How Indoor Cycling Can Heat Up Your Sex Life

The truth about why riding a bike can boost your sexual pleasure

People exercising on stationary bikes in fitness class.
Hero Images/Getty Images

It’s no secret that regularly engaging in indoor cycling and other forms of aerobic exercise are great ways to boost your cardiovascular health and fitness, trigger the release of feel-good brain chemicals, torch loads of calories, and enhance your brainpower. But have you ever wondered how cycling, in particular, might affect your pleasure between the sheets? After all, you’ve probably heard that spending too many hours on a poorly fitting bicycle saddle can lead to erectile dysfunction in men.

Much less attention has been paid to how cycling affects a woman’s ability to get her sexual groove on—until fairly recently.

Research on the Physical Effects

In a pair of experiments, researchers at the University of British Columbia had the same group of women watch two different films—a travel film and an erotic one—after engaging in 20 minutes of cycling at a high intensity. While watching the erotic film, the women experienced a significant increase in vaginal pulse amplitude and blood flow (both measures of physiological arousal); the same wasn’t true after the neutral film. The theory: The vigorous cycling basically primed the women’s bodies for sexual arousal.

More recently, Cindy Meston, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, examined the effects of exercise on genital arousal in women taking antidepressants, which often impair sexual desire and arousal.

In the study, 47 women with antidepressant-related sexual arousal problems participated in a series of three sessions in which they watched an erotic film while the researchers recorded their genital and sympathetic nervous system arousal: In two sessions the women exercised for 20 minutes 5 or 15 minutes before viewing the film; in the third session, the women went straight to watching the film without exercising first.

The findings: Women who exercised before seeing the sexy film experienced a significant increase in genital arousal—and those who reported greater sexual dysfunction had bigger increases in the post-exercise arousal levels. Once again, the exercise primed their sexual response.

Besides enhancing blood flow, which can lead to greater arousal, cycling and other forms of aerobic exercise could rev up your sex life by boosting your stamina, muscle strength and tone, and flexibility (if you stretch after a workout). Some women even report having exercise-induced orgasms or sexually pleasurable sensations during their workouts: Among those who experienced exercise-induced orgasm or sexual pleasure, 16 percent had it while cycling, according to an Indiana University study, involving 530 women.

Psychological Component

There’s also a psychological component at play. Indoor cycling and other forms of aerobic activity can reduce stress, boost your mood, and increase your self-confidence and body-esteem. Not surprisingly, a recent study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that women who are more satisfied with their bodies typically exercise more than those who suffer from body dissatisfaction.

This is significant because another body of research has found that women who have higher body esteem tend to experience greater sexual satisfaction and greater sexual desire. Connect the dots and the picture looks like this: Exercise leads to greater body satisfaction, which leads to a better sex life.

The Downside to Cycling?

But there’s a potential glitch: A 2012 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that a woman’s bicycle set-up can lead to a decreased genital sensation. In particular, positioning the handlebars lower than the saddle places excessive pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the genital region, leading to a loss of feeling down there.

To avoid these effects, raise the height of the handlebars so they’re above your saddle height. Also, steer clear of the forward-leaning, racing position on the handlebars (a.k.a., tri-style), which causes the saddle to place excessive pressure on the pudendal nerve that supplies the genital region. By making these minor adjustments to your bike set-up and form, you’ll increase your likelihood of riding towards a more fulfilling sex life.

Continue Reading