Decreased genital sensation in competitive women cyclists

Women who participated in prolonged, frequent bicycling had decreased genital sensation and were more likely to have a history of genital pain than women runners, researchers in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine and The Albert Einstein College of Medicine report in the current issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The researchers compared 48 women competitive cyclists to 22 women runners. They used non-invasive techniques to evaluate the possible effects of bicycling on genital sensation and sexual health. Participants in the study were women bicyclists who consistently rode an average of at least 10 miles per week, four weeks per month. Women who ran at least one mile daily or five miles weekly were chosen as a control group because they represent an active group of women who were not exposed to direct pressure in the perineal region.

“We found that competitive women cyclists have a decrease in genital sensation. However, there were no negative effects on sexual function and quality of life in our young, healthy pre-menopausal study participants,” said lead author Marsha K. Guess, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale.

About 13 million American women bicycle regularly, according to statistics cited in the article. While health benefits of bicycling are many, the activity has also been linked to injuries and fatalities due to motor vehicle collisions, neck and back pain, and chafing, folliculitis, and other ailments that affect both sexes. Past studies, including one authored by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health co-investigator Steve Schrader, have found an association between bicycling and erectile dysfunction and genital numbness in men.

“This is the first study to evaluate the effects of prolonged or frequent bicycling on neurological and sexual function in women,” said Guess. “While seated on a bicycle, the external genital nerve and artery are directly compressed. It is possible that chronic compression of the female genital area may lead to compromised blood flow and nerve injury due to disruption of the blood-nerve barrier.”

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Co-author Kathleen Connell, M.D., assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale published an article last year in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showing that loss of genital sensation was associated with sexual dysfunction. However, Connell notes, “This study did not address the long-term effects of bicycling on genital sensation or on women’s sexual health in this study.”

In addition to Guess and Connell, other authors on the study included Steven Schrader, Ph.D., Susan Reutman Ph.D., Andrea Wang, M.D., Julie LaCombe, M.D., Christine Toennis, Brian Lowe, Ph.D. Arnold Melman, M.D., and Magdy Mikhail, M.D.

Citation: J Sex Med, Vol. 3 , 6 949-1101 (November 2006)


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