Last Updated on March 29, 2003 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

By Carol McGruder

Most of us, who were around during the party days of the late seventies, have a special place reserved in our hearts for Marvelous Marvin Gaye.

His sexual, sensuous, and at the time over the top “I Want You” album, sold millions of copies. His hypnotic hit single “Gotta Give it Up” dominated the charts for months, and it was not unusual for it to be played back to back for an hour at a time in nightclubs.

In those days people worked up a sweat that trickled down the middle of their backs when they danced! Even today people of that generation need but hear the first few beats of that song and they immediately stand and hobble, I mean make their way to the dance floor.

Things have changed a bit though, now when we dance to that song it seems we need Marvin’s constant encouragement of “keep on dancing, gotta give it up,” to make it through the whole record.

But we were young then, we were energetic, and we were full of hormones. Some of us spent so much energy trying to suppress our healthy libidos‚ that we never imagined that one-day life would come full circle and instead of trying to give (or not) it up, some of us would be trying to get or keep it up.

Though I make light of this situation, we need only to look at Viagra sales to know that penile erectile dysfunction is a very serious problem that plagues millions of men the world over.

While there are many causes of penile erectile dysfunction, such as stress, diabetes, and medications used to treat high blood pressure, there is one cause that doesn’t get enough attention — smoking. Cigarette smoking is a very common cause of impotence in men. Smoking actually increases the risk of impotence by 50% for men in their 30’s and 40’s.

Without getting into the hard scientific details, smoking affects blood flow and healthy blood flow is necessary to achieve and maintain an erection. We all know that diabetics who smoke are at much greater risk for circulatory problems, slow wound healing, and amputations.

This is because smoking accelerates hardening of the arteries, constricting and blocking blood vessels, thereby diminishing blood flow. Smoking also reduces sperm count and impairs sperm motility.

According to Dr. John Spangler of Wake Forest University, smoking “has both acute and chronic effects on erectile physiology,” and inhibits the ability to achieve full erection.

A study that he conducted among men with high blood pressure who smoke concluded that they are 26 times more likely to have erectile dysfunction impotence than nonsmokers, a rate that is twice that of former smokers.

How ironic that smoking is marketed to men as a macho and manly thing to do, actually viewed by many as a rite of passage to manhood. Ironic that something so associated with masculinity can lead its user to impotence.

Usually when this issue comes up around a group of men who smoke, they all look at each other, as if to say “not me” and that may be true for now. But smoking related impotency can strike relatively young men and the problem is that when it hits it can be swift, sudden and very hard to reverse. Personally, not something I would want my mate to take a chance with!

Generally, when I talk to Black smokers about smoking, I am often greeted with the quick retort, “gotta die of something” and that is true, we all must die of something. But death from smoking related diseases is a thousand small deaths, with many indignities suffered along the way.

Male impotence is just one of them.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Former Surgeon General, Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Known the world over for her candor and forth rightfulness, I asked her if she regretted her response to the infamous “masturbation” question and her subsequent stepping down from her role as Surgeon General of the United States.

Dr. Elders smiled and responded that she didn’t regret a thing, “the truth is the truth and I already had a job when I came to Washington.” Though I hope this article generates some healthy discussion, I pray I don’t meet the same fate as my esteemed Dr. Elders.

No don’t kill the messenger, let’s face the truth, if you want to keep it up, you gotta give it up-those cigarettes that is.

Carol McGruder, ( is the Project Director of the AFRICAN AMERICAN MEDIA ADVOCACY PROJECT-aamap. aamap is a project of The URSA Institute and is funded through The American Legacy Foundation. AAMAP does not necessarily represent the views of The American Legacy Foundation, Foundation Staff, or its Board of Directors.