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Can Cycling Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Erica Garza

Published 05/31/2024

You might be too tired to think about sex after a long bike ride, but what if tiredness isn’t the reason you can’t perform? There’s a lot of speculation around cycling and erectile dysfunction (ED), a common sexual dysfunction issue affecting an estimated 14 to 48 percent of men.

Despite the health benefits of cycling, some research suggests this low-impact aerobic exercise may increase your risk of ED by putting too much pressure on your genitals and reducing blood flow.

But before you give up your dreams to compete in the Tour de France, find out how cycling impacts erectile function, whether erectile dysfunction and cycling are linked, and what you can do to reduce your risk of ED.

Cycling is a great way to stay physically fit, get from point A to B, and wear cool outfits. But is this form of exercise good or bad for erectile function?

Regular cycling has been considered an independent risk factor for numerous urological problems (issues relating to the urinary tract and reproductive organs).

These include:

  • Pudendal nerve compression

  • Genital numbness

  • Hematuria (blood in urine)

  • Prostate inflammation

  • Urologic cancers

However, the idea that cycling causes ED isn’t so clear.

Most urologists believe maintaining unrestricted blood flow to the penis is beneficial. They also agree that regular bicycle riding for exercise offers more extensive benefits for men’s health overall.

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There are many potential causes of erectile dysfunction, including certain lifestyle habits — but is cycling one of them? Let’s look at the evidence.

Cyclists Have a Higher Risk of Erectile Dysfunction

In a 2020 review that compared 3,330 cyclists and 1,524 non-cyclists, researchers found conflicting evidence linking bicycle riding to erectile dysfunction.

When comparing cyclists to non-cyclists, there were no significant differences in the odds of having erectile dysfunction.

However, when the researchers controlled for age and comorbidities (when someone has more than one medical condition), cyclists had a significantly higher chance of having ED.

This data shows that there’s a potential link between cycling and erectile dysfunction — but only when adjusting for age and various comorbidities. More research is needed to confirm the connection.

Cycling Causes Genital Pain and Numbness

In a 2020 study, researchers found a connection between genital/pelvic pain and numbness and erectile dysfunction among cyclists.

Out of 1,635 surveyed cyclists:

  • 22 percent reported having erectile dysfunction

  • 30 percent reported genital pain

  • 57 percent reported genital numbness

Those who had genital numbness were at higher risk of reporting ED. How quickly men experienced numbness also increased their risk of ED.

For instance, if they felt penile numbness or genital pain less than one hour after cycling, they had a greater chance of developing ED. But if they started to feel numbness five hours after cycling, they had a lower risk of ED.

When controlling for demographics, BMI (body mass index), cycling intensity, equipment, and medical comorbidities, researchers found that bike seat style didn’t contribute to the risk of developing genital numbness.

The study concluded that while there’s not enough evidence to link cycling to ED, it’s not a bad idea to reduce pelvic discomfort — which can potentially lower the risk of sexual dysfunction.

Some Bike Seats and Riding Styles Reduce Blood Flow

Although the 2020 study mentioned above found no link between bike seat style and genital numbness, other studies have come to different conclusions.

A research review looked at three types of bicycle seats (saddles) and different riding styles to assess the impact on perineal pressure (pressure on the taint).

Saddle designs and riding styles that put more pressure on the perineum reduced penile blood flow and oxygen pressure. In these cases, perineal and genital numbness also increased.

For example, one study in the review compared a standard narrow saddle to a no-nose saddle. (A nose on a bike seat is the front part that typically sticks out.) The standard narrow saddle reduced penile oxygen pressure by 72.4 percent, but the no-nose saddle only lowered it by 20.3 percent.

Another study in the review found that a narrow saddle decreased penile blood flow by 84 percent, while a wide saddle only decreased blood flow by 19 percent.

The review also found that when bicyclists rode in a reclined position, penile oxygen pressure went down an insignificant amount, from 61.1 to 59.4 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). But when cyclists rode upright, penile oxygen pressure declined significantly, from 60.5 to 18.3 mmHg.

The researchers concluded that men can lower their risk of perineal numbness — and potentially ED — by using a different bike seat or riding style. They suggest no-nose saddles, riding in a reclined position, and even standing on the pedals every ten minutes.

Choose your chew

While more evidence is needed to confirm a link between cycling and ED, it doesn’t hurt to take some precautions.

