ERECTIONS ∙ 5 minutes read

Erectile dysfunction and smoking: how smoking stubs out erections

By Ashton Sheriff

We’ve come a long way.

Did you know that from the 1930s to the 1950s cigarettes were advertised as a health-boosting product that doctors recommended?

Thankfully, following a series of lawsuits and prolonged period of corporate denial, science has since revealed the true dangers of smoking.

Most people are aware that smoking can lead to serious diseases like cancer, stroke, and heart disease. But many are unaware that it can also cause erectile dysfunction.

To shed more light on the topic, we have written about the various ways smoking causes erectile dysfunction.

The link between erectile dysfunction and smoking

There is a wealth of evidence linking erectile dysfunction to smoking.

When compared with the general population, smokers are more likely to have erectile dysfunction than non-smokers.

In our own survey of 1000 men, 65% of men who described themselves as “regular” or “social” smokers have experienced ED.

Heavy smokers are particularly at risk. A study consisting of men between the ages of 18-44 revealed that heavy smokers (those who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day) are twice as likely to have severe erectile dysfunction than those who smoke less.

Smoking also increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. A healthy cardiovascular system is important for getting and maintaining erections, so cardiovascular disease caused by smoking may also result in erectile dysfunction.

But how exactly does cardiovascular disease caused by smoking lead to erectile dysfunction?

Let’s find out.

Smoking restricts blood flow to the penis

Cigarette smoke damages blood vessels in the body, which leads to the build-up of fatty plaques inside the arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis can affect all the arteries in the body, not just the penis.

When the delicate inner lining of your arteries becomes damaged by smoking (or high cholesterol, or high blood pressure), cholesterol rushes to the site of injury. The type of cholesterol that settles in the damaged part of the artery happens to be the ‘bad’ kind (LDL) that you find in all your favourite foods (like kebabs, burgers, chips, etc.)

Once they settle, they become modified by molecules in your blood like sugar and free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells and tissues in the body.

As a result of this LDL deposition, a hard, fatty plaque grows under the wall of the artery. Over time, this plaque grows and restricts blood flow through the artery. This is obviously bad news for your body, as it can cause all manner of problems, including heart attack and stroke. But it’s also bad news for your erections.

Erections happen when the flow of blood flow to your penis increases. Therefore, anything that impedes this flow will result in a weaker erection – or no erection at all.

What’s more, the damage smoking causes also reduces the elasticity of blood vessels. Smoking alters a protein called elastin (which forms elastic connective tissues) and hardens elastic fibres in the arteries.

This makes your arteries stiffer, which makes achieving an erection harder as arteries need to dilate (open) to allow blood to successfully flow to the penis.

However, this isn’t the only way smoking can cause erectile dysfunction. Cigarette smoke stifles erections in other, subtler ways.

Cigarettes shut down erections

Smoking affects nitric oxide (NO) activity. NO is one of the key molecules involved in getting an erection. It works by dilating (widening) blood vessels in the penis, allowing more blood to flow into it and induce an erection.

There are actually three different types of NO (known as enzyme isoforms): neuronal NO, endothelial NO and inducible NO. Neuronal NO appears to be the most important one when it comes to erections.

Smoking has been shown to decrease neuronal NO activity in rats. Components of burned tobacco also have a part to play in reducing neuronal NO. So overall, bad news for strong erections.

The bottom line

Smoking puts a serious dampener on your erections. Not only does it restrict blood flow to the penis, but it also prevents key molecules from carrying out their erection-generating duties.

But let’s end on a positive. Stopping smoking has been shown to improve erectile function. That means the sooner you quit, the sooner you may be able to see an improvement in your erections.