Research on bicycle saddles and sexual health comes of age in The Journal of Sexual Medicine

08/23/05

August 23, 2005 - Steven Schrader, a prominent researcher in sexual and reproductive health, philosophized in a guest editorial of the September issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine that it is time to move on - the current scientific focus on the relationship between bicycle riding and sexual health has now shifted. Whereas past research emphasized whether or not a causal relationship existed between bicycle riding on a saddle (cause) and erectile dysfunction (disease), Dr. Schrader now states that the next step of contemporary research on the subject should focus on intervention.

Dr. Schrader is a supervisory research biologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The statements in the editorial represent his professional opinion and do not necessarily reflect any policy statements by NIOSH.

Dr. Schrader was asked to review three new articles on the topic published in the current issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine entitled, "Bicycle Riding and Erectile Dysfunction: An Increase in Interest (and Concern)" by Huang et al, "Only the Nose Knows: Penile Hemodynamic Study of the Perineum - Saddle Interface in Men with Erectile Dysfunction Utilizing Bicycle Saddles and Seats with and without Nose Extensions" by Munarriz et al, and "Development of a New Geometric Bicycle Saddle for the Maintenance of Genital-Perineal Vascular Perfusion" by Breda et al.

These three peer-reviewed articles research the pathophysiology of the erectile dysfunction (ED) associated with bicycling. They together report that the high pressures in the perineum while straddling a saddle compress and temporarily occlude penile blood flow. They also hypothesized that the lining vessels of the compressed arteries become damaged, thus leading to potential permanent artery blockage.

However, not all men who ride bicycles will develop erectile dysfunction. One past study suggested that sexual health consequences adversely affect 5% of riders (based on survey data that would therefore include 1,000,000 riding men with ED).

"One would not expect that every bicyclist would suffer from ED any more than one would expect every smoker would get lung cancer," says Schrader. "The next steps are quite clear. Effective strategies based on sound ergonometrics and urogenital physiologic principles and testing are needed to reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction from bicycle riding." Schrader further concluded that "the health benefits from having unrestricted vascular flow to and from the penis are self-evident."

Dr. Schrader's ground-breaking research in 2002 reported on the hazards of bicycle riding in police officers. This past innovative research concluded that nighttime erections were of poorer quality in biking police officers compared to non-biking police officers. Furthermore, nighttime erection quality decreased as seat pressure increased and as the average number of hours in the saddle a day increased.

To better appreciate the scope of the problem, a 2002 National Survey of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Attitudes and Behaviors was sponsored by the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in part to gauge bicycle use. According to the survey, approximately 57 million people, 27.3% of the population age 16 or older, rode a bicycle at least once during the summer of 2002 (www.bicyclinginfo.org/survey2002.htm).

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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