Smoking cigarettes can affect a person’s libido, sexual performance, and fertility. People who smoke e-cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products are also likely to experience detrimental effects.

This article explains how smoking tobacco affects a person’s sex life and looks at the benefits of quitting smoking.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the American Lung Association (ALA), there are around 600 different ingredients in cigarettes, many of which are toxic.

When a person inhales cigarette smoke, they ingest chemicals such as ammonia, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen cyanide.

This can affect a person’s overall health. Experts link smoking to multiple health problems and diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic lung conditions.

Aside from this, smoking also has detrimental effects on a person’s sexual function and fertility. The American Cancer Society (ACS) explains that females who smoke may experience difficulty getting pregnant, while males may have a low sperm count and experience erectile dysfunction (ED).

Additionally, as smoking can cause high blood pressure and circulatory issues, it can reduce sensations of arousal for both males and females.

These issues can cause sexual dysfunction, which refers to an ongoing and persistent difficulty with sexual response, desire, orgasm, or pain.

A 2018 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine explains that sexual dysfunction can affect anyone. Researchers associate sexual dysfunction with relationship difficulties and reduced quality of life.

Sexual dysfunction can make people feel anxious and depressed and can cause low self-esteem. These feelings can also inhibit a person’s sex drive and lead to an unfulfilled sex life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that around 14% of American males over 18 years old smoke. The 2018 study explains that the risk of sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction, increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes.

Erectile dysfunction

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) defines erectile dysfunction as being unable to achieve or maintain an erection that is firm enough for sexual intercourse.

The ACS states that males who smoke are at a higher risk of ED. The risk increases the more a male smokes and the longer they smoke for.

This is because smoking can damage blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow to the penis.

A 2022 study examined 6,754 men who were either current smokers, former smokers, or nonsmokers. The researchers found that current smokers reported having ED more frequently than nonsmokers, at 31.6% versus 26.0% respectively.

Decreased libido

Libido describes a person’s desire for sexual activity. People also refer to it as sex drive. Smoking may negatively affect a male’s libido.

The same 2022 study that collected data from 6,754 men found that current smokers reported having low libido more frequently than nonsmokers.

Decreased stamina

The health difficulties that experts associate with smoking can affect a person’s overall health and stamina. This can affect a person’s sexual performance.

Heart disease, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and other smoking-related health problems can affect a person’s ability to be physically active. This can include the physical activity needed for sexual intercourse.

For example, the ALA explains that people who smoke are more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

People with COPD experience shortness of breath and reduced stamina when physically active. They may need to experiment with less challenging sexual positions or plan intimacy for times when they are well-rested.

Low sperm count

According to a 2019 study, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, smoking significantly decreases a male’s sperm count.

According to the ACS, a low sperm count as a result of smoking can reduce fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage and congenital anomalies.

Females who smoke may also have issues with sexual activity. And they may have difficulty getting pregnant, according to the ACS.

Reduced arousal

Smoking can damage blood vessels and restrict blood flow. Over time, blood vessel walls thicken, making it harder for the blood to flow sufficiently around the body.

If smoking restricts blood flow to the genital area, it can reduce sensations of arousal. Some people may also find it difficult to achieve orgasm.

The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) also recommends that people going through menopause quit smoking to improve their sex life. The organization states that smoking can reduce the effects of estrogen, making it more difficult to get aroused.

Decreased libido

There is mixed evidence as to whether smoking can reduce a female’s libido.

According to a 2015 article, female smokers reported having a higher desire for sex and were more likely to have had sex in the past 4 weeks than female nonsmokers.

However, the study also found that nicotine dependence correlated to lower sex drives in females.

Early menopause

According to OWH, females who smoke may reach menopause as much as 2 years earlier than nonsmokers. They may also experience more severe menopausal symptoms.

This may be because smoking can cause a reduction in a female’s estrogen levels. Low estrogen levels can cause mood shifts, vaginal dryness, and fatigue.

Learn more about early menopause.

