Effects of Smoking Cessation on Sexual Health in Men

Tobacco use constitutes the single most preventable cause of disease and death in the world today, and is responsible for enormous health and economic burdens. Cigarette smoking introduces a wide range of diseases which reduce quality of life and ultimately shortens quantity of life by approximately 10 years. In addition to introducing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as many types of cancer, smoking has been associated with elevated rates of erectile dysfunction (ED). Large cross-sectional and longitudinal epidemiological studies indicate that chronic smokers are approximately 1.5 to 2 times as likely as nonsmokers to report ED, even after controlling for age and confounding cardiovascular risk factors. Although quitting smoking substantially enhances many aspects of health, the positive health benefits of smoking cessation are not sufficient enough for many smokers to consider quitting.

We (Harte and Meston, 2011; Harte & Mesotn, 2013; Harte, Watts, Meston, 2013) examined the association between smoking cessation and sexual health, with the hope that the results would serve as a novel means to influence men to quit smoking. Sexual arousal, measured both physiologically and subjectively, as well a sexual functioning, were assessed at three time intervals: (i) at baseline, while participants were regularly smoking; (ii) at mid-treatment, while using a 21-mg nicotine transdermal patch; and (iii) at follow-up, four weeks after nicotine patch cessation. The sample included 65 men who smoked at least 15 cigarettes per day for at least 5 consecutive years, and who were motivated to quit smoking. All men were enrolled in an 8-week smoking cessation program involving a nicotine transdermal patch treatment and adjunctive counseling. Participants were assessed at baseline (while smoking regularly), at mid-treatment (while using a high-dose nicotine transdermal patch), and at 4-week post-cessation follow-up. Physiological (circumferential change via penile plethysmography) and subjective sexual arousal indices (continuous self-report), as well as self-reported sexual functioning were assessed during each visit. Our findings showed that at follow-up, successful quitters, compared to those who relapsed, showed enhanced erectile tumescence responses, and faster onset to reach maximum subjective sexual arousal. These findings suggest smoking cessation enhances both physiological and self-reported indices of sexual health in long-term male smokers, irrespective of baseline erectile impairment.

Recommended papers:

Harte, C. B., & Meston, C. M. (2013). Association between cigarette smoking and erectile tumescence: The mediating role of heart rate variability. International Journal of Impotence Research25(4), 155-159.  PDF (237 KB)

Harte, C. B., Watts, T. W., & Meston, C. M. (2013). Predictors of 1-, 6-and 12-month smoking cessation among a community-recruited sample of adult smokers in the United States. Journal of Substance Use18(5), 405-416. PDF (158 KB).

Harte, C. B., & Meston, C. M. (2012). Association between smoking cessation and sexual health in men. The British Journal of Urology International109(6), 888-896. PDF (274 KB)