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Women Cyclists: Raising Handlebars May Protect Sexual Health

A Women's Challenge bicycle stage race (James F. Perry via Wikimedia Commons)
A Women's Challenge bicycle stage race (James F. Perry via Wikimedia Commons)

The sexual risks that serious cycling can pose to men are widely known and feared, from genital numbness to erectile dysfunction to possible effects on sperm from high pelvic heat. Now there's a highly preliminary warning signal to all the hunched-over women in Pearl Izumi shirts and bike cleats: The price of cutting your wind resistance by lowering your handlebars may be higher than you want to pay — and come due in the bedroom.

A recent study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine looked at 48 women who cycle competitively:

Researchers measured saddle pressures and sensation in the genital region to see if placing handlebars in different positions affects pressure and sensation in the genital region. Results showed that placing the handlebar lower than the seat was associated with increased pressure on the genital region and decreased sensation (reduced ability to detect vibration).

“Modifying bicycle set-up may help prevent genital nerve damage in female cyclists,” Guess notes. “Chronic insult to the genital nerves from increased saddle pressures could potentially result in sexual dysfunction.”

“There are a myriad of factors affecting women’s sexual function. If women can minimize pressure application to the genital tissues merely by repositioning their handlebars higher, to increase sitting upright, and thereby maximize pressure application to the woman’s sit bones, then they are one step closer to maintaining their very important sexual health,” explained Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Note to spinning-class instructors: This may apply to you, too.

This program aired on July 9, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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