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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: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2991088.stm
63xc: http://www.63xc.com/willm/bike_sexhealth.htm

101 comments to A Delicate Matter: Cycling and Genital Problems

  • Thanks to you who have tried Tea Tree Oil for
    mentioning it here. Had a rubbed area on the left
    inside of my “tender bits” and applied the oil
    which healed the area quickly within a day.
    I found out from my fitter (not a mechanic, but
    a professionally trained fitter) was from my saddle being slightly turned and my handle bars a little too low so I was leaning forward and left a bit. Much more comfy now and enjoying riding again.
    comfy now!

  • heather

    I’ve been riding for years and only ever had problems with sores until a few years ago when pressure on the bits started becoming a problem. Perhaps it is switching to a more aggressive stance-road bikes with straight bars instead of drop bars, I think drop bars would do me in. I doesn’t always happen, it depends on my position, but sometimes I find myself squeaming around and standing a lot. I do not have a car either, full time cyclist. I bought some ibex merino cycling shorts but the pad was UNBEARABLE. So I removed the pad, but now the shorts won’t really help. I was imagining a padding made from memory foam. But I just read here about leather chamois. What is that? I’ll have to look. I also found I have to be careful what I wear for shorter commuting rides. I wore some jeans with the seam in the wrong place last week and I’m still in agony. I did find skirts/dresses to be divine, even on long rides.
    As for getting a proper bike fitting, they can be a joke, and unless you can find a woman fitter, how would you broach the conversation with a guy? He will have his own issues, but they will not compare to ours.

  • Rebecca dawkins

    The best way to get rid of cycling and genital problems is using tea tree oil soap. This will help cyclists, especially women cyclists to overcome with this genital problem and will also prevent skin problems.

    • Dottie

      Thank you for your post – I did not have tea tree soap, but tea tree oil instead. Prior to applying some oil, I showered, then used a blow dryer to properly dry out that are, then applied the oil.
      I woke up this morning pain-free – so I applied some more oil daubbing it on with a cotton wool ball – now it has totally gone.
      Extremely relieve! I hope to get back on my bike. 😊

  • Graham

    Found the site for the NutKisser And KoolKiss. It also lists the ingredients.


  • Graham

    We find that KoolKiss or NutKisser Creams work for us.
    We found them on Ebay and haven’t looked back since.
    It lasts. Also works to prevent blisters on feet if applied before running.

  • Jonathan

    Morgan Blue make a good cream as well as Assos.

  • Hi!
    I love cycling, so I had these problems too. My salvation has been a specific anatomic relief saddle. The model I bought is just for women and shaped for my body structure!Now I’m fine and my performance is better than ever :)

  • 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.

    • Pam

      I am 61 years old and have been post menopausal for 10 years. As my body continues
      to change I am experiencing extreme difficulty riding my bike. I have tried different lubricants including most recently Butt Butter recommended by a cycling shop owner. It helps little bit but still
      experience quite a bit of discomfort when riding
      any distances. I am not a woman that practices the clean shave in that area. I am very frustrated that no one seems to have a solution to my problem. I do not want to give up riding. Any suggestions.

      • Lisbelle

        I am 61 years old as well. I started riding bike lately for 11 and 12 miles once or twice a week. Now I’m having problem in the genital area. Tomorrow I have my first appointment with my gynecologist’s nurse practitioner. None of the doctors could see me this week. We have a trip to China this Friday August 26. The way it looks I will have to cancel the trip.
        What exactly were/are your symptoms?

  • 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!

  • Mel

    Karin–I don’t know if you’re still coming back for responses, but just in case… I’m one of the few I think who actually finds it better to shave. Otherwise, for me, the hairs tend to catch and snag in the chamois and pull really uncomfortably, leaving little painful spots behind. I use a product called Leg Lube for shaving so that I can minimize stubble, but I’ve never really had a problem with discomfort on the bike after shaving. I know a lot of women do have trouble with that, though. So I think it really differs for different people!

    I also do use chamois cream, and the truth is that if I use enough in the right spots, I can get away without shaving too; but I prefer the alternative. Still, I guess I’m reasonably flexible about it… Anyhoo, for chamois cream, I personally recommend DZ Nuts Bliss for shorter (30 mi or so) rides and Booty Balm from Chomper Body for longer rides (it’s not water based, so it really lasts well, although it can be tricky to apply), though there are a ton of other good options out there too.

    • Karin

      Mel, thank you for the reply. I’m still checking back for responses.
      After trying for a while not to shave I’m back to shaving, I think it just works better for me. I believe long, in extreme hot weather, rides (up to 40 degrees C) caused most of my problems. I took one week off and go now early at 6am to avoid that hot weather. I’m also changing much faster out of the shorts afterwards… I’ve never tried any chamois cream but will look around if I can find some, to use at least for the longer rides.
      Thanks for taking the time to reply to my question

  • Ashleigh

    When i have issues in this area, like bumps or sores, i use a cotton ball to apply a small amount of tea tree oil. It may sting at first, so i recommend sampling it in a small area with a q-tip. This oil helps to keep it clean too.

