“There are a myriad of factors affecting women’s sexual function. If women can minimize pressure application to the genital tissues merely by repositioning their handlebars higher, to increase sitting upright, and thereby maximize pressure application to the woman’s sit bones, then they are one step closer to maintaining their very important sexual health,” explained Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine.”
sound suspiciously like a modern day equivalent of this explanation of why women in the 1890s were told to ride upright bicycles and stop racing the dudes:
“The bicycle posed particular anxieties. The angle of the saddle could cause women to become aware of sexual feelings before marriage and so awaken in her carnality and unfeminine sexual desire. The problem was exacerbated if women leaned forward, rode fast or did not maintain an upright posture when riding. Special ‘hygienic’ saddles with no inner core that could rub against a woman’s ‘delicate parts’ were offered by manufacturers to circumnavigate this problem.”
I’ve seen this bar-height-numb-junk study or the precursor study quoted or cited by a number of web-media sources, but they never mention (or properly contextualize) these important details:
- n=41. 7 of the original 48 were kicked out for some reason. There are a lot of problems with small sample sizes. This is a very small sample size. About half the women rode level, the other half had a little drop. Some were older. Some weighed a lot. Some rode 10 miles a week, some 100+. No one asked these ladies if they knew anything about bike fit.
- And a pre-pub version of the new study is available here, as a “white paper” provided by the maker of a noseless saddle. Hmmmmm.
- Women used their own saddles in their own set up. They were classified as “traditional” or “partial cutout.” No mention was made of saddle angle or reach, saddle width, length, etc. Details on the cutout measurements weren’t investigated. I know nothing about how much effort these ladies ever put into their bike fit.
- A previous study on these same ladies and their bike saddles determined that despite the measured reduced sensitivity “there were no negative effects on sexual function and quality of life in our young, healthy pre-menopausal study participants.” –which would be the important fact that the ladies might want to know before raising their handlebars to a more Victorian upright position.
I’m no exercise physiologist, but I did take basic stats, and I ride a bike and (newsflash!) have a vagina (You may have to censor that word in Michigan). I’m really disappointed in the degree of press this study is getting without acknowledging a few big deal points about its limitations and over-hyping its potential value. If the ladies are still enjoying their private lives, obviously a little perineal numbness isn’t a functional sexual health issue that requires adopting a city bike position on a race bike. It’s like saying that everyone whose blood pressure spikes during a scary movie should go on a permanent salt free diet.
My ass goes numb from sitting too long in an office chair. Maybe I should switch to a career that requires constant standing? Or maybe, I should just take a break and go for a walk every now and again? I’m guessing from this office chair scenario, that even if my ass has greater numbness in the long run, the fact that I’m an active human being with a healthy BMI and solid cardiovascular health is way better for my all-around health and longevity.
Non-technical advice to ladies who would prefer not to raise their handlebars to their shoulders:
- Just because a saddle came on your “ladies” road bike doesn’t mean it fits your personal lady junk. Same goes for any women-specific saddle. Or, any human specific saddle. One size doesn’t fit all.
- There is a reason that seat posts adjust so that you can change the tilt of your saddle. There is a reason you can adjust fore/aft position. Reach. Drop. …And a whole host of other bike measurements. Changing anything on your bike by a few degrees or a couple of milimeters can mean huge differences in comfort on a bicycle.
- There is a reason that hundreds of saddles are available in different widths, lengths, firmness, etc.
- Stand up on the damn bike occasionally. Stretch on the bike while riding. This benefits pretty much every part of your body that utilizes your circulatory system.
And general advice for everyone in the world:
- Don’t let study results reported in the media influence your life decisions until you at least read the abstract and references.
- Scientists know that individual modern scientific studies very rarely prove anything: however, incremental science is a really good tool for eliminating things that aren’t the answers. I don’t think all reporters know this little nugget. Be wary of any health or social science reporting that suggests a study result provides a single best practice or advocates a one-size-fits-all approach.
I’d say that the value of this host of studies using the same group o’ ladies is that they demonstrate that you don’t need a saddle cut out to relieve pressure (as it might make things more numb). I think it shows that it’s difficult to get a good cohort of study subjects to investigate women’s cycling and health given the wide range of age, weight, position, riding style, experience, typical riding habits, etc — so obviously we need more women cycling, especially at the level needed to do this research, so that we can have a better pool of participants.