Overview: Can riding a bike cause erectile dysfunction (ED)? A new study claims that there’s a positive correlation, yet it quickly becomes clear as you read it that the correlation is small at best. Riding a bike is likely not a major cause of ED, but it may be an aggravating factor.
Can Cycling Cause ED?
Erectile dysfunction is a complex medical problem with possible causes that include the hormonal, the cardiovascular, the neurological, and the psychiatric. Whether one of those causes is the banana seat on your bike has been the subject of endless arguments.
The basic theory is that as you bike, you may put excessive pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in the perineum, the area between the scrotum and anus. Over time, the theory goes, this will cause damage and may in turn cause ED, or other types of pelvic pain.
There has yet to be a conclusive study. One study, for example, found that cyclists who spend three or more hours a week have an elevated risk of ED. Yet the same study found men who had under three hours a week showed lower risk due to the exercise.
This illustrates a key contradiction: Exercise is part of any health plan to mitigate ED, and it’s hard to determine whether cyclists are reducing their risks overall. A new study, while not conclusive, does at least have a few more answers.
Cycling and ED Risk
Probably the best demonstration of how tough this topic is to research is that this 2021 survey of studies started with over 1,000 on the topic and, after applying rigorous filtering to remove duplicates, unrelated studies, and studies with no new data, wound up with six to look at.
What it found from those studies was that overall, cyclists as a group had no greater risk of ED. However, as they aged, the risk of ED went up, and if there were comorbidities, such as diabetes, the risk rose even higher.
However, they found that as they dug into the data, the picture became less clear. One study found unusually high rates and when it was filtered out using criteria that added other studies to the mix, that risk disappeared.
In other words, the higher your other risk factors for ED, such as age and chronic conditions, the more likely (but not very) it is that cycling will cause or aggravate your ED. That said, you don’t have to give up your bike.
Limiting ED Risk From Cycling
- Mix up your exercise routine, spacing out bike rides with other forms of cardio.
- Get your bike sized at your local shop and determine what the best configuration of your bike is for maximum comfort.
- Get a wide, padded saddle with a short “nose.” This will limit jostling and discomfort, as well as ED risk. There are also saddles with “relief” channels that limit pressure on the perineum.
- Use padded cycling gear, like shorts, to limit the pressure as well.
- Drop your handlebars to at or below your saddle level. This helps you to lean forward, taking the weight off your groin.
- Consider a recumbent bike or “standing” bike. These take the saddle and handlebars out of the equation altogether.
- Cycle on paved surfaces where possible.
- And talk to your doctor if you feel any discomfort in the perineum or suddenly start experiencing ED in the absence of any other causes, but don’t forget, there are many potential causes for these symptoms.
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Dan is a long-time freelance writer focusing on technology, science, health, and medicine, with a lifelong interest in physics, biology, and medicine. His work has taken a particular focus on scientific studies “beyond the headlines,” reading the study to more closely examine the results.