It’s not a question you hear much nowadays. Still, almost 18% of adults in the United States smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And more men smoke than women.
Most people are aware that smoking is bad for their health. Smoking is linked to cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, and a host of other illnesses.
What men might not know, however, is that smoking can also lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). Studies have shown that men who smoke are more likely to develop ED. And the more a man smokes – both quantity and duration of time - the worse his ED tends to be.
The good news is that quitting smoking can help restore erections. Let’s look at this relationship more closely.
How does smoking cause ED?
First, let’s go over the physiology of erections.
When a man is sexually stimulated, his brain sends signals to the penis to trigger an erection. Smooth muscle tissue relaxes and arteries widen, allowing the penis to fill with blood. When enough blood flows in, veins constrict to keep it there until the man ejaculates (or the stimulation stops). Then the veins open and blood flows back into the body.
As you can see, blood flow is critical for a good erection. Blood is what gives the penis the firmness needed for sex. When blood flow is compromised, so is the erection.
Smoking tobacco releases chemicals that interfere with this process. This can happen in a few ways.
Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Chemicals can damage the lining of blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to flow into the penis.
Damage to smooth muscle tissue. When this tissue can’t relax properly, blood flow becomes impaired.
Decreased nitic oxide. Smoking interferes with the body’s production of nitric oxide, a compound needed for erections.
Other health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease can contribute to ED, too. If you’re having erection problems, it’s important to have a full checkup with your doctor. But quitting smoking definitely can’t hurt.
Tips for Quitting
Ready to quit? Here are some tips to consider:
Talk to your doctor. He or she can give you personalized advice and refer you to a smoking cessation program in your area. Your doctor can also monitor other medical conditions that might be contributing to your erection problems and guide you toward making healthy lifestyle choices, like exercising and eating well.
Manage stress. For many people, stress and anxiety are smoking triggers. It may be easier said than done, but try your best to manage stress. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask for it. For example, if you need a hand caring for children, see if a friend can babysit once in a while. If work is overwhelming, talk to your boss about possible changes. There are times when we need a healthcare professional to help us through stressful times. That’s okay, too. Your doctor can put you in touch with a therapist or counselor.
Get support. Tell your friends and relatives about your goal. They can cheer on your progress and encourage you when you’ve hit a rough spot. You might also consider a formal support group of people who are facing the same challenges you are.
Set mini-goals. Break your goal down into reasonable mini-goals. Instead of saying, “I’ll go 24 hours without a cigarette,” try going an hour, then two, then three.
Celebrate your successes. If you’ve met one of your mini-goals, pat yourself on the back! Quitting smoking is difficult, so reward yourself by going out with friends, catching a movie, or any other activity you enjoy.
Be Kind to Yourself. If you don’t meet a mini-goal, don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself credit for trying and resolve to tackle it again tomorrow.
Try technology. There are a number of free and low-cost smartphone apps for Apple and Android devices designed to help users quit smoking. Some will keep track of how many cigarettes you haven’t smoked and how much money you’ve saved. Some offer tips and words of encouragement, too.
Quitting smoking should make you feel better overall. You’ll feel good about yourself knowing that you’ve taken an important step toward better health – and possibly better sex!