Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) causes wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and other respiratory symptoms. Since good sex is supposed to “leave us breathless,” from the outset, it doesn’t sound like COPD and sex can coincide. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Many people with COPD can and do have happy and fulfilling sex lives with healthy expressions of intimacy. Frequency of sex may decrease, but sexual activity—and fulfillment—is absolutely still possible.
COPD and Sexual Problems
If you have COPD, the thought of having sex can be frightening. Fear of having difficulty breathing while making love, disappointing a partner by being unable to finish, or being too fatigued for sex are just some examples of worries that can cause COPD patients to avoid intimacy altogether. Partners of COPD patients may also fear that sexual activity might cause harm and result in worsening COPD symptoms. However, withdrawing from intimacy and emotionally disconnecting with significant others or giving up on sexual activity isn’t the answer.
A diagnosis of COPD doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life. By keeping a few simple rules of thumb in mind, COPD patients and their partners can still derive great pleasure from sex and intimacy.
Improving Your Sex Life With COPD
The most important ingredient to improving your sex life when you have COPD is communication. You must talk to your partner. Explain to any new partners how COPD might make adjustments to sex necessary. Both you and your partner should be able to express your feelings and fears honestly so issues can be discussed and resolved with mutual satisfaction.
Debilitating fatigue may accompany COPD and can certainly put a damper on sex. But by paying attention to your body’s signals, COPD patients can learn what activities contribute to fatigue and what time of day you’re most tired. Since sex can take a lot of energy, having sex at a time of day when energy is at a higher level can make a big difference. Don’t assume you have to wait until before bedtime—having sex when you’re most rested and taking breaks during sexual activity if needed can make sex easier and more rewarding.
Conserving energy is important for successful sexual activity when dealing with COPD. Avoid alcohol and heavy meals prior to sex to help prevent fatigue. Choice of sexual positions can impact energy as well. The partner who doesn’t have COPD should take the more assertive or dominant role if possible or try side-to-side positions, which use less energy.
Sometimes people with COPD have bronchospasms during sexual activity. To reduce this risk, use your bronchodilator prior to sex and keep it handy so it can be used during or after, as needed. COPD patients should also clean their airway of secretions before sexual activity to reduce the possibility of breathlessness.
If oxygen is used for daily activities, it should be used during sex as well. Ask the oxygen supply company for extended oxygen tubing so there’s more slack between you and the tank. This can help with breathing reduce restricted movement that comes with short oxygen tubing.
COPD and Intimacy
Remember that intimacy isn’t just about intercourse. When someone isn’t feeling up to having intercourse, other ways of expressing intimacy can become just as important. Kissing, cuddling, bathing together, massage, and touch are just a few of the aspects of intimacy that are just as vital as intercourse. Being creative can also be fun. Couples can find that this is a time for them to connect on a whole new level since they must actually think and talk about what they want to do sexually. Some find enhanced pleasure in using sex toys.
It’s important to keep in mind that not all sexual difficulties may be related to COPD. Some may be side effects of medication or natural changes that occur with age. Discussion of sexual issues with health care providers is crucial in addressing concerns.
Expression of love, affection, and sexuality is a part of being human. These things don’t have to change with a COPD diagnosis. Becoming and staying educated is the first step in remaining sexual despite living with COPD.