How Quitting Smoking Can Change Your Sex & Dating Life

My Girlfriend Is a Smoker, and I Can, Uh, Taste It in Bed

How Quitting Smoking Can Change Your Sex & Dating Life

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How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.

Dear How to Do It,

My girlfriend of a few months is a light smoker (a couple of cigarettes a day), while I’m very sensitive to the smell of tobacco. Generally, this isn’t a big issue: She’s incredibly thoughtful and doesn’t smoke around me, and even makes sure to wash her hair and change her clothes before we meet up.

But … I swear that when I go down on her—which I love to do—I can taste the tobacco. Sometimes it’s almost unnoticeable, other times it’s I’m licking an ashtray. I haven’t told her about this, and I’m well aware that it might be my imagination, in which case I’ll just have to get over it.

Is it my imagination, though? Can the taste of tobacco be carried through the body? If so, is there anything I can ask her to do, short of giving up smoking completely, to counteract it? Maybe some kind of food or drink that will help flush the tobacco from her body? And how do I approach the subject with her? Obviously, I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but on the other hand, if there was something about the taste of my semen that she found offensive, I’d want to change it if I could.

—Secondhand Smoke

Stoya: Everybody brace for me to take things personally on this one.

Rich: I’m strapped in tight.


Rich: lololol

Stoya: She was a smoker when you started dating her. The letter writer inquires what the girlfriend can do “short of giving up smoking completely,” and I hope they stop there: It’s unreasonable to ask her to give up smoking completely. I’m offended on behalf of all nicotine users if that’s even on the table.

Rich: Where there’s smoke there’s … the smell of smoke.

Stoya: Now that I’ve vented, let’s talk about flavored lube.

Rich: I have zero experience with flavored lube. I didn’t even really know that it was … anything but a novelty product. You find it useful?

Stoya: I’m thinking of a particular guy early in my sexual adventures who tasted a bit funky. So I covered his dick in flavored lip gloss. I imagine that a lubricant engineered for sexual use would be an improvement. Not to mention safer for use with condoms should things become penetrative.

Rich: Yeah, I think improvement is the most that can be expected here. This is not an easy thing to fix all together if her smoking persists, which it sounds it will. I did research.

Stoya: I’m thrilled. What’d you turn up?

Rich: First, a word on sweat glands. We have two types: eccrine, which cover most of our body and open directly to the skin, and apocrine, which open into hair follicles and are localized in areas that are densely hairy, such as the crotch. Nicotine is emitted by sweat glands, and a higher concentration is found in the apocrine, according to this study.

Our writer suspects that this may be in his head, but it is possible that they’re smelling or tasting the nicotine coming her body and associating that with a “tobacco” flavor. (Nicotine is apparently pretty bitter.) And if that’s the case, it seems that the only way for it to cease is for the smoking to cease.

The practical remedies are bound to be imperfect workarounds, flavored lube, as you suggested.

Stoya: Or a not-too-strong mint in his mouth! (Mint can cause a burning sensation on delicate vulvar tissue. Some find this a plus, and others do not.)

Rich: I think other stuff that could help in this matter—breathable underwear, pube shaving, even being careful to use antibacterial soap or sensitive detergents—but that puts a lot of responsibility on her, which doesn’t strike me as fair.

Stoya: Agreed. I’m reacting strongly to what seems a series of inquiries about how she can change to accommodate our writer. And I am focusing pretty hard on things they can try for themselves. I do think it would be permissible to gift her a vape.

Rich: Well, here’s the thing—the body-odor stuff might have mostly to do with nicotine, but it would be an interesting arm-chair experiment to see if her taste changes from cig to vape. So maybe do that and submit your data to us?

Stoya: But if she smokes once or twice a day, she might not need the nicotine.

Rich: Oh, are there nicotine-free vapes?

In the words of Judge Judy: You picked her!

Stoya: So many. Stepping down to 0 percent vape fluid is a key part of many modern smokers’ quit plans.

Rich: I also think that they can have a conversation with her without it being necessarily fraught. She knows our writer doesn’t smoking. It’s potentially scientific that they can taste it on her. The ball is her court to determine what, if anything, she wants to do about it. And the answer could be: nothing. And the writer would have to accept it.

Stoya: She’s already catering to them by washing her hair and changing clothes before meeting up with them. She’s already meeting them halfway. Any conversation about further habit change should start with acknowledging how much she’s done to accommodate them.

Rich: And the writer should also acknowledge that this relationship is their choice.

Stoya: Which, in fairness, they do to a certain extent.

Rich: But if smoking is a deal breaker … don’t date a smoker. At least it’s still early. They’ve only been together for a few months. In the words of Judge Judy: You picked her!

Stoya: If she hid the smoking. that’s one thing. But that isn’t specified, so I’m assuming she was upfront about it. Once our writer has tried everything they can do on their end, they might consider broaching the subject from a “Fun fact!” starting point.

