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From their work with couples being treated for infertility, Zavos and his fellow researchers have found that men's smoking had a significant and negative effect on the 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."

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Reviewed on May 15, 2000

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