Fertility issues and pregnancy complications

Smoking is linked to fertility issues, according to the ACS. Smoking may cause someone to experience difficulty getting pregnant.

Smoking while pregnant increases the health risks to the pregnant individual and the unborn fetus. These include:

Children born to those who smoked during their pregnancy are also more likely to be born with a cleft palate or lip.

Sexual dysfunction involves a pattern of behavior, over time, that causes the person distress.

Although sexual dysfunction can be a result of smoking and its related health issues, it can result from other causes, such as mental health conditions.

Some signs of sexual dysfunction may include:

  • having a low desire for sex that causes emotional distress
  • not being able to respond to sexual stimuli, despite wanting to
  • being unable to achieve orgasm

A person should speak with a doctor if they are concerned about their sex life. A doctor may be able to recommend medical and therapeutic treatments.

Learn more

Learn more about sexual dysfunction in males and females and how to treat it.

According to the ALA, anyone wanting to quit smoking cigarettes should talk with a healthcare professional.

They may recommend medications to help people quit and direct a person toward local resources, including support groups.

Doctors can also help people with sexual dysfunction. A person should talk with a healthcare professional if problems are causing them distress.

Sexual dysfunction is a blanket term covering different types of disorders that prevent a person’s enjoyment of sexual activity.

According to the NIDDK, doctors may prescribe medications for some conditions, such as Viagra for erectile dysfunction, or recommend lubricants for vaginal dryness.

Most doctors also recommend lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking, becoming more physically active, and limiting alcohol consumption.

If a person continues to smoke, any sexual issues that result from smoking will likely remain and could worsen over time.

The health benefits of quitting smoking are well-documented. The ACS says that carbon monoxide levels in the blood usually return to normal a few days after stopping.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains that researchers directly link smoking to fertility issues, and quitting smoking improves a person’s chances of conceiving.

The 2022 study of 6,754 men also found that those who formerly smoked had better erectile function and libido than those who currently smoked.

The researchers reported that quitting smoking may improve male sexual health.

The experience of quitting smoking is different for every person, but there are also some common traits. Knowing what to expect can help people overcome cravings and manage mood swings.

The CDC offers tips for quitting and suggests ways of dealing with some of the most common withdrawal symptoms. They include:

  • taking medications that help with quitting
  • avoiding triggers for cravings, such as drinking alcohol or spending time with smokers
  • regularly thinking about the reasons for quitting
  • limiting activities that require strong concentration in the first few days of quitting
  • engaging in physical activity as a healthy distraction

Smokefree.gov also lists the health benefits of quitting smoking and provides advice on how to quit.

Learn more

Learn more about quitting smoking.

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about smoking and sexual health.

Does smoking make you less sexually active?

Yes, smoking can negatively affect a person’s reproductive health and hormone production, according to the FDA. These factors may contribute to a less active sex life.

A 2022 study found that current smokers reported having low libido more frequently than nonsmokers. It also found that current smokers reported higher rates of erectile dysfunction (ED).

Females who smoke may experience a drop in libido, as smoking interferes with estrogen production.

However, there is mixed evidence. A 2015 article found that female smokers reported having higher sex drives than female nonsmokers. The researchers found that those who smoke were more likely to have had sex in the past 4 weeks than those who did not smoke.

Despite this, they also found that females with nicotine dependence generally had lower sex drives.

Does quitting smoking give you harder erections?

Yes, it can. The ACS explains that blood circulation and lung function improve within 3 months of quitting smoking. Improved circulation may contribute to harder erections.

Smoking can restrict blood vessels in the penis, interfering with the blood supply. Men need a healthy blood supply to their genitals to achieve a firm erection.

A 2022 study also found that quitting smoking helped improve male sexual health and lower rates of ED.

Smoking can be detrimental to a person’s sex life. It can affect their fertility, libido, performance, and sexual enjoyment.

Sexual dysfunction is common among both males and females and can lead to tension and relationship issues if not addressed.

Quitting smoking increases a person’s chances of conceiving a child, overcoming erectile dysfunction, and enjoying painless intercourse.