Rich: Fun fact! This approach may provide the levity needed to keep the conversation from becoming an argument.

In high school, my younger sister “Eva” got very intensely into a conservative church, purity pledges and all. My brother “Josh” and I never did. Eva remained very involved in her church, and three months ago, at 22, she married her similarly devout husband.

Recently, Josh informed me that our brother-in-law confessed to him (over too much to drink) that he and Eva hadn’t consummated the marriage despite multiple attempts together. My BIL said it was also his first time and he felt pretty lost.

I feel terrible for them! I’m trying to figure out if I can say something to Eva: Do I give her an adult version of The Talk? Slide a pamphlet in her purse and run away? I have no idea where to start, because I doubt she’d approve of my unmarried sex life.

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Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction: Quitting Helps

How Quitting Smoking Can Change Your Sex & Dating Life

Forget Viagra. Research suggests that for firmer, faster erections, men should quit smoking. Scientists have found that men who successfully kick cigarettes can have thicker, more rigid erections and reached maximal arousal five times faster than smokers who relapse.

A June 2016 study also found that men who smoke have more damage to their sperm than nonsmokers. In the study, published in the journal BJU International compared 20 non-smoking and 20 men who smoke.

Smokers had a higher percentage of damaged sperm, possibly due in part to inflammation observed in the testes and accessory glands. Smoking appeared to decrease health activity in the sperm, and caused more DNA fragmentation in the sperm.

These problems with the men’s sperm could influence their fertility.

Another 2011 study involved 65 sexually active male smokers who wanted to quit and were willing to have their erections measured in the lab.

The participants were enrolled in an eight-week quit program, which involved using nicotine patches (and no other drugs) and counseling, and were brought in for erectile testing three times: before the quit date, halfway through the program, then again one month after the program’s conclusion.

To test men’s erections, the researchers used a device called a penile plethysmograph, which measures changes in circumference and hardness, while the men watched porn.

Thirty-one percent of the men had successfully stopped smoking by the end of the study. Compared with men who relapsed, those who remained nicotine-free had wider, firmer erections and reached maximum sexual arousal (but, importantly, not climax!) much more quickly. These improvements were not seen, however, until after the men had stopped using the nicotine patches.

Twenty percent of the participants reported having erectile dysfunction (ED) at the start of the study. By the end, 75% of these men who had quit smoking, no longer suffered erectile problems. But 61% of men with ED who had not stopped smoking also saw improvement in their condition. The difference between the two groups was not statistically significant, however, researchers said.

Despite the fact that the researchers’ objective measurements showed improvements in sexual health among the quitters, there was no change in men’s own ratings of their sexual functioning, including perceptions of arousal, orgasmic function and strength of erection.

“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,” study co-author Christopher Harte, of the VA Boston Healthcare System, told Reuters.

The current study isn’t the first to connect smoking with sexual health. Smoking is known to damage blood vessels and hinder proper blood flow, which can also affect erectile function.

Just this week, researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that men who made lifestyle changes to improve their cardiovascular health — by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, losing weight and exercising — also improved their symptoms of ED.

The new findings, published in the British Journal of Urology International, suggest it’s not just smoking, but nicotine itself that causes erectile problems, since improvements in men’s erections weren’t seen until after use of the patch was stopped.

The good news is that doctors may now have a new strategy to help people quit smoking. For many people, the long-term fear of cancer or heart disease isn’t enough to motivate them to quit — or, worse, it can backfire by increasing stress and, in turn, the urge to smoke — but the promise of immediate and measurable improvements where it counts might be just the incentive male smokers need.

So, guys, the next time you have the urge to light up a post-coital Lucky, you might stop to think about whether it’ll keep you from your next chance to crave one.

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Why Should I Quit Smoking?

How Quitting Smoking Can Change Your Sex & Dating Life

The decision to quit smoking is the most important step you can take to improve your overall health. It is NEVER too late to quit. By quitting smoking, you can:

  • Lengthen your life expectancy
  • Decrease your risk of disease (including lung cancer, throat cancer, emphysema, heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers and reflux, erectile and sexual dysfunction, kidney disease, and other conditions)
  • Reduce your risk of respiratory and anesthesia complications during surgery and risk of infection or re-admission after an operation
  • Decrease the chance that your children will become sick (respiratory and ear infections are much more common among children exposed to secondhand smoke)
  • Feel healthier (after quitting, you won’t cough as much, have as many sore throats or stuffy noses, and will have an increased energy level and exercise tolerance)
  • Improve your sense of taste and smell
  • Improve your personal life (smoking causes erectile dysfunction and overall sexual dysfunction)
  • Improve your looks (smoking cause wrinkles, stained teeth, and dull skin)
  • Save money – a 1 pack-per-day habit costs $2,200/year

What’s the best way to quit smoking?

