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A Delicate Matter: Cycling and Genital Problems

When Cycling Hurts – OUCH!

By Laurel-Lea Shannon
Cycling and vaginal problems

Cycling and male impotence is a familiar topic but we seldom hear about the long list of gynecological problems women cyclists can encounter.

It’s well known that time spent in the saddle can affect your sexual health. Male cyclists suffer everything from occasional numbness to erectile dysfunction and impotence. But what about women? Not much has been written about women’s soft-tissue issues. After hunting around, I located a European study published in the British Medical Journal (2003) that included women cyclists.

Professor Luc Baeyons, a gynaecologist with the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Brugmen in Brussels, who specializes in sports medicine, found that numbness, skin infections, chronic swelling and lymphatic damage are common among female cyclists. Over 60% of his sample group reported genital discomfort.

Basic Anatomy
Your body makes contact with the saddle at three points: Points one and two, your sit bones, are also known as the ischial tuberosities. The third point is the soft-tissue between your legs. Whereas sit bones are designed to withstand body weight and pressure, the soft-tissue of your genitalia is not. During long rides, the pressure exerted on soft-tissue can cause painful skin irritation and constrict blood flow. This can deaden the nerves.

Posture Affects Pressure
In a study of both male and female cyclists, Dr. Sommer, a urologist at the University of Cologne in Germany, found that posture affects pressure and genital blood supply. The more stretched out you are on your bike, the more pressure you put on your soft-tissue and the greater the possibility of sexual health problems. The study found that a cyclist riding a bike with her body at 30 degrees to the horizontal can experience as much as 70% reduction in the blood supply to the genitals.

Common Problems
Vaginitis (crotchitis), bacterial infections and yeast infections are the most common vaginal problems that women cyclists encounter. Any one of these conditions can sideline you during the cycling season. But don’t despair, there are simple steps you can take to help prevent saddle sores and vaginal problems.

What To Do

  1. Get the Right Saddle – Test different saddles for comfort. Adjust saddle height and the fore/aft position.
  2. Bike Fit – Take your bike to a cycling shop and have the mechanics check that your bike is adjusted properly to fit your body size.
  3. Padded Shorts – Get shorts with thick, seamless padding. Cycling shorts are meant to be worn without underwear.
  4. Use an Emollient – With clean hands apply a good emollient to your genital area and thighs to help prevent chafing. Find a chamois cream or jelly that works best for you. (Add a comment below if you can recommend a good product.)
  5. Practise Good Hygiene – Get out of your padded shorts as soon as you’ve finished your ride. Thoroughly wash and dry your crotch. Wash your padded shorts. NEVER cycle in shorts you haven’t washed.
  6. Go Vertical – Consider adjusting your bike stem and handles so your posture can be more vertical. Sixty degrees to the horizontal is recommended.
  7. Fidget – Move around on your saddle while you ride. Every 10 minutes, stand up in the pedals to give your “privates” a break from the pressure.

If vaginal problems persist or get worse, you may need to visit your doctor to find a solution.

BBC News:

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82 comments to A Delicate Matter: Cycling and Genital Problems

  • Ann

    OK, time to add my professional opinion. As a cyclist and a medical professional, I must remind everyone that we were born to grow hair ‘down there’. It is there for a reason. An important reason. Not a day goes by that I am not counseling and/or treating issues relating to shaving hair from the ‘regions’.

    So, leave the hair, get out of the shorts after the ride, wash with antibacterial soap and if you haver further issues, see your heath care provider. Back away from the razor.

  • Jodine

    Hey ladies – I hope the summer riding has been great!

    Ok so I’m adding my 2 cents as I’ve come back from a mountain pass trip through the Canadian Kootenays w/a bunch of lovely Americans. Our eldest: 81 (friggin 81!) Hank’s pacing was amazing plus his wife was pretty spectacular too. We rode w/predominantly retired folks (my Dave is 56 / me 48 – we’re both pretty fit & I was training 350-400km weekly to do this trip, so as not to have too much pain or arthritic problems during the rides, as getting the tummy used to all those carbs can be an effort.)
    Don’t let the ‘retired’ status of our mates get you feeling smug – these people were hauling. We even had the senior men’s Olympic champion for cycling onboard. The old fella? Hank? The organizers to a well known mountain event in Colorado won’t let him compete anymore due to his age – but the kicker – he still beats the younger competitors, hands down.

    So back to our tender parts . . .

    Anyway – all of these lovely aging ladies (about 20 of a crew of 39) were using chamois cream. Secondly all used very decently padded shorts (once only & then wash well.)

    We averaged 55-95mile days (so in metric approx. 88km-150km daily supported w/SAG vehicles for food, electrolytes, ice, smiles & spf.) We started 7-7:30am daily & tried to avoid the massive Canadian heat – yep, hate to bring this up, but Canada gets mighty toasty in the summer, by 2pm we hit temperatures of 38•C (100•F) on several days. But fortunately we were usually almost done by then.

    Ok – chamois creams gets reapplied 1-2 times on these types of rides. I found Assos was great & after 9 days of touring & 3 weeks of training I still have yet to finish the $23/140ml tub. For rides I put some in a lip balm case which worked well for reapplications.

    I have to say the Assos cream is very nice. It’s a better consistency & more moisturizing than using my previously recommended clotrimazole 1% cream used for yeast infections – plus it’s actually a less pricey option. There’s no tingling, or problems w/tea tree oil that can happen for some. It’s fine and also no corn products which for me cause inflammation due to my arthritic condition.

    To help avoid saddle sores, post bathing (and yes – get out of those shorts sooner if you can than later) there’s an alcohol solution we used on the skin areas around the bikini area. ***It’s super important not to use this anywhere on your vulva. But it’s fine on your skin. The alcohol tends to dry up any sores & prevents the bacteria that causes the redness around hair follicles to fade & heal. It’s called: erythromycin gel (by Rx in the US). I also used just a little rubbing alcohol which worked well but is more drying.

    You use this after cycling & while you rest (though not during sex – please definitely remove prior to any ‘goings-on’) as well, remove prior to cycling the next day – as you will be applying chamois cream once again.

    Ok – so I’m off to climb Mt. Baker tomorrow – a local volcano that has a wack of snow still on it. Looks chilly – but weird how in the summertime we all just think of it as a hot mountain climb. Anyway – if any of you get out to Vancouver sometime – check out the Triple Crown: Mt. Seymour, Grouse & Cypress – and if you can – climb the volcano. A beautiful ride & well-worth the effort.

    Ride safe & Enjoy!

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