A commonly prescribed non-medicinal course of action for men experiencing sexual dysfunction is to undertake sport and exercise more, and with good reason. Tight or restricted penile blood flow is a major physical marker of erectile problems; therefore bettering cardiovascular conditioning can help, not only to improve blood flow in general, but to facilitate better blood flow to the penis.
One of the more popular choices (particularly for those who are relatively new to exercise) is cycling; be it the exercise cycle at the gym or an outdoor bike ride. But a series of studies have suggested that this activity, while improving overall cardio, can exacerbate or even cause erectile dysfunction.
Investigations into the phenomenon are not a new development by any means, with studies being carried out into the subject as early as 1987. But the topic has arguably garnered more attention recently due to a growing awareness of sexual dysfunction in men and an increased readiness of sufferers to discuss the subject openly.
One study by Norwegian scientists in Trondheim in 1997 assessed the effects of cycling on 160 men undertaking a 540km touring event. 20 per cent of respondents complained of decreased nerve activity in the pudendal area, while 13 reported symptoms of impotence.
Another investigation carried out by German researchers in 2001 examined the effects of cycling on erectile function in forty men aged 25-35; the results of which were even more pronounced. Over two thirds of the men studied were found to have ‘decreased penile blood supply’, with 61 per cent experiencing numbness in the genitals. Furthermore, nearly one fifth of men who cycled 400km or more per week reported episodes or erectile dysfunction.
An assessment carried out by London-based researchers in 2012-2013 refuted the above findings, however, stating that it found no significant association between cycling and ED; but did find one between cycling and prostate cancer.
Research has shown that the type of seat used plays a large role in the potential incidence of symptoms. Scientists at the University of Cologne tested four different types of bicycle saddle, and their reductive effects on participants’ penile oxygen pressure (thought to be a pertinent risk factor in the cause of cycling-induced erectile dysfunction).
It found that a seat with no nose and a wide base had preferable results to a heavily padded narrow seat, causing respective drops in penile oxygen pressure of 20.3 per cent versus 82.4 per cent.
Another study by the same scientists a year earlier also found that cycling in a reclining position was also more beneficial to penile oxygen pressure levels when measured against cycling in an upright position.
Whether the link between cycling and sexual dysfunction has been exaggerated or not, these are surely factors for those men looking to improve erectile function, through non-medicinal means via the adjustment of certain lifestyle measures, to take into consideration.