  • Jodine

    When I shave or clip things so that they look a little less ‘jungle-girl’ down there, I get ingrown hairs and lots of red sores.

    When I don’t shave or clip the hairs shorter, things are better. I do find that ingrowns take longer to heal during cycle season. So, contrary to what my doctor says about using alcohol on cuts & sores, I use a bit of alcohol to dry the red spots. As soon as they dry – they seem to heal. of course these red spots aren’t in my vulva – that’s a whole other treatment area.

    I think the excess sores and puffy, reactive skin may have more to do with my increased carb/sugar consumption – because I’m sooo hungry all the time for carb type foods, now that I’m riding so much. Sugars can make a persons skin react and be more inflamed.

    So the other thing – after my rides, take shorts off fast – have a good shower – clean up nice and let things air dry if you have time. I try to take in good proteins, lentils (4 iron) and fresh veggies. They seem to help my skin heal more immediately.

    Hope some of this helps.
    Happy Trails!

    • Karin

      Thank you for your response. I guess I will let it grow and try out that way if I have less problems.
      With the foods I’m doing pretty good, proteins mostly from beans, cheese and stuff like that…otherwise lot’s of vegetable in my diet. Meat maybe once a week.
      I guess I have to try what to do best, it’s my first year of riding more (about 150-200km a month)
      Thanks :-)

  • Karin

    I realize this article is a couple years old, maybe someone will still read this and can give me an answer.
    What is the experience from others, to shave down there or not? I’ve tried both ways and still have problems with soreness. What does everyone else do?

    • Helga

      I don’t shave down there because in the past I personally had problems with bumps after shaving. It was so bad that it hurt to even sit down so I use a shaving machine for the deeper more sensitive areas (between buttocks and around the labia) that cuts off the hair instead of pulling. I wax everywhere else, around the groin, etc. This method works fine for me, but I usually wait at least 24 hours to get on the bike after waxing because the skin is still somewhat sensitive after the first few hours. So, as per my experience I don’t recommend shaving.

  • Jodine

    Hi! & Yes! I’ve had the peeling thing a few times int he past 2 years though never before. Two things: do you take an allergic reaction to pollens? or perhaps do you have a bit of an internal yeast infection – or over yeasting happening from soaps or creams or saddle creams?

    Ok the reason i ask is I find that when the cherry trees & what seems like every other tree is either fruiting or pollinating – I get a peeling vulva and what seems like excessive ‘cheesiness’ down there. This sued to happen when I was a little girl & I only noticed it again 2-3 years ago – it’s seasonal. The other thing I notice is that some of the creams (usually with anything tingly) will further aggravate the situation.

    If you’re riding a lot – perhaps it’s an idea to give it a 3-7 day break until the situation eases up a bit. Then test one type of saddle cream. As I’ve stated earlier vaginal clotrimazole 1% creams work nicely for yeast infections and as a saddle cream – but even these can cause a little peeling if used in excess or during a sensitive time of year for a rider, or even after a 5 hour ride – but usually in the springtime.

    Cotton probably won’t help as it holds bacteria and will most likely cause further rashing and even saddle sores. I do suggest staying far, far away from natural porous fibres like cotton. Natural skins – like deer – work great as chamois. But the non-microbial poly fibres are actually excellent. Try a few differing kinds & remember that you get what you pay for. The cheaper the short, the less great the chamois – and this can cause irritation. Primal, Sugoi, Castelli, Exte Ondo, Assos, Pearl Izumi & Rapha all make great product & there’s lots to choose from.

    My 1st instinct though is to give the bike a rest for a week and let your pretty parts heal a little. Use a soap on your public hair area like a gentle olive oil soap (but definitely not on the vulva! – as this can irritate further,) alternately just wash with cool to luke warm water and rinse with cool. You’ll find things return to normal pretty fast.

    Also – you may want to check you diet. If you’re eating or drinking foods high in simple sugars or simple carbs – this can actually cause extra sensitivity of the skin. Avocados, bananas, nuts, whole grains, eggs, fish, cheese, and leafy greens all provide great nutrition and may help you to calm your bodies response to any allergens it ‘may be’ experiencing.
    Best of Luck!

    • Aileen

      Thank you!! I definitely think you have made some important points. I don’t think it’s an infection – but I’m trying to switch amontillado friction creams (using chamois butter instead of brave soldier)- also stopped using all perfumed or scented creams – I know it’s a sensitive area down there but I never imagined I might be hyper sensitive. I’m do glad I found this site and became a member

    • Aileen

      Hi – All of you gave me such great feedback! I think, i definitely have and always will have issues “down there” – and yes, having gone through menopause, i notice many changes. I finally realized after trying everything that i had a contact dermatitis!! I have purchased really great bike shorts: Rapha & Giordana (thanks to recommendations from a manager at a cycle store) – i thought i had a nylon allergy and that would have been awful since all bike shorts are made of Nylon. I also have been removing my shorts immediately after my workout. Finally, I now use Chamois butter -AMAZING!! But I am also going to try Coconut oil. Big thing i did find out is that i am allergic to neosporin!! which i was using when i had these sores – as soon as i stopped – PRESTO…

