Female cyclists may be more likely to develop saddle sores and urinary infections than runners and swimmers, a recent study suggests.
But the survey of female athletes also found those who participated in high-intensity rides and covered more total miles reported better sexual function than runners or swimmers. This contradicts some previous smaller studies that have linked cycling to sexual dysfunction in women, said lead study author Thomas Gaither of the University of California, San Francisco.
Gaither’s team surveyed 3,118 women who belonged to major cycling, swimming, and running organizations in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Most were white, under age 40, single and normal weight.
Overall, 34 percent were runners or swimmers. About 13 percent were considered “high-intensity” cyclists because they had cycled for two or more years and rode their bikes more than three times weekly, averaging more than 25 miles each time. Another 53 percent were classified as “low-intensity” cyclists who were newer to the sport or who rode less often or took shorter rides.
More than 80 percent of the study participants were sexually active – but more cyclists in both the high- and low-intensity groups were sexually active than non-cyclists.
High-intensity cyclists were 30 percent less likely to report sexual dysfunction, compared to runners and swimmers who were non-cyclists, researchers report in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
There were no differences in urinary symptoms between cyclists and noncyclists, although cyclists were more likely to have had a urinary tract infection (UTI) in the past.
The results also confirmed an association between cycling and genital numbness and saddle sores.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how cycling might influence whether women develop gynecological problems or sexual dysfunction.
Saddle sores or numbness might develop when nerves that run across the perineum toward the genitals get compressed during longer or more intense rides, Gaither said by email. Standing while riding was associated with less numbness, he noted, and more total lifetime miles was associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing numbness at some point in time.
“It is important to point out that our controls were runners and swimmers so we don’t believe it is exercise in and of itself that is a cause for this association,” Gaither said.
On the other hand, because the study only included athletes, it’s also not clear if the findings apply equally to people who are physically less active.
“In an era where cycling has become an increasingly popular modality for exercise, transport, and leisure activity . . . we found that cycling did not negatively impact sexual or urinary function,” Gaither and colleagues concluded. “However, cycling was strongly associated with both genital numbness and saddle sores, and modestly associated with UTIs. These associations deserve further inquiry.”
They add, “Increasing the time standing out of the saddle was associated with lower odds of self-reported genital numbness.