By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Sep 29, 2023
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Smoking's effects on sex." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 29 Sep. 2023, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/smokings-effects-sex. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2023, September 29). Smoking's effects on sex. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/smokings-effects-sex.

Dear Alice,

I know all the effects smoking has on the body, but nobody seems to have information on what it does to your sex life. What are the effects, like dryness, de-sensitivity in areas, etc? If I quit, would sex be better?

Mrs. Curious

Dear Mrs. Curious, 

That’s a great question —if smoking can affect other areas of your life, what's to stop it from affecting sex? Smoking anything can impact sex and those effects can change depending on what you're smoking. Nicotine has the potential to reduce blood flow in your body, which can make sex less pleasurable and lead to dryness and de-sensitivity. On the other hand, cannabis—also known as marijuana, weed, and hash among other names—has a varied effect when it comes to its impact on sex. For some, cannabis may enhance sexual sensations and pleasure, while for others, it may negatively impact sex, especially when smoked or ingested in higher amounts. Understanding smoking's effects on sex can help you be better prepared for when things get hot and heavy. 

If de-sensitivity when having sex is something you're concerned about, and it’s nicotine that’s being smoked, it may be cause for concern. Nicotine is a chemical found in a variety of tobacco products, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes, and reacts in the body by narrowing blood vessels and restricting blood flow. While blood flow increases when you're aroused, nicotine’s restricting effect may put a kink—and not the good kind—in your plans. It can often make it harder to get and keep an erection and may lead to less sensitivity in the labia, clitoris, and vagina. This can also impact your orgasms—more restricted blood circulation may mean less intense orgasms, which can make sex less fun. Longer-term, nicotine can lower sperm count and damage ovaries, impacting fertility and other functions of the reproductive system. For those with penises, not only can nicotine make it harder to have an erection, but cigarette smoking is noted as a risk factor for erectile dysfunction. 

Whether you have been a long-time smoker or just started smoking recently, the effects may go beyond your ability to perform physically and may also impact your sexual wellness internally. Nicotine has the ability to lower your estrogen and testosterone levels. The latter contributes to sex drive, and less of it could mean you’re interested in sex less frequently or at all. For those on hormonal birth control, nicotine use may increase the chances of experiencing side effects such as blood clots. It can even cause the menstrual cycle to become irregular, longer, and painful. If you menstruate and take hormonal birth control, have you noticed any unusual side effects or changes in your menstrual cycle? If you experience any of these effects, it might be worth connecting with a health care professional to see if smoking is a factor. You may also wish to discuss whether a non-hormonal birth control method may be better since they are often recommended over hormonal methods for some smokers. If you are someone on hormone replacement therapy, the interaction between your medication and nicotine may also be complex, and connecting with a health care professional is recommended to better understand how smoking may be impacting your treatment. 

The research world is still warming up to cannabis, and while much more is known now about cannabis itself, it’s relationship with sex isn’t as well researched as nicotine and sex. Despite that, there are still some things to know about cannabis and sex. Where nicotine restricts blood flow, cannabis has the potential to expand blood vessels and increase blood flow throughout the body. This is why some say smoking weed before or during sex enhances areas of sexual pleasure such as sensitivity to touch, orgasm intensity, and vaginal lubrication. Smoking cannabis or nicotine can also dry out your mouth which can put a damper on kissing and oral sex. Habitual use of cannabis is also linked with other long-term effects that can indirectly impact your sexual health. 

Cannabis' effects can be varied depending on the person and depending on whether they are eating or smoking it. However, it commonly acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. This means it can slow down your thoughts, reaction times, and decision-making. Cannabis can also impact your perception of time, making sex feel longer. Some enjoy these relaxing effects, while others note that it actually makes sex feel worse. Slow reactions and judgment may also make it harder to communicate or give consent. If you’re smoking cannabis, consider what you typically experience when smoking—how can those experiences show up during sex (whether good, bad, or neutral)? 

Smoking can influence many factors beyond physical sensations. Because of that, it can be tough to know if, or how, your sex life would change just by quitting. It can also be important to note that depending on how much someone smokes, quitting cannabis or nicotine can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, disruptions to sleep, increased anxiety, and difficulty concentrating. This can have an indirect effect on your sex life; however, these symptoms often decrease as time goes on. From an aesthetic standpoint quitting smoking could eliminate stained teeth, help improve skin, decrease the rapid accumulation of wrinkles on the face, and eliminate the smell of smoke in your clothing, hair, and breath. Quitting nicotine has also been linked to lower stress levels and higher libido. Smoking anything can have a negative effect on your lungs, so quitting may increase your stamina in bed and keep you from losing your breath. 

In addition to smoking cessation, it may also be helpful to know about other ways to increase sexual pleasure. This can include exploring erogenous zones, trying different types of condoms, and exploring sadomasochistic play or roleplay. Knowing some of the potential effects of smoking and sex, it could be an opportunity to explore smoking's relationship with your sense of pleasure. 

If quitting smoking is something you're thinking about, whether to change up your sex life or overall health, you may want to speak with a tobacco cessation specialist when it comes to quitting nicotine. You can often find one through your city's local health department or if you are a student, through your campus health services. For quitting cannabis, you may want to speak with a health care professional or a mental health professional who specializes in substance use. For additional questions or concerns about sexual performance and sexual pleasure, you may choose to make an appointment with a health care provider to further discuss your concerns. 

Stay sexy, stay curious!

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