  • Aileen

    Hi – i have been riding a stationary bike for @ 10 years. Recently i have developed horrible sores, burns, skin peeling on vulva (inside & outside) – have you or anyone else experience this? i have been thinking i might have a contact allergy (dermatitis)to Nylon from the chamois/padding in the shorts- this has just started in the last few months. Are there cotten chamois/padded shorts? I just don’t know what to do. If anyone has thoughts it would be so greatly appreciated

    • Gia

      Hi. : ) I’m an internationally certified Spin instructor and triathlete. If you are getting sores and peeling from a stationary bike that is odd. Riding on the road in aero is one thing, but spinning shouldn’t cause this–unless you are logging a ton of miles. I agree with the above suggestions. I’d also try coconut oil. It’s naturally antibacterial, it is totally safe for your internal environment, wont cause infection or further irritation. (I have issues with perfumed or synthetic stuff down there.) I use it before and after. Apply liberally.

      The other thing to consider is your age, diet, immune system etc. The skin becomes thinner and the blood vessels more delicate when your estrogen declines. The skin can become peely and sensitive if you have candida or high sugar or low pH.

      Also check your bike set up. When cranks are parallel, forward knee is directly over the widest part of foot. Slight bend in knee at bottom of pedal stroke. If you are fully extended and the knee has no bend as you come down, you are reaching for the bottom of the pedal stroke and grinding on your vulva, while rocking your hips side to side. This causes tons of problems. Psoas, patellar, ACL/MCL, etc. Not to mention the girly bits. Your seat height on a spin bike is about parallel to your hip. Stand beside the bike (facing fwd) and raise one knee until the thigh is parallel to the seat, 90 degree bend at the knee, standing a bit like the Captain Morgan guy. Also make sure that your saddle is not pointed down or off to the side. A simple allen wrench will fix this in 2 seconds.

      Good luck!! : )

  • Jodine

    I’ve tried Hoo Haa Ride Glide – it’s fine. It’s a little less viscous then using clotimazole 1% creams (otherwise known as the stuff for mild yeast infections, jock itch, athletes foot – it’s all the same.)

    Myself I would be a little wary of using any cream that gets rid of hair growth as a cycling chamois cream. My reasoning is this – those creams aren’t designed for your delicate vulva or vagina. When you ride, particularly for 2-5 hours you will find that creams get into very personal spots – inadvertently. I wouldn’t be inclined to put a hair growth inhibitor on or in my vulvar area – I would think it will cause irritation and furthermore may cause saddle sores inside the vulva, due to making the area raw. But that’s a guess. ( May I add: I think it’s a very good guess.)

    My advice to you is to look up online for the chemical composition of that cream and any chemical warnings that are available. I’ll give you a good ‘for instance’. My polyester cycle shirts one day out of the blue – just started to stink (to high heaven) – it was like a I turned into a goat one day. So I stopped using one shirt in particular, which was really too bad because it was a Maui Cycle shirt – and I earned that shirt climbing lots of Maui mountains!

    But then I started to notice that wasn’t the only shirt that was smelly – some of my cottons were screamingly bad. I thought crap, it’s me, I’m turning into a peri-menopausal stinky mess! Maybe it’s my diet? maybe my hormones? What the hell?

    Then i noticed that I was perspiring all the time. So on a whim I looked into my deodorant. I used Nivea’s previously most wonderful: Pure & Natural jasmine scented ‘Stick Deodorant’ – I had been for a year or so. I carried around one in my purse because over time I noticed that I had been sweating more than usual, so at least this way I felt I didn’t smell as bad – but by the end of the day all of my shirts were pretty smelly.

    What I didn’t know is that ‘stick’ antiperspirants/deodorants contain a corn starch product that makes them semi-hard, not fluid. ‘DiStarch Phosphate’ (it even sounds remarkable doesn’t it?) is a corn product that can build up in a person’s body – after which time they ‘can’ become sensitive to it. It’s used in frozen foods to keep them from separating when thawed and in deodorant sticks to keep them semi-solid. The problem is that I take an allergic reaction to corn products – actually a lot of people do! I would suggest to many of you who are arthritic – just limit corn, a lot! It’s a super food, and people with arthritis will find that high sugar foods, tend to peak our glycemic index too high, and therefor we have to get ‘it’ out of our bodies somehow (by sweating, by running, by cycling – but mostly through sweat and increased metabolic output. It can even cause a person to overload on sugars and fall asleep right after eating.)

    So back to the deodorant: what did I do? I now use Nivea’s Pure & Natural jasmine scented ROLL-ON!!!! It’s brilliant! No DiStarch Phosphate – no stinkiness. I use it only once a day in the morning and even if I perspire I don’t smell. The bacteria introduced by the product doesn’t react with my body’s natural flora/fauna and so I’m good!

    A great site to check for chemicals used in cosmetic products is: http://www.ewg.org

    AKA: the ‘Environmental Working Group’. They study various chemicals used in consumer products and determine the level of hazardous nature, and rate the safety of such chemicals, plus they offer regular usages in cosmetic or pharma products. I do suggest you run the chemicals in your ‘de-hair growth cream’ separately into their assessments, just to see how great it really is for your sensitive nether regions.

