The Zavos Organization



Want Better Sex?
By Glenn Gordon
WebMD Medical News

May 15, 2000 -- Mark Jordan, a 22-year-old substitute teacher in Phoenix, Ariz., had been smoking for a year when the fire seemed to go out of his love life. "Sex was suddenly getting boring," he says. "I didn't want to have it. I would get out of breath so easily and I simply felt gross." While he averaged only half a pack a day, on a weekend night he might smoke much more.

"I remember having sex in the shower and feeling like I was going to pass out," he says. That was a turning point. He stopped smoking, started exercising and eating right, and now says he has a much greater interest in sex and enjoys it more than ever.

Watching Sharon Stone puff away in the film Basic Instinct may be stimulating for some men, but smoking can be a major drag in a real-life bedroom (or shower, as Jordan found). "Smoking has a direct, negative effect on the sexuality of a man on every level," says Panayiotis M. Zavos, PhD, director of the Andrology Institute of America and professor of reproductive physiology and andrology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Zavos and his fellow researchers studied 290 couples undergoing evaluation for infertility and reported their results at the joint annual meeting the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society last September. As part of the study, couples completed a questionnaire detailing their smoking and sexual habits. None of the women were currently smoking, but 158 of the men, all between the ages of 26 and 35, smoked an average of 30 cigarettes a day and had been smokers for an average of more than seven years.

Lighting Up May Not Light Your Fire

Zavos' findings confirmed that men's smoking had a significant and negative effect on a couples' ability to conceive. But they also turned up a surprise: Smoking significantly diminished a man's sexual desire and satisfaction -- even for young men in their 20s and 30s.

The smokers reported having sex less than six times a month whereas the nonsmoking men were having sex nearly twice as often. This difference is especially significant considering that these couples were actively trying to conceive. "In current research, we are trying to identify how and why tobacco use negatively impacts men's sexual performance. In my clinical experience, it does decrease performance. Sexual performance is more than just erectile function, it involves many of the systems of the body," says Zavos. "But when a man's ability to have sex decreases, his appetite for sex will generally follow."

Zavos found that when diminished desire is combined with impaired performance, overall satisfaction is likely to suffer. When asked to rate their satisfaction with the sex they were having on a scale of 1 to 10, nonsmoking couples averaged 8.7, while couples with male smokers fared far worse with an average of only 5.2. "There's no doubt in my mind," says Zavos, "that nearly any man's sexual satisfaction and frequency [of having sex] would increase if he stopped smoking."

Other experts agree that smoking can impair sexual performance. "Smoking causes damage to smooth muscle inside the penis that interferes with erectile functioning," says Richard Milsten, MD, co-author of The Sexual Male and a urologist for more than 30 years in Woodbury, N.J. "So if men can't perform as well, it would make sense that their libidos would suffer." However, Milsten cautions against simple explanations for sexual behavior. "There are so many factors in sexuality. Smoking is just one. Still, I don't think it's outlandish to say that refraining from smoking will benefit your sex life."

For Some Men, Cigarettes Still Seem Sexy

Larry Bullock, 36, an actor and model living in New York, has recently considered breaking the habit. Bullock started smoking at 14 because it seemed "masculine, adult, and cool." He says he has always enjoyed a very high libido and never noticed any negative effects from smoking -- until recently. "In fact, I loved smoking before and after sex," says Bullock. "They were the best cigarettes of the day."

But lately, says Bullock, who will appear on the cover of an upcoming fitness magazine, he began to notice that he was "feeling a bit winded" during sex. "I get so out of breath and wheezy sometimes, that I've had to ask my partner to refrain from asking me if I'm OK after orgasm."

What if you smoke fewer cigarettes or have been smoking for fewer years than Bullock or the men in the survey? While Zavos admits to not having all the answers, he speculates that whether or not you notice anything now, "you're on a dangerous path."

Not everyone is convinced that smoke-free living will give them a new lease on their sex life, however. "I quit for a few months," says Mathew Lenning, a 25-year-old graphic designer in New York, who's been smoking since high school, "but the only change I noticed about sex was that I really missed having a cigarette afterwards."

Glenn Michael Gordon is a senior producer at He has written for YM, Twist, Child, and Time Out New York magazines.



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