Frequent cycling — reduced sexual sensation for women?

Originally Published: August 22, 2008
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Dear Alice,

I have started spinning and I absolutely love it. Currently doing it about 3 times per week. My boyfriend says that spinning will cause permanent damage to my female genitalia, such as damaging the nerves, leading to reduced sensitivity and ultimately impeding my enjoyment of sex. I always wear the appropriate padded shorts. Is this true or not?

Dear Reader,

It's great that you've found an activity you really enjoy and spinning is a great way to get some exercise. Your boyfriend's concerns that it may cause long-term damage are not totally unfounded — some studies have shown decreased genital sensation in women cyclists. However, these effects have been found mostly in post-menopausal women who cycle competitively. Young women have not shown the same effects and don't generally report decreased sexual function.

You mention that you wear padded shorts whenever you spin, which is a good way to protect the sensive genital region. The studies that have shown that frequent, prolonged cycling can decrease genital sensation posit that the compression from cycling reduces blood flow to and may cause nerve injury in the genital area.  It's a good idea to consider limiting the amount of spinning classes you take in a given week (three should be fine) and be aware of any tingling or numbness in that area. Choosing a bike that fits well, changing the angle of the seat, and occasionally standing on the pedals during long rides can all help alleviate pressure and improve blood flow. Men may be at greater risk for decreased sensitivity and erectile problems. See Cycling: Can it make a man infertile? for more information on how cycling may affect males.

If you do ever experience numbness and/or tingling, especially after you stop cycling, consider seeing a health care professional to get checked out. Columbia students can log into Open Communicator or call x4-2284 for an appointment. If you are not a student at Columbia, call your health care provider.

This might be a good chance to add a different exercise to your routine, just to mix it up and give your seat a rest!

Take care,

Alice