As this problem became more widely known in the 1990s, cycling companies responded by widening bike seats, shifting the rider's weight from the perineum back to the sit bones. In one study 15 experienced cyclists rode for one hour on long-nose seats; a few days later, they rode the same length of time on wider saddles designed to put weight on the sit bones. On the banana seat, 79 percent reported numbness; on the wider one, that figure dropped to 14 percent.
Recently, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health tested perineal pressure, nerve function and penile blood flow in 90 bike cops in five U.S. cities. Thanks to the demands of their job, they were spending an average of 24 hours per week on long-nose saddles. The officers were then fitted with sit-bone-supporting seats, which they used exclusively for the next six months. Subsequent tests showed a 66 percent decrease in perineal pressure, substantially less penile numbness and improved erection function.
Another problem: Riders who tilt their handlebars down lean forward, which compresses the perineal nerves and arteries. To maintain good penile nerve function and blood flow, tilt your handlebars up, allowing you to sit in a more upright position. It also helps to ride standing on the pedals from time to time.
So far, research on this issue has focused on men. The female perineum, however, contains similar arteries and nerves. A recent study found that women cyslists who used narrow bike saddles and lower handlebars experienced pelvic-floor numbness..
These days, a large number of wide saddles are available. If you try one and experience numbness after riding, switch to another.
Michael Castleman, publisher of the website GreatSexAfter40.com, writes about sex for AARP.
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