Bicycles and Infertility

Good Intentions

Your man may have the best of intentions; perhaps he took up bicycle riding in an effort to stay fit, do his bit for the environment, or save on gasoline costs, but your mate may be harming his health if he doesn't choose the right bike. That's according to urological surgeon Vinod Nargund at St. Bartholomew's and Homerton Hospitals, in London. Nargund says that men should be on the lookout for erectile dysfunction, genital numbness, or soreness and skin irritations in the area of the groin.

Men who make a regular habit of cycling may also experience changes in sperm function due to the excessive heat generated in the groin during bike riding. Regular cyclists also run the risk of sustaining damage to the testes as well as testicular function. While no positive link between cycling and male infertility has been proven, infertility has been suggested as a possible side effect of cycling and in fact has been noted in a number of male cyclists.

At particular risk, says Nargund, are mountain bikers, since they tend to exhibit more scrotal abnormalities than do regular cyclists.

Nargund explains that the bicycle seat comes into direct contact with the perineum and underlying structures. This is the area just behind the scrotum where nerves and blood vessels enter the back of the scrotum and the penis. Since this sensitive area contains hair follicles along with sweat and sebaceous glands, the area is ripe as a breeding ground for infection.

The most common cycling injuries include abrasions, bruises, chafing, and damage to the hair follicles. The sweat produced in this area can contribute to soreness and skin irritations and infections.

Nargund points out that of the male cyclists who have participated in research studies; more than 60 percent have reported genital numbness. Numbness is a common finding due to the pressure of the bicycle seat on the area which tends to impair blood supply and place pressure on the nerves of the penis. All this can affect a man's ability to achieve and maintain an erection.

Choose the Right Bike

Erectile problems and a higher incidence of numbness are seen in men who cycle on a regular basis and for longer distances. Nargund suggests that men should include rest periods during prolonged or vigorous cycling and stresses that choosing the right bike is essential. "The male cyclist should know his bicycle well and a proper fit is particularly important for high-performance cycling. The level of pedal resistance is also very important, because riding a bike using too much resistance is a major cause of health problems in the groin area," says Nargund.

The urologist suggests that cyclists can help ease cycling injuries and skin irritations by adjusting the height of the seat as well as the fore and aft positions. Padding on the bicycle seat or on the seat of the cyclists' pants is also important in avoiding seat-related injuries.

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