Controversy and Confusion About Bicycle Saddles and Erectile Dysfunction
There has been controversy and confusion about the connection between cycling and erectile disfunction ever since urologist Dr Irwin Goldstein said, in a Bicycling Magazine article, that "there are two kinds of cyclists: those who are impotent and those who will be." Obviously, that's an overstatement. In fact, having ridden a bicycle nearly every day for the last 7 years and having spoken to countless other cyclists, I am of the opinion that bicycle saddles only cause numbness 1)if the bike is improperly adjusted; 2)when a rider isn't fit and 3)after a very long and intense ride.
Three Preventable Causes of Numbness
The first problem is the most common, and can be remedied by a simple visit to your local bike shop. Proper bike fit means more than a saddle that is adjusted to the right height; stems can be made longer or shorter, saddles can be moved back and forth, handlebars tilted up and down, etc. In addition, you want to be sure that you are riding a frame that is the right size!
The second issue is something that most people misunderstand: bicycle saddles are not seats. In other words, they are not meant to bear the entire weight of the rider. A fit cyclist will distribute his weight on the pedals and the handlebars, as well as on the seat, minimizing pressure on the perineum. New riders find it hard to lean far forward enough to properly distributed their weight on the bars, and they tend to pedal more tentatively; as a result, they sit more heavily on the saddle. Racers prefer hard, flat saddles because they make it easier to lean far forward (in fact, soft, spongey saddles cause more numbness, because as you lean forward the foam bunches up and presses into the genitals).
Finally, it is true that some numbness is inevitable on really long, hard rides. However, for most people this is not a problem, as they don't ride 6-7 hours in a day, and I've yet to meet a racer who complains about problems with persistent numbness.
People Still Worry About Erectile Dysfunction
Still, despite all this, many people have fears about bicycle seats. For them, noseless saddles might be the perfect solution. And, a recent study of "ninety bicycling police officers from 5 metropolitan regions in the U.S. . .using traditional saddles [that] were evaluated prior to changing saddles and then again after 6 months of using the noseless bicycle saddle" found that noseless saddles do improve penile sensation. The study showed that
use of the noseless saddle resulted in a reduction in saddle contact pressure in the perineal region. There was a significant improvement in penile tactile sensation, and the number of men indicating they had not experienced genital numbness while cycling for the preceding 6 months rose from 27 percent to 82 percent using no-nose saddles
I think this is great news for people that are really having problems with numbness from riding and who have tried everything else to alleviate the problem first. That said, noseless saddles take time to get used to, as they make it harder to steer the bike. What's more, the easiest way to ensure proper blood flow during a ride is to get out of the saddle every once in a while (this is a good idea anyway to stretch the legs and work different muscles). My concern is that people will think cycling is going to somehow ruin their sex lives and avoid riding. If you are one of those people, remember a few key points:
1)exercise is good for sexual health! Sitting in a car and cubicle every day is not a recipe for studliness.
2)with proper bike fit cycling should be numbness and pain free
3)experiment with different saddles--nose as well as no-nose. Everyone's physiology is different and there are myriad saddle styles to choose from. Here's a little tip, though: don't go with the saddle that feels softest to the touch, and do a reasonably-long ride on a saddle before making a decision!
Regardless of if you agree with this study or not, the fact of the matter is that there are numerous ways to ensure that cycling is comfortable, safe and fun for all.
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