Most smokers know of the risks associated with cigarettes, yet continue puffing away. If they won’t quit for their health, maybe they will to be sexy. British surveys find that fully half of smokers say they would quit to improve their sex appeal, and that 88 percent do not realize that smoking is a major cause of impotence.
As a person who has lost three uncles to smoking-related illnesses, I have learned about the dangers of smoking firsthand. I also know that smoking has been synonymous with sexiness for many years; despite the obvious dangers, the rugged cowboy in Marlboro commercials was the epitome of sex appeal. However, recent studies measuring the effects of smoking on sex have attempted to debunk these ideas. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor; it tightens blood vessels and restricts blood flow. It has been shown to increase the likelihood of permanent artery damage, allowing the imprint of smoking effects to last forever. A man’s erection and a women’s satisfaction both depend on blood flow. The intake of nicotine makes smokers twice as likely to get erectile dysfunction (ED) as nonsmokers.
This is a new finding that may change the minds of some young smokers. Aside from making it more difficult to enjoy intercourse, smoking affects desire as well. Smoking adjusts the levels of testosterone, the hormone, present in both men and women, that is responsible for libido. Smoking increases the carbon monoxide content of blood, which inhibits production of testosterone. Young smokers may not notice or experience these negative effects now, but they could experience them later in life. Smoking is a long-term bad bet.
Although college-aged women and men may not be thinking about having children just yet, smoking now will increase the chances of infertility and pregnancy complications in the future. The excuse “But I don’t smoke that much” is not a valid one. Scientists have found that just two cigarettes a day can cause softer erections in male smokers. This suggests that smoking in small amounts may affect fertility and pregnancy as well.
In men, smoking lowers sperm count, increases amounts of deformed sperm, affects sperm motility (the ability of sperm to swim to fertilize eggs), and causes genetic damage to sperm. In women, smoking reduces fertility by damaging fallopian tubes. This causes blockages that prevent the egg and sperm from meeting, as well as damaging the eggs as they develop in the ovaries. Smoking is particularly dangerous for women who are using hormonal birth control methods. Women who use the pill are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular issues such as blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. These risks increase with age.
So if that motorcyclist in a leather jacket with a cigarette in hand turns you on, think again. Smokers are less likely to have children, experience sexual pleasure, or even perform. Even frequent secondhand smoke has been found to cause a small (although not statistically significant) increase in ED. As more research becomes available on the issue, I hope smoking will lose its sexy reputation. If the scare of cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases does not make “invincible” young smokers budge, then hopefully the scare of impotence and overall sexual unattractiveness will.
“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at firstname.lastname@example.org. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.