Pharmacologic and behavioral effects of alcohol on male sexual activity have long been controversial. Among the varied effects of alcohol, it has been described that ethanol reduces nitric oxide production. Appreciating the importance of nitric oxide-mediated regulation of corporal smooth muscle, this study was designed to investigate the in vitro pharmacologic effect of 1-5% ethanol on rabbit corpus cavernosum function. The results are summarized as follows. In isolated organ bath experiments, basal resting tension of corporal strips was significantly reduced with 3 and 5% ethanol exposure. Relaxation induced by field stimulation over a frequency range of 2-16 Hz was significantly decreased with 3 and 5% ethanol exposure. However, field-stimulated contraction at 32 Hz was reduced by 5% ethanol only. When corporal strips were prein-cubated with phenylephrine, 3 and 5% ethanol significantly inhibited field stimulated relaxation at all frequencies. Both phasic and tonic contraction induced by phenylephrine was significantly suppressed by 3 and 5% ethanol. KCl-induced contraction was decreased by 5% ethanol. ATP-induced relaxation was significantly enhanced by 1, 3 and 5% ethanol. Bethanechol-induced relaxation was significantly suppressed by 1, 3 and 5% ethanol. Direct nitroprusside-induced relaxation was not affected by any concentration of ethanol administration. These results demonstrated that ethanol had significant effects on both contraction and relaxation of rabbit corpus cavernosum. In general, corporal relaxation mediated through the acetylcholine-L-arginine-nitric oxide pathway was significantly more sensitive to ethanol than either ATP- or nitroprusside-induced relaxation.