  • Use the right bike seat. No-nose saddles (or cutout saddles) reduce pressure on your perineum because they leave space between you and the seat. You can also opt for a wide seat over a narrow one.

  • Switch up your riding styles. Consider riding in a reclined position with a recumbent bike or stand on the pedals occasionally to relieve pressure.

  • Ensure you have the right bike fit. Adjusting your bike to your body is key to riding comfortably. Besides using the right seat, be sure your handlebars aren’t too high. The wrong handlebar height could make you overextend and put more pressure on your genitals and perineum. You should also ensure your seat is at the right height. If you have to reach too low for the pedals, you’re increasing your risk of pressure.

  • Cut down on long-distance rides. The longer you ride, the higher your risk. Keep your rides short or stop for several breaks on long rides to give yourself a break.

  • Wear bike shorts with padding. Padded bike shorts offer more protection and a cushion between you and your bike seat.

  • Try other forms of exercise. You shouldn’t have to give up something you love, but you may want to cut back if you’re running into problems. Other forms of low-impact aerobic exercise that won’t pile on the pressure include swimming, jogging, and rowing.

Beyond changing your bike seat and riding style, explore ED treatments if you’re having trouble getting and staying hard. They include:

  • Therapy. For many men with ED, especially younger men, the cause is psychological. Sexual performance anxiety, depression, and stress can all contribute to ED. Talking with a therapist can help you figure out if your mental health is hurting your sexual health. They can also help you come up with strategies to improve your sex life.

  • Medication. Phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (aka PDE5 inhibitors) improve ED by widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the penis when you’re sexually stimulated. Common erectile dysfunction medications include sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®), and avanafil (Stendra®).

  • Healthy lifestyle habits. Improving your lifestyle can improve your sexual health. Aim to eat a balanced diet, reduce drinking, and stop smoking to protect your erectile function and overall health.

We’ve talked a lot about the dark side of cycling, which is clearly up for debate. But what about the good stuff? Can cycling improve sexual function?

Maybe. Here’s how:

  • Cycling keeps you fit. Obesity is a major risk factor for erectile dysfunction. By increasing your aerobic activity and keeping you fit, cycling may lower your risk of ED if you take the necessary precautions we mentioned above.

  • Cycling improves mental health. Stress, depression, and anxiety may contribute to psychological ED. Cycling is linked to lower stress levels, better general health, and a higher quality of life.

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Though there’s still a lot we don’t know about the connection between cycling and erectile dysfunction, you can take some preventative measures to help lower your risk of ED down the line.

Remember:

  • Cycling may cause issues that increase the risk of ED. Cycling might cause pudendal nerve compression, genital numbness, perineum numbness, or reduced blood flow to the penis. These factors could contribute to ED, but more research is needed to confirm.

  • There are safeguards you can take. Using a no-nose or wide seat and riding in a reclined position may reduce pressure and lower your risk of ED.

  • The benefits outweigh the risks. Most urology experts agree that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks for ED. Cycling is a low-impact aerobic activity that increases cardiovascular health, lowers stress and anxiety, and keeps you fit.

Looks like you can keep that Tour de France dream alive.

Want to learn more about how exercise affects sexual function? Check out our guides to running and ED and how working out may boost sex drive.

You can also explore our range of erectile dysfunction medications.

7 Sources

  1. Balasubramanian AD, et al. (2020). The Association Between Pelvic Discomfort and Erectile Dysfunction in Adult Male Bicyclists. https://academic.oup.com/jsm/article-abstract/17/5/919/6973667?login=false
  2. Gan ZO, et al. (2021). Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Cycling and Erectile Dysfunction. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32147498/
  3. Logan GR, et al. (2023). Benefits, risks, barriers, and facilitators to cycling: a narrative review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10546027/
  4. Litwinowicz KA, et al. (2021). Strategies for Reducing the Impact of Cycling on the Perineum in Healthy Males: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-020-01363-z
  5. Liu YI, et al. (2023). Association of BMI with erectile dysfunction: A cross-sectional study of men from an andrology clinic. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10101565/
  6. Mazzilli FE. (2022). Erectile Dysfunction: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment: An Update. https://www.mdpi.com/2077-0383/11/21/6429
  7. Mcmanus AL, et al. (2020). The Hard Truth Regarding Cycling and Erectile Dysfunction?. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344174328_The_Hard_Truth_Regarding_Cycling_and_Erectile_Dysfunction
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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