Why does smoking cause erectile dysfunction in young males?

Problems associated with tobacco usage can affect young people


Erectile dysfunction which is also known as impotence is defined as being when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection long enough to have satisfactory sexual intercourse. It is a very common condition. Whilst it is accepted that the incidence of erectile dysfunction is more common in older men, it is also a condition that is experienced by younger men.

Many people believe that erectile dysfunction is an issue that is only faced by older men. The reasons for this are because it is often assumed that erectile dysfunction is a normal part of the ageing process and some physical conditions which tend to be associated with age can also be causes of or contribute to erectile dysfunction.

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It has been very difficult to estimate the incidence of erectile in men for each decade of life. This is largely because of the nature of the condition and that many men do not want to discuss the topic openly. This is probably even more so in young men with men in their twenties and thirties suffering in silence.

One study found that 26% of men under forty suffered erectile dysfunction and for 50% of those men the condition was severe. Another study carried out by the Massachusetts Male Ageing Study believes that the incidence of mild to moderate ED is proportional to the decade of their life, that is, 50% of men in their fifties, 60% of men in their sixties and so on.

The study

However, a more surprising study suggested that 50% of men in their thirties were experiencing erectile dysfunction and the general consensus from these people was that work stress and personal lives were to blame. Whilst this study was more circumstantial than scientific, it does loosely suggest that psychological causes may be the cause of some erectile dysfunction in younger men.


If a young man and his partner are looking to start a family, as well as suffering from erectile dysfunction making this difficult, a smoker may also be faced with the fact that their sperm may not be up to the job.

Smoking can damage the genetic material which is found in sperm. It has also been found that smoking affects the quality of the sperm as well as its motility; in addition, smokers tend to have a lower sperm count. All of these factors can have a marked effect on the fertility of the man. A man is making sperm all the time and so if a man is a smoker he should look at quitting the habit three months prior to trying for a baby so that all his sperm are in peak health and at peak numbers.

Physical effects of smoking which lead to erectile dysfunction

In order to achieve a healthy erection, three systems of the body need to be in good working order:

  • The brain causing sexual arousal - the brain sends nerve impulses to the penis
  • The nervous system causes nerve stimulation - this causes the blood flow to the penis
  • The cardiovascular system allows free blood flow - the increased blood flow will facilitate the erection by filling the chambers of the penis and making it hard

If there is any disruption in any of these systems or their ability to perform, this will affect a person’s ability to achieve an erection. No matter the age of a smoker they are still vulnerable to the negative physical effects that smoking imposes on the body. There are a number of conditions associated with smoking that can be attributed to erectile dysfunction. They include:

  • Cardiovascular disease - smoking cigarettes makes the wall of blood vessels ‘sticky’ as a result of depositing chemicals on the inner surfaces of the vessels. This enables any fatty substances circulating in the blood to stick. This impedes the flow of blood in general and may lead to a heart attack. The damage to the general blood flow can also restrict blood flow into the penis and so cause erectile dysfunction.
  • High blood pressure - The nicotine in cigarette smoke is a big part of the problem. It raises your blood pressure and heart rate, narrows your arteries and hardens their walls, and makes your blood more likely to clot; this means less blood is able to flow to the penis. For some men, the decreased blood flow makes it difficult to achieve and maintain erections. High blood pressure can also interfere with ejaculation and reduce sexual desire.
  • Lung disease - smoking cigarettes can result in a person developing COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and this is considered to be a risk factor in the development of erectile dysfunction.
  • Diabetes - smoking is now proven to be an independent risk factor for developing diabetes and if you are a smoker who suffers from diabetes, this increases the risks associated with complications. In some cases, the likelihood of suffering a complication can double and this includes the chances or developing erectile dysfunction.
  • Obesity - given the metabolic effect of smoking, it is expected that the greater the number of cigarettes smoked, the lower the smoker's body weight. However, cross-sectional studies indicate that heavy smoking could be associated with a greater risk of obesity. Overweight/obesity can cause E.D. by damaging the blood vessels, decreasing testosterone and causing a state of generalized inflammation in the body. Obesity can cause damage to blood vessels due to the associated hypertension and diabetes.
  • High cholesterol - smoking makes your LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) 'stickier' – so it clings to your artery walls and clogs them up. Smoking lowers your levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind), which normally takes cholesterol away from the artery walls. Researchers haven't determined that high cholesterol is a direct cause of ED, but the condition may contribute to erection problems. 


The dangers of tobacco and tobacco products have now been understood and accepted for many years. The range of dangers to the human body is vast, causing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Tobacco also increases the risk of catching tuberculosis, developing some eye diseases and autoimmune problems such as rheumatoid arthritis.

It should come as no surprise that erectile dysfunction can also be included in the list and that men of any age are exposed to those risks.

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