I was watching some male bicyclists rubbing their nether regions after a ride and thought two things: (1) cycling is turning into baseball, and (2) someday a lot of lawyers are going to make a pile of money off this problem. No, not the public self-fondling issue, silly. The perineal numbness and erectile dysfunction issue inherent in the defective design of bicycle seats. (I can also see the Viagara/Cialis ads featuring Lance Armstrong: this is the face of erectile dysfunction.) Anyway, here's a concise statement of the problem:
Bicycling and the Male Anatomy
Before we discuss the findings of the MMAS, a brief anatomy review should help explain how bicycling can contribute to or cause sexual dysfunction. When humans sit, they bear their weight on the ischial tuberosities, or what we have come to refer to as the "sit bones." The ischial tuberosities have no organs attached to them and no nerves or arteries; they are surrounded by the fat and muscle of the buttocks. This area is very well vascularized and allows humans to sit comfortably and safely for hours.
Unfortunately, most bicyclists bear their body weight on a bicycle seat that is not wide enough to support the ischial tuberosities. As a result, they wind up straddling the bike and, in effect, sitting on the internal part of their genitals."Erectile Dysfunction and Bicycling" by Irwin Goldstein, MD, Boston University Medical Campus
This makes sense when you consider how the pelvis fit with a bicycle seat. But not to worry — engineering comes to the rescue!
BACKGROUND: Perineal numbness and erectile dysfunction are emerging as health concerns among bicyclists. Three studies indicate that between 7% and 21% of male cyclists experience genital area numbness after prolonged riding.
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the effect of an experimental seat design on perineal numbness.
DESIGN: Fifteen experienced male cyclists exercised for 1 hour on a stationary spin cycle using either an experimental or standard bicycle seat. Several days later they repeated the trial using the other seat type. Before and after each 1-hour exercise session, perineal sensation was tested using the Weinstein Enhanced Sensory Testing (WEST)-hand esthesiometer. Cyclists were also asked to report their perception of numbness after each exercise bout.
RESULTS: Cyclists reported more numbness with the standard seat than with the experimental seat (79% vs 14%; P=0.009). Similarly, sensory testing at all perineal sites yielded greater hypoesthesia with the standard seat than with the experimental seat (P=0.05). This difference was most marked at the dorsal penis (P=0.04).
CONCLUSION: The experimental bicycle seat produced significantly less subjective and objective numbness than the standard cycle seat in 1 hour of stationary cycling. Bicycle seat design and innovation may decrease or eliminate perineal numbness."Using an Experimental Bicycle Seat to Reduce Perineal Numbness" by Kenneth S. Taylor, MD; Allen Richburg, MD; David Wallis, MD; Mark Bracker, MD, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, V30, No. 5, May 2002
Not surprisingly, it turns out that the effects of putting pressure on the region is a long-standing, no pun intended, problem:
As for the Scythians, however, who identified horseback riding as a possible cause of male impotence in the ninth century BCE, the relationship between bicycle riding and ED has become a matter of concern."Erectile Dysfunction and Bicycling" by Irwin Goldstein, MD, Boston University Medical Campus
So, for all the male cyclists who read this, get yourself a sensible seat before you're hanging out with the Bob Dole crowd.
Sources and Further Reading
- "Using an Experimental Bicycle Seat to Reduce Perineal Numbness" by Kenneth S. Taylor, MD; Allen Richburg, MD; David Wallis, MD; Mark Bracker, MD, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, V30, No. 5, May 2002
- "Erectile Dysfunction and Bicycling" by Irwin Goldstein, MD, Boston University Medical Campus
- Spongy Wonder (anti-compression seat)
- Hobson Seats (anti-compression seat)
- Specialized Saddles (anti-compression seat)
- Aero Saddle (anti-compression seat)
- Cheeko90 (anti-compression seat)