How Smoking can Ruin a Man's Sex Drive

The image of the macho man, sporting a rugged charm and a cigarette on the lips, might have been the epitome of male sexuality in the days gone by. Not anymore, since medical research has come up with increasing evidence of the numerous ways that smoking can harm the male libido. So if you are a man who thinks nothing of running through at least pack of cigarettes a day, you may wish to take a look at all the ways that smoking can ruin a man’s sex drive.

Smoking and impotence

In scientific terms, impotence is known as erectile dysfunction and at its simplest refers to the inability of a man to achieve an erection or to complete intercourse. Impotence is one of the leading causes of sexual dysfunction among men; a CDC study1 analyzed data from the 2002 national survey of family growth, and found that 7.5% of all sexually experienced men reported a visit for help with having a child at some time during their lifetime—this equates to 3.3–4.7 million men in the US alone who admitted to having a problem with impotence whereas experts say that unreported numbers could take the final figure much higher. In UK it is thought that smoking is responsible for impotence in 120,000 men aged between 30 and 492.

Smoking reduces blood flow

A direct causal link between male impotence and smoking has been reiterated by medical research a number of times, one of the most recent being a study3 from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. John Spangler, M.D. reported to the American Society Of Hypertension, that men with high blood pressure who smoke are 26 times more likely to have erectile dysfunction. The study also showed that former smokers among patients with high blood pressure are 11 times more likely to be impotent than non-smokers. The attaining of an erection depends to a large extent upon effective circulation of blood through the body. The blood vessels which carry oxygen-rich blood to different body organs are the arteries and herein smoking causes the maximum damage. Prolonged smoking accelerates atherosclerosis or leads to the hardening of the arteries. When the blood vessels in the pelvic area are narrowed, that contributes to reduced penile blood flow and the result is lowered ability to attain an erection in men. In addition, nicotine makes blood vessels into and out of the penis narrow still further. While this effect stops immediately the man quits smoking, the arterial hardening takes some time to reverse. Due to this hardening of the arteries and consequent severe blood flow blockage, smoking can also lead to other potentially fatal conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

Smoking inhibits co-ordination

Sexual functioning requires the coordination of several functions in the body. This includes the nervous system – or the process of mental stimulation - working in coordination with hormones, and the vascular system which pumps blood into the muscle tissue that maintains the erection. Smoking can affect all these systems, thereby, leading to reduced sex drive and impotence.

Long term damage

The habit of long-term smoking causes more physiological damage to the male reproductive organs than even to other organs like the heart. In a United States study4, healthy men who smoked, with no history of impotence, heart disease or diabetes, were interviewed twice over 8 years. The second interview revealed that while these men still had no heart disease or diabetes, they were twice as likely to experience moderate or severe impotence. In the above quoted BBC article, Dr. Bill O’Neill, tobacco adviser to the BMA, reiterates the same point, that the prospect of heart disease or cancer in 30 years time was not as powerful as the chance of impotence in 10 years time.

Smoking harms male fertility

The negative effects of smoking do not stop at erectile dysfunction – it is much more insidious in that it can ruin a man’s chances of fathering a child as well. Male smoking has shown a decrease in the quality of semen, including sperm concentration, sperm motility and sperm morphology. Sperm concentration refers to the number of sperm found in a certain quantity of semen – the higher the concentration, the greater the man’s chances of fertilizing the female egg. However studies5 have shown a 23% decrease in sperm concentration in men who smoke. Similarly sperm motility is crucial to fertility since if sperm cannot swim properly, they may have trouble reaching the egg and fertilizing it. In men who smoke, researchers of the same study found a 13% decrease in sperm motility. Finally smoking also damaged the morphology of the sperm; male smokers were reported to have fewer healthy shaped sperm than non-smokers and oddly shaped sperm may not swim well enough to get to the egg and may not be able to fertilize an egg. Apart from this, male smokers may also have abnormal hormone levels, which can adversely affect fertility.

Finally despite the popular image in movies of the smoldering sexuality of the smoking, hard-drinking male, the reality may be entirely different. Smoking is not only sure to let down a man in the bedroom but may even prevent him from getting that far. One of the most common causes of bad breath or occasional halitosis is smoking cigarettes or cigar. Apart from this, the effect of nicotine leads to teeth discoloration as well as increased build up of plaque and tartar on teeth, all of which are sure to put a prospective partner off. Besides this, smoking has also been linked to higher incidence of skin damage – men who are heavy smokers are more likely to develop wrinkly, papery skin and acne as compared to non-smokers. And while these factors are not directly related to the sex drive of men, they do influence chances of eligible women being attracted to them and thus definitely have a final bearing on their sex lives.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - What increases a man's risk of infertility?
  2. BBC news - Impotence warning call for smokers
  3. Senior Health - Smoking Linked To Impotence
  4. Feldman, H.A., Johannes, C.B., Derby, C. A,Kleinman, K.P., Mohr, B.A., Araujo, A.B, Mckinlay, J.B. Erectiledysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results fromthe massachusetts male aging study. Preventative medicine 2000;30:328-3
  5. Olek, Michael J., Gibbons, William E. "Optimizing natural fertility in couples planning pregnancy." uptodate. Accessed: september 2009.