Bike seats and sex: Men are aware, but should women be wary too?

Yale study suggests women have as much to lose on poorly fitting saddles

Researchers at America's Yale University have found that spending time on a poorly fit bicycle seat – in which fit refers to position or how the seat’s design ‘fits’ a rider’s anatomy – could be as hazardous to women's sexual health as men’s.

The report, published online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, follows the line of similar studies which suggested that bike riding could result in erectile dysfunction in men. The new study draws a conclusion based on the way conventional saddles are designed and the fact that many riders position their body weight on the nose, thus compressing nerves and blood vessels in the genital area.

But before women decide to hang up the bicycle, researchers say more studies need to be conducted. “It's important to take the information from the study and do something about it,” Dr Marsha K Guess Sr, administrative assistant, Urogynecology, at the Yale School of Medicine, and an author of the study, told BikeRadar. But this doesn't mean not riding. “We're not telling people not to ride,” Guess said. “Instead we're telling them to check out alternatives, including [using different] saddles and handlebars.”

Both position and saddle profile matter: the right fit means everything for comfort and health

In fact, the position of the handlebar in relation to the saddle is a central tenet of the study. It was noted that there was more pressure on the rider’s perineum when leaning forward. The researchers suggested that the seat shouldn't be higher than the handlebar, reducing the leaning and hence the pressure.

What was unique about this study, said Guess, was that it was very specific about women. “We looked at recreational riders who ride regularly,” she said. “We studied very avid cyclists.” Many of those participants brought their own saddles, and it was found that narrow designs tended to cause more issues. 

“Many of the bicycle riders reported a decreased sensation, or numbness,” said Guess. “This could result in sexual dysfunction. For this reason we've told women to take caution, and consider alternatives in position, saddle and amount of riding.” But she stressed that this wasn't meant to be an anti-bicycle study. “You have to look at big picture,” she said. “This was just meant to open up an avenue to determine if there is a problem, and reduce those risks.”

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