I’ve had my fair share of cycling-related vulva nightmares, one being the swelling and soreness from my first 100-miler where my sit bones and labia were almost unrecognisable. I’ve suffered from sit bone sores, ingrown hairs of doom and tenderness of the pleasure zones, all from riding my bike. I’ve now found an MTB saddle that works quite well for me, the Fi’zi:k Luna X5 Large, which has been great. However, I’ve often wondered if cycling has any long-term effects on our vulvas, and if so, what are they.
Mrs Pradnya Pisal has been a consultant Gynaecologist in the UK for over 15 years, primarily based at one of London’s most prestigious clinics. Having a keen interest in sports and competing in many events over the years herself, Mrs Pisal now focuses on cycling and conquering long-distance events. So, it’s safe to say she knows a thing or two about both cycling and vulvas. I contacted Mrs Pisal for myth-busting advice and to learn more about maintaining our front gardens.
Cycling has been known to increase the risk of developing urinary tract infections (UTIs), and in some cases, cyclists have been physically unable to urinate after a ride due to bruising. Can you please shed a little more light on the urological effects cycling has?
“The urinary tract cannot be damaged or kinked from riding on the saddle, however, the vulva may feel slightly bruised if it has been a long ride without a break which can cause irritation when passing urine. Especially slim women with thin labia, they are more likely to experience this.
With regards to urinary tracts infections, these are usually due to being hot and sweaty, and friction from the clothes. So it is important to wash the clothes as soon as possible to prevent bacteria and thrush from developing”.
A female’s sexual soft tissue areas are quite low down and, unlike men, we can’t simply move them out of the way. Can cycling cause short/long term de-sensitivity in the clitoris?
“This has been described but not substantiated. In the short term, cycling is unlikely to cause any permanent sexual effects. However, the labia can enlarge over a period of time but usually, it is not significant to cause troublesome symptoms.”
Vulvas come in all different shapes and sizes, as do saddles. Do you have a professional opinion on whether cut-out designs are better for women?
“A fitted saddle is best and cut-out saddle is better. It is also the position on the bike that is important rather than the saddle alone also invest in a good pair of padded shorts and don’t wear underwear inside the shorts”.
There are a number of cycling specific chamois creams on the market, but do you have any alternative recommendations?
“Any of the creams are fine, mainly for lubrication. However, a simple roll on Vaseline is also fine.”
Do you have an opinion on how women should handle their pubic hair for cycling? British Cycling advises that women should grow their pubic hair out to act as a moving layer between skin and shorts. However, some women prefer shaving and waxing methods. Do you have an opinion on how women should maintain their pubic hair for cycling?
“Having pubic hair is likely to help as it may act as a cushion to reduce friction directly on the skin. One can trim the hair if needed but best to leave it and not cut them or just use pubic hair trimmers.”
Do you have any additional advice for women who may be suffering from saddle discomfort?
“I think you need to make sure your clothes are washed as soon as possible after a bike ride. Wear fitted, comfortable clothes and use plenty of lubrication. I apply chamois cream on the padded shorts directly, in the areas that come into contact with the vulva as well as on the labia itself”.
So basically – our vulvas are robust as f*ck. While they are sensitive, delicate and soft, if they’re designed to withstand the effects of childbirth, they can withstand your saddle. That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t take some precautions though to give yourself a more comfortable ride. Like Mrs Pisal recommends, use chamois cream, wear padded shorts without knickers, find a good saddle and have a bike fit. It may take some time for it to all come together, but your foof will thank you in the long-run!
Mrs Pradnya Pisal operates in the London area, often out of the London Gynocology clinics. For more information about your vulva see a healthcare professional.