Cycling in the past has received some criticism based on studies that suggested the sport is linked to erectile function. Those results may be moot, however, according to findings published in the Journal of Urology late last year. The study revealed that sexual and urinary health isn’t negatively impacted by cycling—particularly when compared to swimmers and runners.
“We believe the results will be encouraging for cyclists,” Dr. Benjamin Breyer, co-author of the October study and urologist of the University of California-San Francisco, said in a statement. “Cycling provides tremendous cardiovascular benefits and is low impact on joints.”
In a multinational study of 2,774 cyclists, 539 swimmers and 789 runners, researchers compiled various questionnaires about sexual health, prostate symptoms, and chronic prostatitis symptoms in addition to questions about urinary tract infections, urethral strictures, genital numbness and saddle sores. Breyer said it was the largest comparative study to date that explored multiple variables using scientifically validated questionnaires. Participants were asked a myriad of questions about their cycling habits, from cycling intensity and road conditions to bike and saddle type. They were divided into two groups: one of cyclists who cycled more than three times per week for over two years averaging 25 miles a day and the other group meeting none of those standards.
The previous hypothesis was that prolonged perineal pressure, which is pressure on the part of the body between the anus and the genitals, and micro-trauma during cycling resulted in the negative health impacts from the sport. Those studies, according to the study authors, lacked equivalent scientific rigor.
“We believe the health benefits enjoyed by cyclists who ride safely will far outweigh health risks,” Breyer said. The study’s findings revealed that cyclists had about the same sexual and urinary health to swimmers and runners. Some cyclists, however, were more prone to urethral strictures, which occur when the tube carrying urine from the bladder to the outside of the body becomes abnormally narrow. Higher-intensity cyclists, somewhat counterintuitively, had better erectile function compared to low-intensity cyclists.
Bike and road characteristics did not appear to have a negative impact on cyclists’ sexual health. Lowering the handlebar beneath the saddle increased the likelihood of genital numbness and saddle sores, but the researchers noted that genital numbness could be curbed by standing more than 20 percent of the time while cycling.
The comparative approach between various athletes adds new information to the scientific literature on cyclists’ sexual health. As for genital numbness, said Breyer: “We’re looking more closely at those who reported numbness to see if this is a predictor for future problems.”