NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Lighting up could be slowing you down in the bedroom, suggests a new study.
Men who successfully stopped smoking improved on lab measurements of sexual health more than those who relapsed after a quit-smoking program. The findings show that smoking may be affecting the sexual health of men who consider themselves perfectly alright in the bedroom -- and not just those with impotence, researchers say.
"With younger men, the risks of smoking in that population appear more far off. They think, 'I don't really need to worry about this until much farther down the road,'" said study author Christopher Harte, from the VA Boston Healthcare System.
The findings, he said, are "still not definitive." However, "regardless of if this really does apply to all men who smoke or not, (the goal was) just getting the word out that men could be aware of this finding, so it could influence their decisions to start the quitting process," he told Reuters Health.
Harte and co-author Cindy Meston from the University of Texas at Austin enrolled 65 men without self-reported impotence in an eight-week quit-smoking program using nicotine patches. Before treatment, halfway through, and a few weeks after, they brought the men into a locked lab and showed them a racy film.
While they watched, men kept track of how aroused they were and a device measured how much their penis grew or shrunk. Separately, they also filled out surveys about their sexual function outside of the lab, including questions about desire and sexual satisfaction.
By the end of the study, there were 20 men that hadn't lit up in at least a week, while 45 men were still smoking.
Quitters saw a greater increase in penis growth (measured by width, not length), compared to non-quitters. By their own scoring, those men also reached their peak level of arousal sooner, then men who were still lighting up.
However, men who had dropped the habit didn't report any sexual improvement in "real-life" settings, researchers reported in the British Journal of Urology International. It's possible, they added, that the improvements they saw in the lab may take time to translate to the bedroom.
"It might take longer for men to actually notice their level of difference subjectively outside of the lab, which is also dependent on their relationship with their sexual partner," Harte said.
While smoking has been linked to a host of other health problems such as cancer and heart disease, the researchers said their finding is a new angle for doctors to use in men who are still reluctant to try quitting.
Previous research has shown that long-term smokers are up to twice as likely to have impotence as non-smokers.
"There is a fairly strong body of data that link smoking as a major risk factor for erectile dysfunction," Dr. Lydia Bazzano, who has studied that topic at the Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, said in an email.
Smoking can slow blood vessel dilation, Bazzano told Reuters Health, which is necessary to get an erection.
But, "this doesn't just apply to men with severe erectile functioning issues," Harte said.
"The take home point is that even men who don't have a clinical diagnosis of (erectile dysfunction)... may still benefit from quitting smoking," he concluded.
SOURCE: bit.ly/o9kK1M British Journal of Urology International, online August 23, 2011.