Does Vaping Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Vaping has become much more common in recent years and has been seen as a healthier alternative to cigarette smoking. However, research is uncovering the potential side effects of vaping on health.

Here’s what you need to know about how vaping can impact male sexual health.

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What is vaping?

The use of e-cigarettes or ‘vapes’ has replaced cigarette smoking in recent years. Unlike cigarette smoking, vaping uses a liquid form of nicotine, the psychoactive substance in tobacco, which is heated to create a vapor and inhaled. Unlike cigarettes, e-cigarette ‘juice’ often comes in numerous flavors to make vaping more enjoyable.

Vaping has taken off in recent years and was considered a safer alternative to cigarette smoking, making it an appealing option for many who wish to quit smoking or enjoy a less harmful activity. However, an increasing number of studies¹ are uncovering the harmful effects of vaping on one’s health. 

How does the body respond to nicotine?

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in tobacco. Nicotine works on the ‘reward center’ of the brain and increases the amount of the neurotransmitters that make us feel good. This explains why, although nicotine smoking has many well-documented impacts on our health, we continue to use nicotine products.

When these pathways are stimulated enough, such as when we vape, these pathways 'down regulate’ themselves. Not to mention, it is harder to trigger these pathways. Consequently, it is more difficult to feel the same positive reward or ‘enjoyment’ after a certain time.

More nicotine is needed to feel the same ‘rush’ than what was needed, resulting in people consuming increasing amounts of nicotine and vaping more. 

Nicotine has numerous effects on the body when inhaled. Nicotine works on the sympathetic system, the same system that uses adrenaline. Nicotine works on almost all parts of the body.

The effects include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine also impacts cardiovascular health, skin aging,² immune function, and brain functioning, to list a few.

Is vaping linked to erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is a common occurrence in men. Erectile dysfunction describes the inability to achieve an erection or " get hard." An erection is usually achieved by increasing blood flow into erectile tissues in the penis, causing it to swell up and become erect while minimizing the return of that blood.

It is well-established that cigarette smoking can cause erectile dysfunction. The more one smokes, the more severe the chance of developing erectile dysfunction is. New studies are now being conducted to see if the same is true for vaping. 

In short, the answer is yes. 

Studies³ have found that men who vape are more at risk of developing erectile dysfunction compared to those who do not vape. Other studies⁴ also demonstrate this finding and tie it to possible endothelial damage (lining of blood vessels). 

How can nicotine cause erectile dysfunction?

Nicotine, the psychoactive component in tobacco used in e-cigarettes, has been found to damage endothelial cells, which make up the lining of blood vessels. Endothelial cells play an important part in allowing the smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels to ‘vasodilate.’

Vasodilation describes the opening of vessels to increase blood flow to the area. Vasodilation occurs in the vessels around the ‘corpus cavernosum,’⁵ the area in the penis which is involved in causing erections. 

Its function is impaired when there is damage to the endothelial cells, such as that resulting from nicotine use. These vessels can no longer relax and allow blood to flow into the area of the penis necessary for an erection to occur. 

Other studies⁶ have found that nicotine decreases the amount of a signaling molecule called nitric oxide, which signals the vessels to relax and open up to allow blood to flow into the penis, thus causing an erection. 

Nicotine can also act on receptors in vessels found in the penis and cause them to spasm. Nicotine binds to a receptor, appropriately called the ‘nicotinic receptor,’ and results in spasms of these vessels. The spasm causes a decrease in blood flow to the area of the penis that is usually involved in causing an erection, resulting in erectile dysfunction.

Sexual side effects of nicotine on men

As previously mentioned, it is known that nicotine use can lead to erectile dysfunction in men. This is due to nicotine’s harmful effects on blood vessels involved in erections.

Studies⁷ have also found that using nicotine products decreases sexual arousal in men. 

Further research⁸ has shown that fertility is also negatively impacted by nicotine. In another study, it was also found that there was a decrease in sperm count, along with sperm motility in high doses of nicotine, although the jury is still out on the effects on male fertility.

When to visit your doctor

Vaping and cigarette smoking are both highly addictive activities, all thanks to nicotine. An extensive body of research highlights the detrimental health impacts of vaping and the use of other nicotine products. 

Quitting may be hard, but your doctor can help you achieve this.

In the meantime, many treatment options exist for men with erectile dysfunction. Your doctor can help you decide which option is best for you. Erectile dysfunction is a common phenomenon. No one should suffer alone. 

The lowdown

Vaping was initially thought of as being a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. However, nicotine, the substance found in tobacco and e-cigarettes, is addictive, with numerous side effects on the body, including male sexual health. 

Vaping, or the use of any other products with nicotine, can damage blood vessels in the penis which usually fill with blood to cause an erection and thus impair their function. This may lead to erectile dysfunction in men. Other side effects of nicotine use may include decreased sexual arousal and infertility. 

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, get help and talk to your doctor.

  1. Health effects of electronic cigarette (e‑cigarette) use on organ systems and its implications for public health (2020)

  2. Nicotine effects on skin: Are they positive or negative? (2004)

  3. Association of E-cigarettes with erectile dysfunction: The population assessment of tobacco and health study (2022)

  4. E-cigarette-associated endothelial damage: A potential mechanism for erectile dysfunction (2022)

  5. Is endothelial function impaired in erectile dysfunction patients? (2006)

  6. Cigarette smoking and erectile dysfunction: Focus on NO bioavailability and ROS generation (2008)

  7. Sexuality and substance use: The impact of tobacco, alcohol, and selected recreational drugs on sexual function (2005)

  8. Smoking and infertility: A committee opinion (2018)

Other sources:

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