Maintaining Your Sex Life With COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive respiratory disorder that can not only affect your breathing but your sex life, as well.

Shortness of breath, one of the hallmarks of COPD, can severely limit the activities you are able to engage in, while coughing, mucus, and fatigue can put a damper on even the most passionate of moments. In the end, everything from your ability to maintain an erection to the speed by which you achieve climax can be impeded by the restriction of air to your lungs.

While there is no denying that COPD can complicate a sex life, it shouldn't stop it. With preparation, communication, and insight, many couples are able to find new and exciting ways to enjoy intimacy while moving past the frustrations that can place undue pressure on a sex life.

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Start by Communicating

Communication is the foundation of any good relationship. In the end, you cannot overcome a sexual problem unless you are able to speak about first. It may be an uncomfortable or unfamiliar thing to do, but consider it the first step to finding a real solution.

If you haven't done so yet, let your partner known which symptoms you experience during sex and whether they are related to specific positions or the strenuousness of an activity. By doing so, you can begin to find strategies to overcome these challenges. They may include:

  • Lying on your side during intercourse, which is not only more comfortable but uses far less energy. Play with positions and find out what works best for you.
  • Agreeing to take little "breathers" if ever sex becomes too strenuous.
  • Talking during sex to check in on how the other is going.
  • Engaging in mutual masturbation, fantasy, and massage which may be less taxing than intercourse or oral sex.
  • Encouraging the partner without COPD to take a more active role.

Tips for Planning Ahead

Timing is everything. While COPD may prevent you from enjoying the same level of spontaneity you experienced in your youth, it also allows you to consider what is truly central to good sex: finding out what your partner enjoys. By planning ahead rather than "winging it," you can be strategic in how to meet those needs within your physical limitations.

Here are just a few things to consider:

  • Plan on having sex when you are rested and have the most energy. Avoid sex immediately after a heavy meal as the post-prandial effects can leave you feeling drained.
  • Make sure the bedroom is at a comfortable temperature. Use a fan or air conditioner to keep you from overheating.
  • Avoid alcohol as this can impair sexual function as much as COPD.
  • To avoid bronchospasm, use a bronchodilator immediately before sex, and keep your inhaler next to the bed in case of a sudden flare-up.
  • You should also try clearing mucus beforehand using controlled coughing or other postural techniques.
  • If you are on supplemental oxygen, plan on using the same amount during sex. You should also use extended tubing so that you are better able to move around.
  • If experiencing erectile dysfunction, speak with your healthcare provider about the appropriate use of Viagra (sildenafil). Some studies suggest that the drug may not only enhance sexual performance but ease breathing restriction.

A Word From Verywell

Sex is about more than just "the moment." In the end, good health is integral to good sex, and the better you feel, the more satisfying your sex life will be.

If you are unable to keep up during sex, focus on improving your fitness and stamina with a structured exercise program. Doing so can also improve your confidence and self-image, both in life and during sex.

You should always advise your healthcare provider before engaging in a workout routine and ask if any of the medications you are taking may contribute to low libido or erectile dysfunction. They sometimes do.

Finally, keep in mind that changes in a person's sex life are often a part of the normal aging process and have nothing to do with COPD. Whatever challenges you face, don't let the specter of COPD hang over you like a cloud. By talking, experimenting, and adjusting your routine, you can overcome many of these obstacles and enter a whole, new phase in your sex life.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

  2. American Lung Association. Intimacy during COPD treatment.

  3. Vitulo P, Stanziola A, Confolonieri M, et al. Sildenafil in severe pulmonary hypertension associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A randomized controlled multicenter clinical trial. J Heart Lung Transplant. 2016; 36(2):166-74. doi:10.1016/j.healun.2016.04.010

By Deborah Leader, RN
 Deborah Leader RN, PHN, is a registered nurse and medical writer who focuses on COPD.