5 Ways Smoking Affects Sexual Health

by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

You know smoking can up your cancer risk, but did you know it makes PMS and erections worse? Both of those facts come courtesy of an anti-smoking campaign from the New York City health department. Some say emphasizing these sexual health consequences trivializes smoking risks (what are bad cramps in comparison to lung cancer?). But I like the message — as a long-time cigarette smoker, the thing that really made me quit was worry over wrinkles. Sometimes the smaller but more immediately tangible effects of smoking can make all the difference when it comes to convincing people (especially young people) to quit.

In that vein, here are a few ways that smoking can be bad for your sexual and reproductive health.

1. Women who smoke have more difficulty getting pregnant.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, smoking accelerates the loss of eggs (and thereby speeds up infertility). Components of cigarette smoke also interfere with ovarian cells' ability to make estrogen and lead to more eggs with genetic abnormalities.

2. Men who smoke have more trouble getting and keeping an erection.

Trouble getting it up is linked to poor blood flow to the penis, and smoking restricts blood flow. Research has shown that non-smokers get hard five times faster than smokers, and quitting smoking also gives men "thicker, more rigid" erections. Hot.

3. Smoking can exasperate PMS.

Research suggests that smoking could make PMS symptoms more likely. In a study of 27- to 44-year-old women, smokers were twice as likely to have premenstrual symptoms, especially backaches, bloating, breast soreness, and acne. Other research has shown smokers have more irregular periods.

4. Smoking kills sperm.

Men who smoke have lower sperm counts, slower-swimming sperm and more abnormalities in sperm shape and function, according to the ASRM.

5. Smoking could speed up menopause.

Women who smoke go through menopause earlier than non-smokers. In a large review of studies, non-smokers hit menopause between ages 46 and 51, on average, but smokers hit menopause between 43 and 50. Stopping periods sooner might not sound that bad to you now, but early menopause is also associated with health risks such as osteoporosis, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease.