SAN FRANCISCO — Between the health benefits and the excuse to get outdoors, bike riding is an ideal extracurricular activity for many of us. But plenty of men prefer to keep off a bicycle seat altogether out of fear it will damage their, so to speak, manhood. A new study lays those concerns to rest, however: cycling does not affect a man’s sexual or urinary functions.
Researchers from the University of California-San Francisco launched the largest comparative study to date that sought to find a possible link between bicycle riding — including road conditions and equipment types — and damage to men’s sexual organs.
The authors recruited an impressive sample of multinational male athletes on Facebook for the study: 2,774 cyclists, 789 runners, and 539 swimmers. The participants filled out several validated scientific surveys that focused on prostate health and sexual functions, including the Sexual Health Inventory for Men and International Prostate Symptom Score. They also completed questionnaires regarding history of urinary tract infections, genital numbness, saddle sores, and other conditions often associated with bicycle riding.
The researchers then recorded extensive data on the cyclists’ riding habits and very specific information on their bicycles’ configurations. Participants reported everything from bike type to saddle angle, how often they wore padded shorts when riding, handlebar height, and the terrain they most often ride on. The cyclists were also split into groups — high-intensity or low-intensity — depending on the frequency and usual distance of riding.
Overall, the authors determined that most cyclists had similar sexual and urinary functioning as the runners and swimmers, and that neither road conditions nor bicycle type showed any notable negative effect. That said, they did find that riders whose handlebars were positioned lower than the saddle height were more likely to suffer saddle sores or genital numbness.
“The comparison across athletes sampled in a similar way with validated instruments is what this study adds to the literature,” says lead investigator Dr. Benjamin Breyer in a press release. “We’re looking more closely at those who reported numbness to see if this is a predictor for future problems.”
For riders who have reported numbness, the researchers say that standing for at least 20 percent of a ride will significantly alleviate the symptom.
As for whether being a high-intensity or low-intensity bicycle rider makes any difference, the results showed that high-intensity cyclists recorded the healthiest erectile function scores.
While previous research indicated frequent bike riding could lead to erectile dysfunction, the authors of this latest study say that those trials didn’t use validated questionnaires, large samples of participants, or compare individuals across various sports.
So if you’ve held back from hopping on board a bicycle to preserve the family jewels, hopefully these latest findings will encourage you to perhaps go for a ride now and again.
“We believe the results will be encouraging for cyclists. Cycling provides tremendous cardiovascular benefits and is low impact on joints,” says Breyer. “We believe the health benefits enjoyed by cyclists who ride safely will far out weight health risks.”
The study’s findings were published in October in The Journal of Urology.