Sex and the cyclist

Consumer Reports News: July 24, 2008 12:25 PM

As an occasional cyclist, I've picked up a few injuries over the years. I've learned not to get too close to articulated buses in the city, or bite off more than I can chew when riding off-road. But new research tells me I've also been risking more than cuts or broken bones. Cycling may be hazardous to men's sexual health.

A urologic surgeon, writing in BJU International, has warned that 6 in 10 male cyclists suffer from numbness in their groin. This happens because of "overuse" injuries, where small amounts of damage to the body build up over time.

For some men, the damage is bad enough to lead to erection problems. Although we don't know how often this happens, it's more common in men who train over long distances. The study also tells us that groin injuries are more common in mountain bikers than road cyclists.

The culprit, of course, is the bike's saddle. Padded shorts may help, but the best bet seems to be abandoning the traditional seat completely. Modern designs can look like gimmicks, but there's research suggesting they really work. For example, you can get "no-nose" saddles, which have just the back part of the seat. They take some getting used to, but they can reduce the pressure on your groin.

You can also protect yourself by taking breaks during long rides. You also need to check your bike's condition, make sure your saddle is set to the right height and angle, and be sure you got the right size and type of bike in the first place.

There is some good news. None of the research found a link between infertility in men and cycling.

What you need to know. Take care buying, setting up and maintaining your bike. As with any kind of exercise, listen to your body and give yourself time to recover between sessions. Get medical help if you think you've done yourself damage.

Philip Wilson, patient editor, BMJ Group has partnered with The BMJ Group to monitor the latest medical research and assess the evidence to help you decide which news you should use.

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