Most people have heard the repeated messages of how cigarettes are detrimental to your health. Cigarettes contain over 40 carcinogens which contribute to multiple forms of cancer including lung, tongue, lip, and throat cancer to name a few. For this reason, encouraging people to quit smoking is a major priority of the medical community. This has been facilitated with nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) in the form of nicotine gum and nicotine patches. NRT can significantly improve a person’s chance of quitting, but should be used judiciously, always as directed by the labeling or your health care provider, and used to taper off in a few weeks – never as a permanent replacement. Although a better choice than smoking cigarettes, NRT still delivers a significant quantity of nicotine to the body that can wreak havoc with sexual functioning.
Nicotine affects blood vessels in two ways. First, it is a potent stimulant and causes direct spasms of arteries and arterioles. Not only does it affect the arteries leading to the arms and legs, decreasing your circulation there, but it also causes contraction of the blood vessels to the heart, the liver, the eyes, the intestines, and to the genitals. Next, it causes endothelial damage to the walls of the blood vessels, causing decreased blood vessel relaxation and arterial insufficiency. Nicotine has also been found to interfere with the ability of the venous mechanism that helps maintain an erection. All this means that nicotine decreases the ability of the corpus cavernosum and spongiosum to get a sufficient amount of blood to get an erection, as well as increases the chance for venous leakage so that it becomes difficult to keep an erection.
Nicotine also has short-term and long-term affects on sexual functioning. Studies of the arteries leading to the penis demonstrate that after just two cigarettes (the same amount of nicotine you get as in one piece of nicotine gum), there is significant decrease in the diameter of the Pudendal artery (the main artery that provides the blood supply), and that the deep penile artery could not even be seen. These immediate effects of nicotine can be seen to reverse after quitting smoking or discontinuation of NRT after just a few weeks. But since the endothelial damage increases over time, the longer a person smokes cigarettes or uses nicotine in NRT, the more damage they sustain to the walls of their blood vessels, and the greater chance for ED. Interestingly too was the finding that the number of nighttime erections a man has is inversely proportional to the amount of cigarettes he smokes.
But don’t think that men are the only ones affected. Nicotine has the same effect on the arterial flow to the genitals in women as it does in men. For women, this translates into less engorgement of the erectile tissue of the clitoris and the spongy erectile tissue that fills up in front of the G-spot and over the U-spot. This results in less sensitivity in these areas, less vasocongestion, less pleasure, and a longer time to lubricate. And since the body works on the “use it or lose it” principle, these effects get worse over time as a person continues to smoke or use nicotine.
So if you are still smoking, consider cutting down and eventually quitting. If you use NRT to help you, have a clear and defined goal to taper off in a set period of time. Nicotine’s effects on a person’s sexual functioning can be severe in many cases, and completely unnecessary in all cases.