    Hope that helps – All the best!

  • Ava

    First time I’ve found proper discussion on this topic!

    I’m currently using a cream that encourages hair not to grow from my waxist as a chamois cream. Does the job (and fine on intimate bits) but it’s super expensive.

    I can’t decided between Rapha, Assos and Hoo Ha, though thinking Hoo Ha is better as it’s women specific? Just want to know if I can use it on my labia really, it’s tough finding that sort of info. Everywhere is also sold out of the 7ml samples which is unfortunate.

  • Meadow

    About creams ointments to reduce friction to labia, clitoris and other lady parts for cyclists and runners. Keira Feminine Cream is long lasting, and specific for labia/vulva area. It adds protection to the fatty part of skin creating thickness.

  • lena

    hello fellow riders I am currently facing a huge problem with my labia majora appear like are varicose veins and I have notice that over the years I have develop this problem but know its worst before I was able to ride more hours and miles and know I can just go for 20 to 30 miles and the pain in unbearable after a 30 min ride. I read that while riding at least every 10-15 min its good to get out of the saddle to release the pressure in your part but its not helping any suggestions ???? and by the way I have try everything from saddle, shorts, underwear, creams you name it everything… any good luck yet and I love riding this year I had to put away many great rides with my buddies because of this issue HELP!!!!

  • Nancy

    I do triathlons and have found this problem on my long training rides when I am long time in my aero bars. Anyone do anything different in this situation. I am definitely looking into a new saddle – I did have my bike fitted so should be good in that area.

  • Jodine

    Hello Mary Kay lover.
    OK – I’d stay far, far away from this Mary Kay product. Here’s the thing – any perfumes down in the ‘pretty parts’ can cause a lot of rashing and potential problems over time. The thing I like about vagi cream is it’s already designed for those parts. My dude uses bag-baum and reapplies it during long rides. I’ve noticed some of the ladies writing in this column use bag baum as well. I’ve also had good success with Hoo-Haa Cream designed for female riders. And if you want to spend the money Rapha’s chamois cream is good too. But honestly – I’ve never had an issue with the clotrimizole creams designed for internal or external use as long as it’s only 1%. (even anti-fungal foot creams with clotrimizole 1% have been excellent.)

    OK – another issue – because we do get tender after long rides (or short) coconut oil is great as a lube or tenderizer. That’s right – no need for commercial lubes, you can use coconut oil (purchase at any grocer – if you buy the one that is used for baking there shouldn’t be a coconut smell; otherwise extra virgin coconut, cold pressed is still very nice.) Because it is edible and your tummy can take it, guess what – so can your privates. My guy is an MD and we have no problems with this product. In fact he was quite surprised that it worked so nicely.

    Just remember to stay away from face or body creams, etc as they are designed for external use and believe it or not your vulva is really more of an internal part of your body. Please ride carefully and take care!

  • Ashley B

    Has anyone ever used the Extra Emollient Night Cream that Mary Kay makes? Just wandering how this does with chaffing, and if I should use it before or after riding. Thanks!

    • Linda Secretan

      “The pink stuff” is what we used to call it – the MK remedy for almost anything.
      Take a look at the ingredients (which I haven’t lately: I’m pretty sure it’s just petroleum jelly – i.e. vaseline with fragrance

  • Laura

    I’ve been riding a few years now, and most of the events I do now are long, ie over 80 miles, so my female training pals and I spend a fair bit of time in the saddle.
    Now saddles, hoo-haa creams, good quality shorts (they should be a snug fit and not move around causing friction) shaving and bike fit can all have a huge effect on the comfort of your ride, but creams won’t last for longer rides, no matter how much you slap on.
    Two of us in particular seem to have the same problem – chafing in ‘The’ most sensitive part of one’s ‘bits’. We have discussed this problem at length, obviously plenty of time to do that on long rides, and the answer we believe is in the fabric used in the chamois. Anything that has a weave or woven texture and made out of a synthetic thread is going to cause a friction burn over time, particularly where the skin is incredibly delicate. Obviously, the better fitting shorts you have makes a huge difference and it’s worth spending money on a decent pair. So what would be the best material to come in contact with those extremely sensitive ‘bits’? Skin, of course! So, the old fashioned leather chamois has to be the closest thing to skin on skin. But where on earth can you get those nowadays? A good fitting, well cut lycra liner short with leather chamois – please, someone start making them!

    • Naoma

      I second that! I started cycling in the 70’s and 80’s. Wool shorts with leather chamois, bag-balm, women’s Avocet II racing saddle — simple, only very slightly padded, no cutouts. NEVER had a problem. Returned to the sport in the last two years. I have to wonder, seriously, how many women are discouraged from bicycling because of the poor design/construction of even the best shorts now available.
      I have discovered that the tension of the crotch seams actually transfers through the fancy high-tech padding and “saws” me as I pedal. They don’t even bother to flat-stitch these shorts, which might help some.
      I would pay good money for shorts with a lovely flat leather chamois fitted over flat-stiched fabric.