There is no best way to quit smoking. Everyone has different smoking patterns, habits, levels of addiction, and preferences. What works best for one person may have little impact on someone else. For this reason, the best smoking cessation programs offer several proven methods, not just one.

The Cleveland Clinic Tobacco Treatment Center offers a variety of methods to help people who want to become nonsmokers. Our program offers:

  • An individualized treatment plan. A certified tobacco specialist determines how dependent you are on nicotine, how ready you are to quit, and your preferred method of learning. The specialist will develop a treatment plan specifically designed for you to give you the best chance of quitting successfully.
  • Use of a combination of medications and behavioral therapy. Your treatment plan includes the latest tobacco treatment medications such as bupropion, varenicline, and/or nicotine replacement therapies (e.g., nicotine gum or the patch). Behavior therapies include exercise, reading material, and individual or group counseling.
  • Follow-up. The tobacco treatment specialist follows up on your progress, offers tips and celebrates your successes. Cleveland Clinic Tobacco Cessation specialists developed the PQRS strategy to help you quit:
    • PREPARE: You need a little time before you quit –14 to 30 days is usually optimal – to prime your mind and body for success.
    • QUIT: Anti-craving drugs and/or nicotine replacement therapy will lessen your urge to smoke. Resources are available to help you on your journey to a tobacco-free life.
    • RELAPSE PREVENTION: Develop the ability to identify situations that may cause you to slip and learn new skills to prevent relapse.
    • STRESS MANAGEMENT: Find alternatives to reaching for tobacco to cope with stress. Tobacco actually INCREASES the stress on your body – it increases heart rate, blood pressure, and constricts blood vessels, making your heart, kidneys, and other vital organs work harder.

What's the next step?

Being ready and wanting to quit is the most important part. You need to decide to give yourself the most precious gift a smoker can give to him or herself – a gift of life, health, and self-esteem – by becoming a nonsmoker. Treatment costs less than a pack of cigarettes a day, and varies the personalized plan developed for each individual and his or her ability to pay.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/17/2019.

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My Chemical Romance

How Quitting Smoking Can Change Your Sex & Dating Life

Love Stories is a series about love in all its forms, with one new essay appearing each day for the first two weeks of February, until Valentine's Day.

It started out lots of bad romances, by which I mean that from the very beginning, I knew every single reason why not, and I went ahead and did it anyway.

I lavished money, I wasted time, I lied to doctors, misled my parents; I let it dictate my choices about where I’d go and what I’d bring and experienced a dull reverberating panic when we were separated for any extended period of time—a transatlantic flight, a workday, a movie. Not that I would admit any of those things.

“I’m not a smoker,” I’d say, but if I was honest, smoking was one of the few clubs to which I really belonged. New York was broken up into its own little sects and small republics, its dictatorships and dividing lines, and smoking was one of the few that I chose rather than have chosen for me—it was the box that I ticked myself.

Everything else felt impermanent or outwardly imposed; smoking was my own election, my own bad choice, my own $15 for a pack, my problem.

Plus, when I was a party reporter, relatively new in town and with distinctly unusual hours, it helped me talk to any and everybody; it was the perfect segue to approach the movie star, who, when made to stand outside their own premiere, you, anybody, was neutralized, made human. It was the only vaguely socially acceptable reason to duck a dull dinner and find the people you actually wanted to talk to. Smoking was a great equalizer, I surmised. Plus, smoking was fun.

But let’s back up. I didn’t start smoking because it was fun.

I started because it seemed sort of louche and glamorous—especially when you think only about the stylish people who smoke, the French, say, or the long-dead movie stars (and you ignore Britney Spears, barefoot at the gas station in her daisy dukes, or the great sweeping swathes of the underprivileged who are preyed on by Big Tobacco, but we’ll get back to that)—and because I was at school in the U.K. for four years and every single one of my friends did. Dinner parties ended with a heavy low-hanging haze, the window cracked to brisk gusts of northern air, regardless of season; the mornings after begun with pots full of sliced lemon or coffee grounds boiling on the stove, DIY air freshener, as we inspected the carpets and curtains for burn marks before the landlord’s next visit. The tobacconist in town sold pastel-color cigarettes with gold-tipped filters in wide impractical boxes lined with delicate paper; porcelain ashtrays were great hostess presents, even for the parents of friends (a concept as alien to me, with my clean-cut health-obsessed American upbringing, as presenting them with artfully arranged bouquets of marijuana), and these we brought back from holidays in foreign locales, hidden hotels on the Amalfi coast, surf spots in the Algarve, along with packs of cigarettes with health warnings printed in languages we couldn’t read. Cigarettes always tasted best on the beach, right after swimming, stubbed out, and buried in the sand. But it wasn’t just taste, it was attitude. Smoking felt a physical expression of a sort of chicly blasé fatalism: We’re all dying anyways, all the time, even if we ingest only green juice and flax instead of champagne and cigarettes and none of this—the relationships, the work, the wardrobe, the to-do lists, the workouts—none of it will matter, so why not indulge? It was nihilism with some sex appeal, or at least Serge Gainsbourg’s accent and charisma.

