Review of Schrader et al 2008 study of sexual health and noseless saddles.
This is a scientific study of erectile difficulties in bicycle police officers before and after switching to a noseless saddle. The idea is that a noseless saddle may relieve pressure on the perineum and improve sexual functioning.
About 90 police officers, who typically spent about 24 hours a week bike patrolling, switched to a noseless saddle for 6 months. Before and after the switch they completed a questionnaire on erectile function, wore a device overnight on the penis to monitor for erections during sleep, and tested the sensitivity of the finger and penis to light touch using a computerized device. The researchers also did measures of pressure distribution in the perineum, and hand and foot pressure on the handlebars and pedals with both kinds of saddles. The officers were also asked if they ever felt numb in the buttocks, scrotum or penis while riding.
After 6 months of noseless saddle riding the results were as follows:
The average score on an erectile function questionnaire improved from 29.12 to 29.61 out of 30. The percentage of officers who reported a perfect score of 30 went from 72.7% to 84.5%.
Penis sensitivity to light touch improved from 2.02 microns to 1.80 microns (p=0.15). Finger sensitivity to touch also increased slightly but not statistically significantly.
Pressure on the perineum was significantly reduced (from 20.4 kPa down to 7.0 kPa. Total hand pressure increased from 264 kPa to 337 kPa (p=0.30).
The number of officers who experienced occasional numbness in the buttocks, scrotum or penis went from 72% down to 18%.
The number and duration of nocturnal erections did not change after six months with a noseless saddle. However the authors’ earlier research suggests bicycle police might experience briefer nocturnal erections than other police.
None of the police fell off the noseless saddle onto the top tube.
Authors’ conclusions and comments.
The authors conclude that noseless saddles improved sexual health in these officers, and didn’t lead to any top tube accidents. They suspect the officers might have slightly deficient nocturnal erections and that 6 months wasn’t long enough to see improvement.
These cops can hardly be said to have erectile difficulties in the first place. The average score was 29.12 out of 30 on the erectile questionnaire before the study, and 29.61 after the study. That’s clinically meaningless, as the authors acknowledge in the fine print. In fact, they had to fish around in the data to find a way to make that seem like a big deal, using the number of perfect 30 out of 30 scores as a secondary measure of efficacy. The most likely explanation for any change they saw is a placebo effect. The fact that after 6 months there was absolutely no change in their nocturnal erections suggests the noseless saddles had zero effect on erectile functioning. Again the authors had to scramble to try to explain that away after the fact, by claiming that 6 months might not have been long enough to see an improvement. Bottom line: if these cops spend 24 hours a week in the saddle and they overwhelmingly score 29 or 30 out of 30 on a test of erectile functioning, even on traditional saddles, I don’t think many of us should worry.
The slight increase in penis sensitivity after 6 months might be a real beneficial effect of the noseless saddle, but since it wasn’t a randomized, or even two-way crossover study, we don’t know for sure. Perhaps the officers were just more familiar with the test equipment (ie. a practice effect) and would have done a better job of detecting penile stimulation the second time even if they hadn’t switched saddles. After all, they also experienced a slight albeit not statistically significant improvement in finger sensitivity, even though the extra weight their hands were subjected to might have been expected to cause them to possibly lose sensitivity, and that could certainly fit with a practice effect. Or perhaps simply being in the study caused the officers to change their riding habits – take more breaks, stand out of the saddle more often – and it was this behaviour, not the saddles themselves, that caused the improvements. For the same reason, the fact that fewer officers complained of occasional numbness after 6 months might have been due to that kind of study halo effect, and not the saddles.
Naturally, the amount of pressure measured in the perineum was less with the noseless saddles, since the perineum mainly has contact with the nose, and it wasn't there! So that's no surprise.
Clearly the noseless saddles put a lot more pressure on the hands. If all the bike cops in America switch to noseless saddles, there's a possibility it could lead to hundreds of excess occupational hand and wrist nerve and joint injuries. That issue needs to be studied further before they (or we) all switch out our saddles.
Cutting Off the Nose to Save the Penis
Steven M. Schrader, PhD, Michael J. Breitenstein, BS, and Brian D. Lowe, PhD
J Sex Med 2008;5:1932–1940