  • I’ve been sore down there for a week now after riding. When will the pain go away? Is there anything I should be doing to relieve this faster?

  • Stanley

    Riders of recumbent bikes and trikes don’t have problems with their genitals. The broad seats and better weight-bearing distribution of a recumbent bike solves these problem. Sometimes new recumbent riders complain about “recumbent butt”, but that’s due to the exercising of different muscles in the glutes than upright bike riders do. After some riding, the butt muscles get conditioned. Recumbent bikes also solve other physical bike-riding problems — no more sore wrists and palms, arm and neck problems go away, etc. There are different styles of recumbents, some with more upright seating and others more laid-back. I prefer the upright ones, like these: http://www.sunbicycles.com/products.php?cl1=RECUMBENT . Here’s a YouTube video about some great recumbents (turn off 3D if you don’t have a 3D display): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW4CJikOk4o&feature=plcp .

  • Jodine

    One last thing – stop shaving!!! Those short little hairs will become infected especially on the sensitive parts of your vulva – they can poke-in which is really uncomfortable, and at times downright painful.

    Regarding your respective lover(s): Just tell your guy or gal that it’s cycling season and you don’t do full rips/shaves/whatever, this time of year. I’m certain they’ll find you incredibly attractive anyhow – with your fantastic cycling boday.

    Look – I understand that with the youth today, lots of you females haven’t a clue what you even look like with pubic hair – but trust me, at 46, men are very happy to get with you no matter. Try not to be so hard on yourselves – let her grow! You can trim a little, but for the most part that hair provides a lot of softness and no ingrown hairs either! Bonus!!! Cheers + good riding!

  • Jodine

    Emollients: I would be careful about usage. I’m a rider who’s be through lots of Canada + Europe over 37 years – there’s lots of creams that men can use but few that address the tender flesh of a woman’s vulva + labia. I think the one type that no one has considered is the one advised for minor yeast concerns. Namely: clotrimazole (vaginal) cream 1% solution; aka Micatin cream for foot fungus or jock itch is actually the same thing – but in a more robust cream carrier.

    Some reasons I like this cream: 1/ I’ve never taken an allergic reaction to it; 2/ it has no perfumes, parabens or chemical adherents which can act as pseudo-estrogens in the body on a cellular level (not good! and very bad for men’s testes BTW); 3/ it’s readily available, you can ask the pharmacist for a generic large tub (about $70 up here in Canada for 500ml / half a pint approx.,) it lasts for years, but you should keep it in a cool room – not near heat as like anything, it can spoil. The other nice thing is you can put a generous but not globular amount through the central part of your short chamois and it feels cool, a bit mushy, and helps to keep any fungus/yeast issues under wraps – therefor no odours!!! none! it’s fantastic this way – plus no saddle sores. The cost overall is the best – better than any saddle cream I’ve found on the market and we already know that it’s ok for women’s ‘pretty parts’. Like you – I prefer all my privates happily functioning and feeling just great after a ride. Reduce the pressure on your saddle, try to drop a few excess pounds, try not to bear down on your seat, and periodically get out of the saddle (your instructors won’t like this – but just tell them your resting your ‘bits’ and the dudes will understand.)

    One last thing – try to avoid long rides during your period while wearing a tampon. The string of the tampon can get caught in the tender flesh of the vulva and cause a great deal of irritation if you have excess mineral salts expressed in perspiration – ouch! I had this happen once or twice and then never again. Like all good things, it’s important to know when to say you’ve had enough. So take it easy on your ‘pretty parts’ and enjoy a long a gratifying sex life as well.

    Here’s to great, enjoyable rides ladies!

  • Ann

    Woo, as a medical health care professional, in women’s health no less! splitting and tearing sounds like a bit dramatic. By that I mean more then just the usual wear and tear we all go through. I would want you to get examined by a “trained professional” to be sure you don’t have something as simple as a yeast infection or something less simple . . .

  • woo

    hi, all your comments are good and helpful…but i was wondering…am i the only woman who actuall ‘tears/splits’ down there after a bike ride? help…what can i do ??

    • Ccl84

      Woo, you’re not the only one! It happens to me frequently, almost every week (I ride 10 times per week training for a race). I get what looks like a paper cut down the side of my labia. It bleeds and it hurts, like I’m sitting on a nail. I’ve tried all different types of bike sports, chamois cream, bike position. I’m wondering if it’s just my anatomy. It happens the most on spin bikes (my outdoor bike has a good saddle), and I never see other women fidgeting around in pain the way I do during class. Have you found any relief for this?

  • Ann

    Morgan, after a glass or two of wine, when I do most of my online shopping! I purchased a pair of SheBeest shorts. Can’t wait for them to arrive and see if they are what I have been looking for. If so, I will be so thankful. All the other advise, good saddle, no undies, emollient etc., has been taken care of over my years of riding. This seam burn, irritation is the last hurdle.
    Thanks again, Ann

  • Naoma

    I bicycled extensively in the 70s and 80s, wool shorts w/leather chamois, no padding. Avocett womens racing saddle, minimal padding. No pain. Just returned to the sport. Open minded, I tried new stuff. Today’s padded shorts and padded saddles HURT. 250miles trying different combinations with no avail. I ride pro style. My husband pulled an old leather saddle off an old bike (similar to a Brooks, no padding). That saddle and a pair of shorts w/almost no padding — pure HEAVEN. Review anatomy — all that delicate woman’s soft tissue disappears up the birth canal when you sit down, safely out of the way. If padded gear works for you, great, but how many women give up on the sport because they can’t get away from the pain?