Smoking was the excuse given by a beautiful boy the first time he approached me, a boy who later became very important to my personal history—“Hey, do you have a light?” We spent the next few years in the thrall of cigarettes and each other, pretending that none of it mattered and none of it would ever catch up to us.

He wasn’t going to leave the U.K. I would never live there again. Our bad habits weren’t anything when it came to fighting against time.

We knew, we stayed anyways, taking advantage of the European tendency for long vacations and cheaper airfares, winding through the Tuscan countryside in a rented stick shift, on foot through Venice’s twisting canals, through Paris and London and Berlin, where we smoked with impunity, and Los Angeles, where we didn’t—splitting packs, pulling the covers over our heads, smoking it out, until we couldn’t stay anymore. I broke his heart over the phone and I smoked at least half a pack, crushing each in an ashtray filched from the Ritz in Madrid. See? Serge exhales: dead end.


Smoking Cessation and Quality of Life: Changes in Life Satisfaction Over Three Years Following a Quit Attempt

How Quitting Smoking Can Change Your Sex & Dating Life

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Want Better Sex? Stop Smoking

How Quitting Smoking Can Change Your Sex & Dating Life

From the WebMD Archives

When Mark Jordan was a 22-year-old substitute teacher in Phoenix, he had been smoking for about a year and noticed the fire in his love life was no longer raging.

“Sex was suddenly getting boring,” he says. “I didn't want to have it. I would get breath so easily, and I simply felt gross.” While he averaged only half a pack a day, he often smoked much more on the weekends. The effects were not good.

“I remember having sex in the shower and feeling I was going to pass out,” he says. That was a turning point. He stopped smoking, started exercising, and began to eat right. After the changes, he had a much greater interest in sex and enjoys it more than ever.

Being able to dump the cigarettes is a real accomplishment — especially when you consider how smoking can become intertwined with the intimacy of a relationship. Last year, for example, researchers at the University of Arizona began to study couples where at least one member of the relationship smoked.

The investigators began to realize that smoking actually became a method of subtle communication for members of the couples being studied. Lighting up gave clues to each partner that it was time to talk, time to give space, or even time to defend yourself because a world-class argument was about to begin.

The federally funded study is scheduled to go on for another year, and hopefully, will provide methods to help counsel couples how to recognize cigarettes as an abusive third member of their relationship. If couples are going to weed the habit from their lives, the researchers say they will have to find other ways to relate to each other, and more often than just during the familiar after-sex smoke.

And of course, as Jordan found, smoking can directly torpedo the sex, too.

“Smoking has a direct, negative effect on the sexuality of a man on every level,” says Panayiotis M. Zavos, PhD, director of the Andrology Institute of America and professor of reproductive physiology and andrology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

From their work with couples being treated for infertility, Zavos and his fellow researchers have found that men's smoking had a significant and negative effect on the ability to conceive. But they also turned up a surprise: Smoking significantly diminished a man's sexual desire and satisfaction — even for young men in their 20s and 30s.

The smokers reported having sex less than six times a month, whereas the nonsmoking men were having sex nearly twice as often. This difference is especially significant considering that these couples were actively trying to conceive.

“In current research, we are trying to identify how and why tobacco use negatively impacts men's sexual performance. In my clinical experience, it does decrease performance. Sexual performance is more than just erectile function; it involves many of the systems of the body,” says Zavos.

“But when a man's ability to have sex decreases, his appetite for sex will generally follow.”

Zavos found that when diminished desire is combined with impaired performance, overall satisfaction is ly to suffer. When asked to rate their satisfaction with the sex they were having on a scale of 1 to 10, nonsmoking couples averaged 8.

7, while couples with male smokers fared far worse with an average of only 5.2. “There's no doubt in my mind,” says Zavos, “that nearly any man's sexual satisfaction and frequency [of having sex] would increase if he stopped smoking.

Other experts agree that smoking can impair sexual performance. “Smoking causes damage to smooth muscle inside the penis that interferes with erectile functioning,” says Richard Milsten, MD, co-author of The Sexual Male and a urologist for more than 30 years in Woodbury, N.J.

“So if men can't perform as well, it would make sense that their libidos would suffer.” However, Milsten cautions against simple explanations for sexual behavior. “There are so many factors in sexuality. Smoking is just one.

Still, I don't think it's outlandish to say that refraining from smoking will benefit your sex life.”

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