Ten years ago, urologist Irwin Goldstein frightened many men when he said, “There are only two kinds of male cyclists: those who are impotent and those who will be impotent.” We’ve written before about how bicycle riding can be the end of a man’s sex life?and a woman’s too. Most of us want to have an active sex life for a long time. Do the new ergonomic bike seats designed to solve this problem really help?

Research at Harvard Medical School suggests that riding a bike for long periods can cause temporary erectile difficulties. The risk appears highest among men who cycle more than three hours a week. This is because sitting on a bicycle for a long time puts pressure on the perineum, the area between the genitals and anus. This pressure can harm nerves and temporarily impede blood flow, causing tingling or numbness in the penis and, eventually, erectile dysfunction. Conventional bicycles cause a dramatic (though temporary) drop in oxygen supply to the penis. In order to avoid this, you can try wearing padded biker shorts and raise the handlebars of the bike so you’re sitting relatively upright. This shifts pressure from the perineum to the buttocks.

Another option is to use a wide, well-padded or gel-filled seat instead a narrow seat, which places more pressure on the perineum. Position the seat to reduce pressure: Make sure it is not so high that your legs are fully extended at the bottom of your pedal stroke, and don’t tilt the seat up. Also, change your position and take breaks during long rides, and if you feel tingling or numbness in the penis, stop riding for a week or two.

Are new ergonomic bike seats designs going to solve this problem? In the April 9 edition of the Los Angeles Times, Bill Becher reports that, “Over the years, a number of bicycle seat manufacturers have sought to develop saddles that would minimize erectile problems by adding holes and grooves ? one company calls its design ‘the Love Channel’?that are meant to minimize pressure on arteries and nerves. But whether these designs will actually help prevent problems is debatable.”

But there IS hope: Becher quotes a 52-year-old Northern California cyclist with ED problems who tried a noseless bike saddle. He said it took getting used to: “You don’t hop on it the first day and do exactly what you did with your old seat,” but “I can [now] have a normal relationship with my beautiful wife and ride my bike.”

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