  • Morgan

    I’ve been cycling for just about ten years (road bike) and after trying a few different saddles, am now happy with a Terry Liberator Race saddle. When I first started riding I used Chamois Butt’r, but stopped using chamois cream of any kind several years ago, except that I’ll put some on at about the 75 or 80 mile mark during centuries. :-)

    I have a couple of pairs of Pearl Izumi shorts that for some reason always cause a sore – a friction burn, really – on my butt where the seam between the chamois and the short is. This happens every time I wear them for a ride (my shortest daily training ride is 20 miles). The chamois is fine, but the seams are a problem, so I really know where you’re coming from, asking about seams!

    Not too long ago I got my first pair of SheBeest cycling shorts. The most comfortable shorts I have ever owned! The chamois isn’t very thick, but the seams are almost non-existent. (No, I do not work for SheBeest or any cycling shop. Just a happy customer.)

    Above all, assuming your bike fits properly, two things: do not wear underwear with bike shorts, and take your shorts off after your ride if you’re not getting directly into the shower!

  • Ann

    Does anyone know if there are shorts made with no seam between the chamois and the shorts? I always get my red scratch like, sore, bumpy bum right along that seam regardless of the lube used, position changing, good hygiene techniques used. Usually comes after a long sweaty ride. Thanks

  • jordan

    hola folks

    i’m not a woman, but i help run a local triathlon club, and i permanently keep a couple women’s-specific saddles on hand to lend to women because saddle issues are the #1 comfort problem that seems to chronically plague women!

    the one saddle manufacturer that i haven’t seen mentioned here – but that seems quite popular with several of the women i’ve ridden with over the last few years – is specialized. most people tend to think of specialized as a bike manufacturer first and foremost, but they’ve put a significant chunk of money into developing their OEM line of saddles, and they’re actually fairly sought-after as aftermarket components.

    if you’re looking to try a specialized saddle out (but don’t happen to live near me to borrow one – i live in ottawa, ontario), specialized retailers have test saddles that you can borrow for a week or so free of charge — therefore saving you from having to buy saddles that may not actually end up working for you.

    give it a shot if you’ve run out of other options, or just want to try something new to see if it would work better.

    sidenote: i’m not a specialized employee, nor do i work at a bike shop. i just want to spread the word that there are some other good options out there! (selle smp and ism’s adamo are two other popular choices — although the adamo seems to be a “love it or hate it” kind of saddle)

    happy riding!

  • Kylee

    Thank you everyone, and I thought it was just me. Lots of little tips to be getting on with and hopefully solving my tissue issues!

  • New Cyclist

    Hello all! I am a new cyclist. My problem is red/scaly looking bumps on my bum cheeks. Not very nice to look at! It’s not itchy or sore, and it looks like I scratched them but I didn’t. They are all over the area where the padding on my cycling shorts would be. I did a 2.5 hour ride.

    What can I do to prevent this? I could use rash creams but it doesn’t really seem like a rash. I guess it is though. Also, would I apply those creams before I ride? Or would I apply something like Body Glide before I ride??? Any suggestions are welcome.

    I also have very sensitive skin so that doesn’t help!

    • Dolly

      for a while I was getting some kind of cysts in the crotch area from riding – my doc said to wash with antibacterial soap and that cleared it right up. I also have very sensitive skin and usually can’t use stuff with fragrance in it, but haven’t had a problem so far with this.

  • Amz

    HooHa Ride Glide… made specifically for women!

    • mbrit

      I got a free sample and really liked the Hoo Ha Ride glide – a bit tingly and comforting to know there are anti-bacterial agents in it. Combining that with the clotrimazole might be the perfect combo!

  • Jennifer

    I have learned from my agonizing experiences that saddle nose is so dependant on your body symmetry, which is so different for everyone – for me, a very slight nose up works. Again something you have to experiment with!

  • I have been using an inexpensive vaginal lubricant (sold in the Baby Care section of pharmacies) called Live Clean(baby), and it has been the answer to my perineal discomfort on longer rides. It is a non-petroleum jelly for under $10.00. Great relief!

  • Jennifer

    I wanted to update on my Selle SMP saddle; I no longer have any soft tissue issues!!! I used to be in tears for at least a week after a long ride – and could not participate in any other “activity” ;). All solved, the soft tissue issues were only an issue with the road bike, I guess it has to do with body orientation?

  • Dolly

    Thank you for this article! Crotch pain on the bike is a never-ending problem for me. Everyone says to change saddles but that gets really, really expensive! (Especially if you get them on-line.) And why are there no female bike fitters in my bike-crazy town? I don’t want to talk to a male bikie dude about my crotch. Anyway, can someone tell me where a woman’s weight is supposed to rest on the saddle? One fitter said the nose of the saddle should be up; the other said down. I’m so frustrated!!!

