For The Ladies: 5 Embarrassing (but common) "Down There" Issues for Female Cyclists

1. The Bikini-Area Shaving Conondrum 

Well, this is awkward. But let’s go there. If you do ANY sort of landscaping in the bikini area, this can affect the *ahem* feel of a ride. 

Imagine: you have been training for your first criterium.  The night before, you eat your pasta carbo-load, you do some yoga stretches, you take an epsom salt bath, and you do something you’ve never done before: you shave off every hair on your body south of the neck.

You think: This is awesome! I’m so aero! This is my new pre-race ritual! Then you get to the race and after one lap, you notice the 12-hour micro-growth of pubic hair is chaffing against your chamois. By lap five, your crotch is burning. By the end of the crit, you can barely walk, much less ride a bike.

I’m not saying that anything so embarrassing happened to me, but if it did, this would be my advice for the future:

The Fix: 

  • Do not try anything new before a big event. The hair’s micro-growth that occurs even just 6 hours after shaving in such a sensitive area will rub up against the chamois and/or saddle creating chafing, soreness, bleeding and ingrown hairs both in the hip creases and genital area. No fun.
  • Experiment with your shaving routine. Everyone will have a different preference, but I can tell you that days 2-4 after shaving anywhere in the bikini region, including the hip creases, are prime for chafing. Best days to shave are morning of the big event, if it is a one-day ride. Better than that is to allow some growth for several days before the ride - so there is no chance for this preventable cause of chafing.  

If you do experience chafing, grab your granny panties and scroll down to “chafing” 

2. Saddle Sores

‘Saddle sores’ refers to the abrasions that form on the “sits bones” (ischial tuberosities) after loooooooooong rides. Usually after a few days of back-to-back long rides.  They usually start as bruises, but the friction from the saddle can break the skin and form abrasions the size of golf balls, oranges or grapefruits - right at the point the ass connects with the seat.

The Fix: 

  • Comfy saddles and chamois plus chamois cream, along with a good bike fit are the best prevention. 
  • Keep the abrasions clean and dry, applying antibiotic cream like bacitracin daily. Pull on those granny panties, giving your saddle sores some space to breathe and protecting them from harsh fabrics like denim. 
  • Sleep on your side or stomach. Sit cautiously or use a hemorrhoid pillow
  • Because of the unfortunate location of saddle sores, most any movement can trigger pain, so use OTC pain relievers.
  • Unfortunately, saddle sores tend to pop up in the middle of multi-day rides when you have no option but to ride it out, but give yourself as much off-saddle time as you can to let them heal. 

When to Call a Doc:

Saddle Sores may take a while to heal, even up to 3 weeks, but it’s important that you monitor the progress - if they are not shrinking they may be infected which means you need to get yourself to the doctor and fast.

 

3. UTI and Yeast Infections

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused from bacteria, typically E. Coli from the large intestine, migrating up the urethra.  If the bacteria migrates far enough, it can cause infection in the bladder or even kidneys (they’re all part of the urinary tract).  The main symptom is a burning sensation during urination, and the sensation of having to urinate frequently, though urine doesn’t always pass. 

Yeast infections (candidiasis), on the other hand, is a fungal infection marked by the overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. The major symptom associated with a yeast infection is a whitish cottage-cheese-like discharge, sometimes accompanied by itchiness.

Female cyclists are at risk for both of these mainly because riding a bike in sweaty chamois provides the perfect environment (warm, moist) for growth/overgrowth of microorganisms. Plus we have more friction in the genital area than the average Josephine, offering more opportunity for bacteria to pass from one area to another.

The Fix: 

  • To prevent both of these infections, you want to keep your genital area clean and dry: that means removing sweaty clothes after a workout and showering. 
  • For both UTI and yeast infections, drinking extra water will help flush the bacteria and restore healthy function. 
  • For UTI, pure cranberry juice (not cranberry cocktail) along with limiting sugar can help knock out the infection.  Also adding two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your tea or hot water twice a day is a time-tested UTI home remedy. The next step would be an OTC oral medication like AZO ($8 at most drugstores).  Cystex (pictured above) is harder to find, but works wonders. 
  • For yeast infections, eating 1 cup of yogurt per day (especially probiotic yogurt) can restore healthy yeast-to-bacteria-levels in just a few days. The next step is a suppository (they come in 1-7 day options) of an “azole,” the term for anti-fungal drugs that end in azole: like miconazole aka Monistat ($10-17) 

When to Call a Doc: 

It’s time to call a doc if symptoms don’t seem to improving after 3 days of at-home treatment. 

 

4. Hemorrhoids

Thank god, riding a bike doesn’t directly cause hemorrhoids, but cycling can aggravate an existing condition. Hemorrhoids is the condition where the veins around the anus become inflamed and swollen, and may itch or bleed.  This is typically caused by straining during bowel movements, sitting on the toilet for long periods of time, and pressure put on the anal region during pregnancy and in obese people. 

Sitting on a saddle reduces blood flow to the anal region, plus there is friction between the hemorrhoid and the saddle, so if you suffer from hemorrhoids, cycling can make the itching, pain and bleeding worse. 

The Fix:

  • Best to take a day off. Most minor hemorrhoids heal by themselves in a day or so, so pull out those granny panties (cotton only, no thongs), apply some cooling aloe vera, or even a hemorrhoid-specific OTC topical, and wait it out. 

When to Call a Doc:  

If your hemorrhoids are chronic or severe (don’t heal within a week), discuss your best cycling options with a physician. 

 

5.  Chafing 

Chafing is the catch-all term for the red, sore, itchy rash that affects a patch of skin after rubbing against fabric.  For us cyclists, we usually get chafing around the groin. Lovely, I know. To add to that beautiful mental image, female athletes tend to chafe under the breasts, and where the sports bra touches the upper abdomen. Horrifying but true: triathletes tend to chafe on the nipples from all the up/down action of the breasts/pecks against bras or shirts. (So glad I'm not a triathlete.)

The Fix: 

  • To prevent chafing, use a chamois cream in the groin area to provide lubrication.  Each brand is different and they typically sell tiny one-use testers, so you can try a few to see which feels best for you. 
  • Keep the area clean and dry, both to prevent and heal chafing
  • Take off sweaty clothes as soon as you are done with your ride
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothes to cover the chafed area (back to those granny panties!); use sports bras with wicking fabric. I recommend Target’s C9 Medium-Support Sports Bra ($14.99)
  • Use OTC pain relievers for soreness, and apply aloe for some cooling relief. 

When to Call a Doc: 

If chafing progresses to pussing wounds, or swelling and redness persists, you may have an infection.