A British urologist confirmed this week what many men who smoke tobacco have long suspected — smoking can make your penis shorter.
As The Mirror reports, Dr. Marc Laniado said he sees plenty of erectile dysfunction in his patients. And the problem is considerably worse in tobacco smokers, he says.
The problem, says Dr. Laniado, is blood flow. The penis is an organ that relies on blood flow to properly do its job, and the chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to reduce circulation. That’s a problem for men who smoke, Dr. Lanaido says.
“To have a firm erection, you need sufficient blood flow. Smokers have a higher incidence of artherosclerosis in all blood vessels, including those in the penis, which can reduce blood flow. The chemicals in smoke may also have an effect on firmness; nicotine causes blood vessels to become narrow.”
The problem can become worse over time, says the urologist. The cumulative effects of years or even decades of smoking can turn a temporary problem permanent, making it difficult for long-term smokers to achieve and maintain an erection.
And it’s not just erectile dysfunction that can be caused by smoking. Because smoking inhibits nighttime erections that stretch the penis, over time the sex organ can become shorter.
“So in summary smoking can make your penis appear shorter or in fact become shorter.”
Additionally, it’s not just men’s sexual health that can be damaged by smoking, per Dr. Laniado. The clitoris, like the penis, also relies on blood flow, and women who smoke can — and often do — suffer from a decrease of blood flow to the clitoris. That can dampen women’s arousal, as well.
Male smokers needn’t despair, however. As TIME reports, the problem is reversible — if you quit smoking, that is.
According to a study published in 2011, men who quit smoking and managed to stay off cigarettes “had thicker, more rigid erections and reached maximal arousal five times faster than smokers who relapsed.”
In fact, according to the study published in Medical News Today, 75 percent of men who gave up smoking reported that they no longer had sexual problems.
Of course, sexual health isn’t just a matter of smoking or not smoking. Men and women who have poor diets — particularly diets with a lot of fat and cholesterol — can experience sexual problems — as can people who don’t get enough exercise, are under a lot of stress, or abuse drugs.