    • Nicole

      Dolly- Don’t listen to either of those fitter’s advice. Your saddle should be level front to back and side to side. you should literally put a level on the saddle to adjust it that way. Also- you should be sitting directly on your sits bones. Don’t know where they are? go outside and side on cement steps- back straight, feet down on the next step. You’ll feel two bones under you pressing into the cement- those are your sits bones. Make sure you are only putting weight on those bones as you ride. I ride on a Specialiazed ruby carbon saddle. It’s very thin with a cut-out. That’s what works for me. Good luck.

    • Shop girl

      You can save money and help your local shop stay in business if you buy your saddles there. Ask if they will price match the saddle you found online. Also ask about the return policy. It’s common to get 30 days to try a saddle and still be able to get your money back.

  • Nicole

    Im back to report the solution i found for my reoccurring yeast infections and irritation. My dr. Perscribed dyflucan twice a week for 6 months to erradicate the yeast strain. I changed my saddle to a specialized ruby gel cutout. I use dznutz chamoi cream. If i get irritated a use a perscription steriod. The End. LOL.

  • Carol

    I have been cycling for only about three months. At first I was fine, but the more I rode, the more pain I had. My “teacher” has just changed by seat and made some adjustments to my bike. I find that I have more pain now than before. It could be that my seat needs to be adjusted again. Or maybe a differnt type of seat.I usually have a burning sensation when I urinate for the first time after a ride.I actually had a tiny amount of blood in my shorts this week. I’ve been riding about 16 – 20 miles on Sunday mornings. I enjoy riding but if this continues, I will have to stop. I’ve read all the comments above and will incorporate some into my ride. Is this something like building a callus and it will get better with time?

    • Sheila the Psychlist

      Hi Carol

      It sounds to me that several things are at work here:
      – your saddle is the wrong type for you
      – the saddle is not level
      – your seatpost is too high or too low
      – you are leaning too far forward.

      I know that’s not much help is it? I might be able to help from afar (see questions below), but your best bet is to spend a few bucks and have a proper bike fitting done. your local bike shop should be able to recommend someone if they don’t offer it.

      Okay, let’s try to find out what your problem is. Let me just start by saying I tried a dozen saddle over my first few years of cycling before I found the one that fit my butt. You’re lucky that there are so many more choices now than 20 years ago.

      – What kind of bike you are riding – a road bike, mountain, hybrid, cruiser? Not sure, are the tires really skinny, fat and knobby or somewhere in between?
      – What is the name of your saddle?
      – How tall are you and what is your inseam (floor to crotch)
      – What size is your bike frame? Measure from centre of top tube to centre of bottom bracket following the seat tube. If that’s too complicated, measure six inches from the nose of the saddle along the top tube. Okay, now measure from that point to the floor. It should be about an inch less that your inseam measurement.
      Any chance you could send me a photo of your bike and then one of you sitting on your bike?

      Don’t give up cycling!

      • Desbah yazzie

        Hey are you still checking this? Would love some advice…really don’t want to give up cycling but I feel numb all in groin area and buttocks and vulva area I guess. Taken five days off so far and still resting 😡 Just read about people getting surgery from all their issues…not about that life . Lol

        • LS

          Hi Desbah,
          Just a few questions:
          1) How much do you cycle each week?
          2) Have you had a proper bike fit done at a reputable bike shop?
          3) Do you vary your sitting while you cycle? i.e. pedal standing from time to time?


  • mellen


    • Sheila

      It is best not to wear anything under your shorts. Panties have seams that will irritate the skin and also hold in more moisture. The shorts pad has been designed to handle moisture. So no panties!
      If you are riding more than one hour, then I suggest trying one of the chamois creams on the market such as Chamois Buttr or even Prep H, which reduces any inflammation.
      Always wash shorts after each ride.
      Hope this helps.

  • su

    My solution has been to cut the padding out at the friction area and use a cutout saddle. No more labial chafing for me! Words cannot describe what a relief this is. Often, all that pillow padding just ends up rubbing and rubbing and exacerbates more than it helps. Not to mention the lack of air circulation.

    • Susan

      I totally agree: I have been cutting padding out of all those bulky $$$$ cycling pants (long, 3/4, regular!!!!) and going without padding or using triathlon/spin specific pants. ah…. so much better than all that padding jammed between your legs.

  • Natalie

    Anyone have any suggestions for the best type of underwear to wear under bike pants? Or do I really have to do the professional thing and ditch the underpants entirely? So far just can’t bring myself to do this…

    • Sheila


      Ditch the underwear. You will be so much more comfortable. The seams in the undies won’t bite into your skin and you’llbe able to ride longer. Just wash out your shorts after every rideand, if you cn, hang them outside to dry in the sun.

  • Liz

    Ladies Selle Italia Gel Flow worth every penny ladies! I have on road and mountain bike – extremely comfortable!

