Of bicycle handlebars and sexual health

Much published medical research amounts to little more than stating the bleedin’ obvious, but the quantification it brings can on occasion be useful, even where the researchers have only a shallow understanding of statistics and real-world complexity. This is a common failing among clinicians.

For example, a recent paper in the Journal of Sexual Medicine looks at bicycle handlebar height and its effect on female sexual health. ‘Aggressive’ cycling positions, in which the handlebar is positioned at a level significantly lower than the saddle, are known to be associated with erectile dysfunction and other health problems in men, but women cyclists can also suffer from reduced genital sensation.

The study, led by Yale University gynaecologist Marsha Guess, shows that low bike handlebars correlate with increased perineum saddle pressures, together with decreased anterior vaginal and left-labial sensation. This is the bleedin’ obvious referred to above. Less obvious than the finding on fanny feeling is that low handlebars are not associated with total saddle pressures or genital sensation effects in other areas.

What is not adequately addressed in this study are the varying degrees of handlebar drop and saddle positions employed, and how these are set in practice by cyclists who are very different in their physiological makeup, degree of fitness and flexibility, and awareness of good cycling technique. All the authors consider in their analysis are cyclist age and saddle type.

Further reading

Partin et al., “The bar sinister: Does handlebar level damage the pelvic floor in female cyclists?”, J. Sex. Med. 9, 1367 (2012)