Bike's handlebar level can affect women's sexual health

Research has shown cycling is associated with genital nerve issues and erectile dysfunction in male riders, and now a new study suggests the activity can also affect the sexual health of female cyclists.
Female cyclists race during the elimination event of the women's omnium at the Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne, Australia in April. (Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press)

The height of a bicycle’s handlebars can affect the sexual health of female riders, a new U.S. study suggests.

The study, published Monday in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, assessed bicycle setup, specifically the effect of seat and handlebar position on saddle pressures and genital sensation.

The study group included 48 competitive female cyclists who were not pregnant and premenopausal, and who rode at least 16 kilometres per week, four weeks per month.

Saddle pressures and sensation in the genital region were measured to determine whether placing handlebars in different positions affects pressure and sensation in the genital region.

The study found that placing the handlebar lower than the seat was associated with increased pressure on the genital region and decreased sensation, which reduced ability to detect vibration.

"Modifying bicycle setup may help prevent genital nerve damage in female cyclists," said lead study author Dr. Marsha K. Guess, of Yale University School of Medicine. "Chronic insult to the genital nerves from increased saddle pressures could potentially result in sexual dysfunction."

Female cyclists can take simple steps to protect their sexual health, said Irwin Goldstein, editor in chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

"If women can minimize pressure application to the genital tissues merely by repositioning their handlebars higher, to increase sitting upright, and thereby maximize pressure application to the woman’s sit bones, then they are one step closer to maintaining their very important sexual health."

Past research has also shown that cycling is associated with genital nerve issues and erectile dysfunction in male riders.