Q. Does riding a bicycle interfere with men’s fertility or sexual health?
A. Men who ride bicycles often complain of pain and numbness in their nether regions, so the question of whether straddling a seat leads to long-term sexual health consequences has been the subject of scientific scrutiny. There is some evidence to suggest that very frequent riding can impact fertility. A 2009 study on triathletes from the University of Cordoba in Spain found that those who did the most cycling had the lowest sperm quality. Those who rode more than 186 miles per week had less than 4 percent normal-looking sperm, a level associated with fertility problems. A recent study of more than 2,000 men attending fertility clinics in the Boston area found that men who cycle five or more hours per week had a twofold higher risk of two markers of infertility: low sperm concentration, and low total motile sperm (the number of active sperm).
Neither study, however, measured men’s fertility directly. Lauren Wise, associate professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health and lead author of the Boston study, says, “Even if our results are confirmed in other studies, it’s not clear whether or to what extent changes in semen quality translate into fertility problems.’’
Many studies have also linked cycling to higher rates of impotence and erectile dysfunction, because of the high pressure on nerves and blood vessels. Concerns that traditional seats cut off blood flow to men’s genitals has led to a plethora of alternative seats. A 2008 study on bicycling police officers found that switching to a seat without a protruding nose put less pressure on the groin, increased blood flow to the penis, and lowered measures of erectile dysfunction.
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