Smoking after sex is a common association that many adults make. Cigarette companies, advertisers and Hollywood movies have all linked one to the other, making them seem like natural partners. The truth though is more complicated than the popular legend. Rather than heightening or intensifying sexual pleasure, cigarettes have the opposite effect on sexual health:
- Cigarette smoke worsens erectile dysfunction in men who have it
- Women who smoke have higher incidences of infertility
Despite the evidence showing cigarette smoke has adverse effects on sexual and reproductive health, the myth of the post-coital cigarette persists. People still believe after-sex is the right time to light up. Taking a look at the comments smokers leave in Reddit groups gives some insight into why the link continues to exist in their minds:
- “Smoking after exertion feels good,” writes one commenter
- Another writes, “it (smoking) compounds one really good feeling with another”
These, of course, are not scientific statements or claims that can be proven. They only show how strongly the connection exists between puffing away after a love-making session. The roots of this association go far back. They also may explain why the relationship between cigarettes and sex still exist, despite all that is known about the harmful effects of smoking during sex.
Selling the After-Sex Cigarette
The word “cigarettes” is female. At the turn of the last century, men smoked cigars; “cigar-ettes” were meant for the fairer sex (“ettes” is a diminutive suffix in French that is attached to other words to make them feminine).
From the beginning then, smoking was sexualized and divided along gender lines. One only look at early tobacco ads to see how quickly marketers tied sex to smoking and vice-versa. Tobacco advertising from the 1900s and onward shows how companies used explicit imagery to associate smoking with virility, stamina, improved sexual performance.
Only, the act was acceptable for men, not for women. Society viewed ladies who smoked as “fallen” – sexually promiscuous and with “loose morals.” This view changed in the late 1920s and 30s. Cigarette companies turned to a publicist by the name of Edward Bernays (nephew to Sigmund Freud) to attract the other half of the population to their products. Bernays decided to tie women’s liberation to the act of smoking.
He rebranded the sticks of tobacco, “Torches of Freedom.” The effect of Bernays campaign was astounding:
- In 1923, only five percent of American women smoked
- In 1932, the number rose to twelve percent
- In 1965, thirty-three percent of American women smoked
Smoke After Sex: A Symbol of Freedom
Thanks to Bernays’ efforts, women smoking became more acceptable. Not only that but from then on, cigarettes were tied to ideas of emancipation, liberation, and equality for women.
Around the same time that women smoking became more acceptable, the shift in perception translated to depictions of women in film and television. In movies from the 1940s and 50s, alluring and seductive female characters smoked. Because of the association made by Bernays’ campaign, the public understood the symbolism of what a woman and a man smoking together on-screen meant. It was a covert, permissible way to say they were sexually active without saying or showing it.
Audiences made the connection themselves, with the clues proffered up by savvy advertisers like Bernays. Up until the late 1980s when the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) banned cigarette advertising, Big Tobacco’s presence in films and television was undeniable. After the MSA though, fewer and fewer films featured main characters smoking. It was before this time then when the after sex cigarette smoking was cemented in the public’s imagination.
Popular films that had sexually explicit themes all featured characters smoking, before, and after sex. The practice became short-form for implying the characters had just had sex. When shown and seen enough times, audiences just assumed that smoking after sex was a universal custom.
The Myth Continues
Since films and television shows popularized the custom of smoking after sex, people assumed that there was a reason for it. As seen in the Reddit comments above though, the public came up with their reasons. There is no scientific explanation for why people light up post-orgasm. There are theories though.
These popular but unproven reasons on why sexual partners light up after sex has more to do with the nature of nicotine and addiction than with anything linking the two.
- Nicotine – Nicotine cravings begin as soon as someone stops smoking. The longer a person goes without nicotine, perhaps because they are making love, the more intense the withdrawal, but at the same time, the more pleasing it is when the brain finally receives its dose.
- Addiction – To a heavy smoker, smoking is always pleasurable — pleasure centers in the brain reward nicotine consumption by releasing pleasure-causing chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Two hormones also released by orgasm. A cigarette after sex thereby compounds two really good feelings together, to paraphrase the above comment.
- Habit – Smoking is an addictive habit that combines well with other habits, like drinking coffee, regular meals, and, of course, sex, which tends to be a pattern trigger. Smokers tend to have times when they especially enjoy smoking, and if they begin smoking directly after sex, the custom then becomes routine.
The motivations of someone who enjoys post sex smoke may include the above factors, a combination of them, or none at all. What people do or do not enjoy about sex, before, during and after, is personal and subjective, so it is difficult to pin down the exact appeal of smoking after sex.
Looking Past the Smoke
Even though popular media has intertwined smoking and sex, the fact that fewer people are smoking than ever before means the act is not so universal. People have replaced the cancer sticks with other gratifications, like vaping or weed smoking or just going to sleep.
The truth remains that quitting smoking more positively affects sex than tobacco. Only, with cigarettes more stigmatized now than ever, their outsider status still draws in many people. The people who still smoke, despite all the facts, are seen as trumping society’s conventions, just like the women who lit their “Torches of Freedom” before them.
Since the exact ways smoking impacts and impairs sexual functions are not completely understood, the only way to reverse or combat them is to quit smoking. This may be difficult for some, but there are tools available that can help. Prescription medications are available for those who have had difficulties quitting, as well as nicotine replacement products which help with the transition. Vape juices and e-liquids might be without nicotine, but many smokers still use them with e-cigarettes to enjoy it’s a good flavor.