Nitric oxide (NO) may mediate penile erection by inhibiting smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa, thereby allowing vasodilation of the corpora. In order to test the role of NO in the sexual function of intact male rats, either the precursor of NO (L-arginine, L-Arg) or an inhibitor of its synthesis (NG-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester, NAME) was administered systemically before tests of copulation, ex copula genital reflexes, or sexual motivation/motor activity. NAME impaired copulation in a dose dependent manner. It also decreased the number of ex copula erections, but it increased the number of ex copula seminal emissions and decreased the latency to the first seminal emission. L-Arg marginally increased the number of penile reflexes, but had no other effects. NAME had no effect on sexual motivation or motor activity. The results indicate that nitric oxide promotes erection in intact male rats, probably by mediating filling of the corpora cavernosa. The data also suggest that NO inhibits seminal emission, probably by decreasing sympathetic nervous system activity; this may help prevent premature ejaculation.