Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: Biking and erectile dysfunction

On call

Biking and erectile dysfunction

Q. Whenever I ride my bike for more than an hour or so, I notice a numbness in my penis. I know that can lead to impotence, so I've stopped taking long rides. But I see some policemen in my town patrolling on bikes all day long. Will they end up with problems?

A. It's a good question. In fact, researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health shared your curiosity. They evaluated 17 members of bicycling patrol units in Cincinnati, Ohio. The men averaged nearly 5½ hours in the saddle each workday, and 91% experienced genital numbness from time to time. More significantly, when the members of the patrol underwent nocturnal penile tumescence testing, they showed fewer nighttime erections than volunteers who did not ride bikes. The men who rode the most were at the highest risk for erectile dysfunction. In addition, the researchers found that the men who exerted the most pressure on the bike seats had the most problems.

The bicycle seat is the main issue. It puts pressure on the nerves and arteries responsible for erections. But if the seat is the problem, it can also be the solution for men who ride regularly. If you ride a lot, pick a wide seat, ideally with plenty of padding. Special blunt, or noseless, seats can help, as can gel-filled and shock-absorbing seats. Don't tilt your seat to the forward position, which increases pressure on your perineum. Be sure the seat height is correct, so that your legs are not completely straight at the bottom of your pedal stroke. And for extra protection, consider wearing padded biking pants. A small 2005 German study found that Viagra may help preserve penile oxygen levels during long rides, but most men will do better with well-established biomechanical solutions.

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