The use of tobacco can have significant effects on the sexual health of both men and women.
Nicotine, the primary chemical in tobacco, can have a vasoconstrictive effect. This means that blood vessels can narrow, making it difficult for blood to travel around the body.
Tobacco is consumed in several ways, including smoking, chewing, and snorting. All of these methods release nicotine into the body.
For men, chemicals related to tobacco can damage blood vessels in the penis, leading to erectile dysfunction (ED) – the inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual activity.
Typically, when a man is sexually aroused, the arteries in his penis expand to allow more blood to flow in. As the blood accumulates, his penis becomes rigid and erect. Veins temporarily close off to keep the blood inside and the erection rigid. Once the man ejaculates, the veins open again to release the blood back into the body.
Chemicals in tobacco can damage blood vessels in the penis, impairing blood flow. As a result, a man’s erection might be weaker than it used to be. Or he may not be able to get an erection at all.
Smoking also hurts smooth muscle tissue in the penis, which must relax to allow blood to flow in. In addition, levels of nitric oxide, a necessary compound for erections, are reduced in men who smoke.
Research suggests that ED is worse in men who have smoked for a long time and those who smoke heavily.
Chemicals in tobacco can interfere with blood flow to a woman’s genitals, too.
When women are sexually aroused, blood flows to the genital area. This process helps the vagina lubricate and allows the clitoris to feel more erotic sensations.
However, when blood flow is impaired, women can experience vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse uncomfortable or painful. Women may also struggle to reach orgasm.
Many people find that their sexual function, along with their overall health, improves when they quit smoking.
If you would like to quit, talk to your doctor.
Andrology – Open Access
Yilmaz, Mehmet Ogur, et al.
“Relationship between Smoking and Female Sexual Dysfunction”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking”
(Page last reviewed: April 28, 2020)
International Society for Sexual Medicine
“Can smoking affect a man’s erections?”
Medical News Today
“Everything you need to know about nicotine”
(January 11, 2018)
Sexual Medicine Society of North America
“Quitting Smoking May Improve Erections”
(September 22, 2015)
“Sex and Blood Flow”
“Want Better Sex? Stop Smoking”