycle seats are designed to be more comfortable, but whether they are better for the men riding them is pretty much just a guess,” says Niederberger.
The initial results from the blood flow/venous pressure data of the study has revealed that a one-size-fits-all bicycle seat design is not likely a possible match in many cases between a rider and his butt. Interpreting the data to find an optimal bicycle seat design toward preventing conditions leading to erectile dysfunction has thus far been problematic. "So far, we’re seeing a surprising amount of variation in how different seats affect different men, depending on their anatomy, their riding posture, and their riding habits," Niederberger said. "The question we would like to answer eventually is whether we can design a universal seat that is good for each and every man."
Additional data is currently being collected for the study and the researchers report that they are looking for more volunteers to add to their data base. Volunteers interested in participating in the study can call Christine Corpuz at (312) 996-9330.
To prevent or lessen the effects of riding a bicycle toward the progression of potential erectile dysfunction, a few pressure-relieving actions can make for a more comfortable riding experience:
• Take breaks during long stretches of riding in a sitting position by standing up on the pedals periodically while pedaling.
• Try a variety of seat adjustments to find the most comfortable position.
• Shift your butt’s seating position frequently during a ride, allowing pressure to not focus on any one spot for very long.
• Do not use seats with excess padding that may cause you to sink deeper into the padding and thereby place more direct contact between your groin and the seat.
• Wear cycling shorts with built-in padding made for bicycling.
• Keep the seat angled slightly downward.
Until research can fully explain the potential connection between bicycle seats and erectile dysfunction and impotence, it is advisable to listen to your body if you find yourself experiencing any tingling or numbness to your groin during or following a ride. Just as with any other athletic injury, hot and cold packs, rest and a look at the possible causes for your injury are the best measures toward preventive medicine and good health.
Reference: University of Chicago, Illinois News: “Study Looks at Bike Seats' Effect on Men's Pelvic Blood Flow”