Introduction: Extensive research suggests that long-term cigarette smoking is an independent risk factor for the introduction of sexual dysfunction in men. However, results of limited data investigating this relationship in women are mixed. No studies have examined the acute effects of tobacco or nicotine on physiological sexual response in women. Controlled experimental studies examining acute effects of isolated nicotine intake on female physiological sexual responses are necessary in order to help elucidate tobacco's potential role in the development and/or maintenance of sexual impairment in women.
Aim: To examine whether isolated nicotine intake acutely affects sexual arousal responses in nonsmoking women.
Methods: Twenty-five sexually functional women (mean age = 20 years) each with less than 100 direct exposures to nicotine completed two counterbalanced conditions in which they were randomized to received either nicotine gum (6 mg) or placebo gum, both administered double-blind and matched for appearance, taste, and consistency, approximately 40 minutes prior to viewing an erotic film.
Main outcome measures: Physiological (changes in vaginal pulse amplitude via vaginal photoplethysmography) and subjective (continuous self-report) sexual responses to erotic stimuli were examined, as well as changes in mood.
Results: Nicotine significantly reduced genital responses to the erotic films (P = 0.05), corresponding to a 30% attenuation in physiological sexual arousal. This occurred in 11 of 18 women with valid physiological assessments. Nicotine had no significant effect on continuous self-report ratings of sexual arousal (P = 0.45), or on mood (all Ps > 0.05).
Conclusions: Acute nicotine intake significantly attenuates physiological sexual arousal in healthy nonsmoking women. Our findings provide support to the hypothesis that nicotine may be the primary pharmacological agent responsible for genital hemodynamic disruption, thereby facilitating a cascade of biochemical and vascular events which may impair normal sexual arousal responses.