The Dangerous Health Habit That Can Make Penises Shrink

Penile growth is one of the many bodily changes adolescents with penises undergo as they approach their teen years. While the organ continues to grow in length and circumference — sometimes well into early adulthood — this growth eventually reaches a stopping point. As we enter older adulthood, however, the opposite can occur, otherwise known as penile shrinkage or penile atrophy, explain experts at the Columbus Men's Clinic.

Among the various hormonal changes we experience as we age, a dip in testosterone levels is one of them. For people with penises, this can result in penile shrinkage, muscle loss, reduced libido, erectile dysfunction (ED), and more. Penile atrophy has also been linked with certain health conditions, including diabetes or high blood pressure, according to Ochsner Health. Lifestyle habits can also have an effect. This includes smoking, which is one dangerous health habit that may shorten the length of the penis.

The link between smoking and erectile dysfunction

So what's considered an average penis length to begin with? In an examination of over 30 studies, findings of a 2021 scientific review published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that the average erect penis measured between 5.1 and 5.5 inches in length. Smoking, however, has been linked to erectile dysfunction (ED), which is characterized by difficulty attaining and/or sustaining an erection for satisfying sexual performance.

Among the many effects smoking is thought to have on penile functioning, blood vessel damage is one of them, according to a 2014 scientific review published in Andrologia. This damage promotes arterial stiffness and impacts blood vessels' elasticity, hindering their ability to widen. Without adequate blood flow, erection frequency decreases. Without the routine stretching of the penis that takes place during an erection, experts at Ochsner Health explain that penile shrinkage can occur. Alternatively, smoking is thought to exacerbate ED symptoms by reducing levels of nitric oxide in the body, a key player in the relaxation of penile smooth muscle (via International Journal of Impotence Research).

Depending on how much you smoke, quitting may improve ED symptoms

While smoking may potentially increase the risk of penile shrinkage, researchers from the previously mentioned 2013 study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research cite evidence indicating that quitting smoking may have immediate positive effects on ED symptoms — with some early research showing improvements in as little as one day. Find out if a 'quit smoking' program may be right for you.

This may not be the case for people with penises who smoke heavily, however. Researchers from the 2014 scientific review published in Andrologia highlight an early study showing that smoking upwards of 20 cigarettes daily increased the risk of severe ED compared to individuals who smoked fewer cigarettes. In cases of heavy cigarette use, research suggests that quitting smoking may not be effective in reversing ED symptoms. In addition to not smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, minimizing alcohol consumption, and getting regular exercise are all ways to reduce one's risk of penile atrophy. While some experts suggest Botox injections may improve penile shrinkage (via The Youth Fountain), reach out to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of ED. You don't want to leave erectile dysfunction untreated, and your doctor can help determine which treatment options may be best for you.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).