  • Kris

    Shea butter works well for chafing. If you shave the pubic area, avoid using the regular run-of-the-mill shaving creams and gels. Try organic shave products.
    Try taking acidophilus daily to get rid of and prevent yeast infections. It is also good for your digestive system.

  • Valerie

    You all would do yourself a BIG favor by checking out the Selle An-Atomica Saddle–its like nothing else you seen or experienced. Check out the YouTube video of what it looks like to be on one–unique!

  • Alissa

    I,ve found a saddle that I like, but, it tends to pick up odor. I’ve had 2 of these saddles and I’ve had the same issue with both. I’ve tried everything and can’t seem to get rid of the smell. Any suggestions?

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Laurel-Lea Shannon. Laurel-Lea Shannon said: A Delicate Matter: Cycling and Genital Problems At one time or another, every cyclist has this owie: http://ow.ly/1J8iG […]

  • Nicole

    I’ve been cycling for a little over a year now and I’ve had an almost constant yeast infection for the same amount of time. I change out of my shorts as soon as I get off the saddle. I wear pantiliners and wash my shorts every time. I’m at my wit’s end. Anyone else have this problem?

    • LS

      Hi Nicole: In her book, Bicycling for Women, Gale Bernhardt says there are many different reasons for yeast infections. The friction, pressure, warmth and moisture generated downunder by cycling, can aggrevate the condition. Gale recommends consulting with your doctor to find out what kind of infection you have and the best treatment for it.

    • DLG

      Ditch the Pantiliners. Lots of them have perfumes or deodorizers which irritate and none of them allow your genitalia to breath properly.

  • sheila

    In 20-some years of cycling, I’ve tried at least a dozen different women’s saddles.
    One thing I’ve learned, if you have followed the advice above and know your bike fit is good, then try this. Ride for three consecutive days. If your crotch/butt still hurts on the fourth ride, then consider a different saddle.
    If your seat bones hurt, the saddle mayneed to be wider; if your soft tissue is tender, try a cut-out model or one with gel.
    The best I found to date is the Selle Italia ladies gel flow. I have it on both my road and mountain bikes. It is not cheap but it gives the right amount of comfort and support for even 100 km rides.

  • Marlena

    Knicks with a decent chamois and a good chamois cream are essential for comfort and prevention of chafing and other soft tissue issues. I’ve found the Assos chamois cream to be far and away the best product – it’s soothing as well as anti-bacterial. Feels a little slimy when first applied but you soon get used to it.

  • Best thing I’ve ever found and one I never ride without – Bag Balm.

  • AjF

    Paceline Products’ CHAMOIS BUTT’R is the only anti-chafe emollient I use. It is FABULOUS. Doesn’t feel funky on the skin, and washes of skin and shorts easily.

  • Diana Murphy

    Re: the item on genital problems. I have been having soft tissue problems. I am aged 66 and wondered whether my age had any bearing on the problem. I bought an Adamo saddle, which has an opening all along the nose of the saddle. It was fine for the soft tissue area, but oh my poor aching sit bones!! I have given up the Adamo and am back on my original Giant ladies specific saddle. The sit bones are now fine but I am back with the soft tissue issue!I am doing all the things in your tips section and find I am ok for about 20 miles. After this the soreness gets wearing.I wonder whether there is a fool-proof solution to this problem?

    • mary

      I had the same burning problem.I tried adjusting the saddle and nothing worked until I used a vaginal lube.The dryness is what caused my problem. Since I use the lube and some bag balm I haven’t had a problem.

    • Sheila

      Don;t give up! There should be a saddle out there that will solve both issues. Check with your local bike shop and ask if you can try a few different saddles to see what might work best. Wrap a bit of tape around the saddle rails so that you don;t scratch them when riding and it will look like new when you return it to the shop.

    • Shop girl

      I tried the Adomo as well I went to the Selle SMP and I have never looked back. Given ur bike fits properly,I use a combo of products. Clean and dry crotch first then I use a thin layer of lantiseptic skin protectant found online @ bruce medical.com. then pace line Chamois buttr or hoo haa ride glide on top of the skin protectant. I keep a small container of the chamois buttr or hoo haa with me on the ride to use every time I pee. Immediately after the ride, I remove ride shorts and clean area with preparation h wipes. They help w swelling and hav witch hazel for bacterial cleansing. I put on loose fitting shorts or pants WITHOUT UNDIES to give the area time to breathe. Take a shower asap gently cleaning the area with acne soap (for prevention of ingrown hairs) after the shower I use boudreaux’s butt paste or bag balm. Next day u r ready to ride. I ride 200- 250 mi per week and this has worked best for me. I also have a Brooks saddle that I love.

  • Debbie

    For the emollient, I use Udderly Smooth–yes, that’s the name. It’s not greasy and works better than others I’ve tried. But even still, after 10 miles I’m feeling a burning sensation. I’ll try raising the handelbars and standing up.thanks for the column; I’ve been looking for solutions to this problem.

  • Jennifer

    I have been saved by the Selle SMP saddle! I had all the above issues, and was considering either trying a noseless saddle or even selling my Madone – but this saddle has improved everything. I am looking forward to my first century in June.

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