It’s no secret that smoking can lead to many health issues, but did you know it may also be a cause of erectile dysfunction—particularly in younger people? In fact, in recent years, many studies have been published about this link.
While erectile dysfunction is fairly common, if you can decrease the factors that may be contributing to it, it’s worth trying. Quitting smoking could be the key to helping some people overcome this very common condition and improve their sexual health.
What is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED), also called impotence, is the inability for a person to get and keep an erection that is firm enough to engage in sexual intercourse.
While ED is not something that most people talk about, it is very common:
- Approximately 40% of men in their forties experience some degree of ED
- The number of those suffering from erectile dysfunction increases with age
- By the age of 70, about 70% of men will have ED.
ED can affect a person’s self esteem and may also cause relationship problems and contribute to increased stress levels.
How Smoking Affects ED
If you are a smoker, the severity of ED can correlate directly with how much and how often you smoke.
A 2005 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that ED is more likely in those who smoked compared with those who never did. In younger people with ED, cigarette smoking may be a link to look at.
Lowered Blood Circulation
Over time, smoking can narrow the vessels that supply blood, resulting in restricted blood circulation to many areas of the body, including the penis. An erection occurs when the penis becomes engorged with blood and ready for sexual activity—with poor circulation, this is less likely to happen.
How Quitting Smoking Can Improve ED
ED has been known to improve in many former smokers. If you have been a heavy smoker for a while, however, quitting may not be enough to improve your sexual performance if the damage to your blood vessels is permanent.
Your age and the severity of ED before stopping are also directly related to your chances of improvement. According to one study from the BJU International Journal, after one year, ED status improved in 25% of ex-smokers but in none of the current smokers.
Overall, ex-smokers had a significantly better ED status after the follow-up.
Ways To Stop Smoking
The decision to quit smoking does not come without challenges.
Most people will experience cravings and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Start by deciding on a day you want to quit, and create an action plan. There are many treatment and support options for the physical and mental symptoms of nicotine withdrawal to help you quit and stay smoke-free for good.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) uses products that supply low doses of nicotine to help cut down cravings and ease symptoms of withdrawal. These products do not contain many of the toxins found in cigarette smoke.
Nicotine supplements come in the form of:
- Nasal spray
- Skin patch (nicotine patch)
In addition to NRT products, there are other types of medication used to help smokers kick the habit.
There are two commonly prescribed medications to help with withdrawal and reducing the urge to smoke:
- Bupropion SR (Zyban, Wellbutrin): an antidepressant medication that is also prescribed to help patients quit smoking as it can help reduce cravings and the effects of nicotine withdrawal.
- Varenicline (Chantix): blocks the effects of nicotine on the brain, decreasing the craving and withdrawal symptoms that occur when you quit.
Neither of these medicines contain nicotine and must be prescribed by a doctor or licensed health care provider.
Overcoming any sort of addiction can be a challenge and smoking is no exception. Support groups, apps, and quit-line services via text or phone can help you stop smoking.
Consider joining a group where you can discuss your challenges with others going through the same experience.
If you would prefer a more private setting, a counselor who specializes in substance abuse and addiction can help you develop a quitting plan and offer the necessary support you need.
How Long After Quitting Smoking Does ED Improve?
The good news is, quitting smoking can bring about many improvements to your overall health, including your ED. Research suggests that people who stop smoking could experience firmer, faster erections.
It’s hard to say how long after quitting smoking ED will improve, but in one study published by Andrologia, 50% of the subjects with ED who quit smoking reported improvements in erectile function at six months.
Research also suggests that within 2-12 weeks of quitting smoking, your circulation improves, which could help or even eliminate symptoms of ED.
When to See a Doctor
If you are a smoker and experience ED more than half the time when engaging in sexual activities or if you are concerned about ED, talk to your primary care provider.
It may feel uncomfortable or embarrassing at first, but it’s worthwhile to have the conversation, as ED is quite treatable. Your provider can also help you design a plan to quit smoking and discuss which nicotine replacement therapies may be right for you.
If you have quit smoking and are still experiencing ED, your provider can take a closer look at what might be causing the condition, and suggest treatment options.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Do cigarette smokers with erectile dysfunction benefit from stopping?: a prospective study. (2004).
Association between Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction: A Population-based Study. (2005).
Nicotine replacement therapy. (2021).
Medications Can Help You Quit. (2021).
Quitting Smoking and Support: The Importance of Support in Overcoming Addiction. (2021).
Effects of cigarette smoking on erectile dysfunction. (2015).
More than 100 reasons to quit tobacco. (2021).
Cigarette Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction: Focus on NO Bioavailability and ROS Generation. (2008).