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A rough ride

Do you know that song by Queen "I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike"? Well according to Irwin Goldstein, co-director of the Urology Research Laboratory at the Boston University School of Medicine, cycling may have negative effects on the perineum, the delicate area between the scrotum and the anus that contains the nerves and blood vessels, which could make erections impossible.

Goldstein believes that conventional bicycle seats, with a narrow nose up front, may be making large numbers of men impotent by causing constant minor trauma to the perineum. He is on a crusade to arouse, if you will, what he calls "perineal phobia".

Most men have given plenty of thought, probably too much in fact, to their penises and testicles, but few pay attention to the perineum. Well, here's a flash: if you want running water and electricity you had best make sure the plumbing and wiring are in order. Goldstein believes that we pay very little attention to "perineal health".

We play sport and wear helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads, gloves and kneepads and whatever else you think of, but there is no thought given to protecting the perineum.

A lot of sportsmen wear a cup to protect their groin area, but protecting the perineum with only a thin layer or two of cotton clothing, is not enough.


Goldstein has been warning people about bicycles since the 1980s; the big impotency scare went through the riding community in 1997 when Bicycling Magazine published his ideas.

Alongside it was a report by Ed Pavelka, a former executive editor of the magazine, who admitted that he was not the man he used to be following a year in which he logged 21,000 miles on the bike. Pavelka went to Goldstein for tests that revealed a specific blood vessel damage that Goldstein had seen in other cyclists.

Also, there is potential for serious injury if the perineum hits the metal bar that connects the front and back halves of the bike, another part of the bike that Goldstein despises. A piece that is missing in traditional women's bikes.

Goldstein and his colleagues found that an 11 stone man who lands on that top tube might experience 500lbs of force, a thought that should make you sleep in a foetal position for a few nights!

Smacking hard into the seat nose after plunging into a pothole is another frightening possibility. But Goldstein concluded that the blood vessel injuries were plaguing his cyclist patients who merely rode a lot, people like Pavelka: "This recurring minor traumatic episodes from bumps to the perineum can lead to some dysfunctions."

In a recent study he found interesting differences among cyclists and runners, the latter serving as a control group of active, athletic types who flatten their arches instead of their perineal arteries. Cyclists had about four times the impotence rates of runners, although both groups experienced a low incidence, about 4pc versus about 1pc. The study also found "clitoral numbness, difficulty urinating and diminished ability to achieve orgasm" among women cyclists.

Here's a secret: some cyclists, even long distance ones, are fat, which can be a risk factor for impotence. Actually, with the skin-tight Lycra outfits cyclists wear, potbellies really aren't a secret.

Also, there was twice the rate of high cholesterol among the cyclists in the study compared with the runners. Nevertheless, Goldstein's numbers did raise eyebrow, if not any other part of the anatomy.