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Sex and COPD: 9 Tips for Intimacy

Medically reviewed by Angelica Balingit, M.D.
Written by Sarah Winfrey
Posted on August 23, 2023

If living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has changed your sex life, you aren’t alone. Up to 60 percent of people with the condition say they’ve had to make changes to their intimate lives due to symptoms of COPD like fatigue, breathlessness, and more.

Sexual health adjustments following a COPD diagnosis may include changes to your frequency, rhythm, or positions while having sex. Overall, people with COPD report changes to their sexuality (sexual problems) and lower satisfaction with their sex lives than individuals in the general population.

Several MyCOPDTeam members have had experiences that support this. “My wife and I have talked about this, and both of us agree our sex/intimacy has diminished to the extent we don’t share it anymore,” one member wrote. Another added, “Sex and COPD don’t go well together for me.”

If you feel like you aren’t having the sex that you want to have because of COPD, there are a few things you can do. These suggestions may not all work for you, but trial and error should show you what does work so you can continue having intimate moments with your significant other to make you feel better and improve your quality of life.

1. Try a New Position

If your traditional sexual positions aren’t possible anymore, try out some new ones. This is a great time to get creative and find out what works for you and your body. Doctors recommend several positions that may make sex easier with COPD.

Some suggest you try lying side by side. This position can be less strenuous and may put less pressure on your lungs.

If that doesn’t work for you, try some seated positions. Sit in a way that is comfortable for you and let your partner figure out how to make sex in that position work for them.

Standing works well for some people with COPD, especially if it makes it easier for you to keep your oxygen on while having sexual intercourse.

Using pillows for support while your partner moves around you could also enable you to get into a position that works for your breathing. Pillows allow for a lot of flexibility, so you can be supported no matter how you need to position yourself for maximum comfort.

2. Have Patience

Be patient with yourself and with your partner. You are learning how to care for each other in new and different circumstances, and that can take time. You may need to try several different things and work with your health care professional until you can find a way to enjoy intimacy while living with COPD.

Understanding the ways that COPD does and does not limit you can help you have realistic expectations. As one MyCOPDTeam member said, “Just accept that you have limitations. I think that’s the biggest hurdle to get over.”

3. Talk It Out

Talk to your partner about the ways COPD is changing your relationship. Be open and honest about how it’s affecting you both and how you feel about it. This way, you can continue having emotional intimacy while you are experimenting with what works physically.

If you need different things from your partner than you used to, tell them that, too. Let them know if you need them to move somewhere else, take the lead, or be more active in your sexual relationship.

4. Use Breathing Exercises

Certain breathing exercises, like pursed lip breathing, can help you improve your oxygen levels before sex to avoid breathing problems during intercourse. You can also stop and perform these at any time during sex if you find that you’re getting short of breath or need some extra oxygen. You may not think that these are attractive or that your partner will understand, but they would likely rather ensure that you’re comfortable and may even join you in the exercises.

5. Find the Best Time

Some people living with COPD often notice that they feel better during specific times of the day. If you’re one of them, consider planning intimate moments when you feel your best. This might mean adjusting your schedule a bit, but it could be worthwhile for you and your partner to share enjoyable moments.

6. Improve Your Overall Fitness

You can’t undo the damage done by COPD, but you can work with your health care provider to keep yourself as fit as possible. Talk to them about what you can do, including any physical activity specialists they recommend you work with.

Although you may not be able to make improvements to your condition, you might be able to keep yourself feeling better for longer, despite your COPD. This means sex will be easier rather than harder, too, which is always a good thing.

7. Treat Erectile Dysfunction

While findings are still in the early stages and more research is necessary, people with a COPD diagnosis may be more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than those without the condition.

If sexual dysfunction is part of what’s keeping you from having sex or from enjoying it like you used to, talk to your doctor about what you can do to improve your condition. They should be able to help you find the best medication for you and make sure that it doesn’t interfere with any medications you’re taking for COPD.

8. Use Oxygen During Sex

If you rely on supplemental oxygen for other activities, consider using it while having sex. If you aren’t on it but would like to see if it helps with sexual relations, talk to your doctor about how you can try it out. It may make your breathlessness a thing of the past.

One MyCOPDTeam member recommended this. “Just keep your O2 on, breathe easy, and enjoy, you will know when to stop,” they said when encouraging someone else to have hope that intimacy was still possible for them.

Make sure you understand how your oxygen machine works and that you have extended oxygen tubing so you can be comfortable while engaging in sexual activity. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about how this might work for you.

9. Take Your Medications Before Sex

Use your short-acting bronchodilator by inhaler or nebulizer before you have sex. This step gives you the best possible chance of making it through without experiencing shortness of breath. You can use these medications again if you need to rest in the middle of sexual activity.

Consult Your COPD Medical Team

If COPD is interfering with your sex life in ways that are intolerable to you, talk to your doctor today. It may seem like an embarrassing topic to bring up, but you should feel comfortable being open and honest. Your doctor can talk with you about sexual issues in a way that honors your needs and desires. That way, they can make suggestions or offer ideas that might help improve your sex life.

Talk to your doctor whenever you have new symptoms or if you feel like your ability to function is changing. If sex is just becoming hard with COPD, make sure you note this because it’s important information for your medical team to have.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyCOPDTeam is the social network for people with COPD and their loved ones. On MyCOPDTeam, more than 119,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with COPD.

Are you interested in ideas to improve your sex life with COPD? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on August 23, 2023
    All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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    Angelica Balingit, M.D. is a specialist in internal medicine, board certified since 1996. Learn more about her here
    Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here

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