Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) causes wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and other respiratory symptoms. The common conception is that good sex should leave us breathless. Does that mean that good sex and COPD can’t coincide?

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 possible.

If you have COPD, the thought of having sex can be frightening. You may fear having difficulty breathing while making love, or disappointing a partner by being unable to finish. Or you may be afraid of being too fatigued for sex. These are just some 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. But withdrawing from intimacy, emotionally disconnecting from significant others, or giving up on sexual activity isn’t the answer.

A diagnosis of COPD doesn’t mean the end of your sex life. Keeping a few simple rules in mind can help COPD patients and their partners derive great pleasure from sex and intimacy.


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 may affect sex. Both you and your partner should be able to express your feelings and fears honestly so you can discuss and resolve issues with mutual satisfaction.

Listen to Your Body

Debilitating fatigue may accompany COPD and can put a damper on sex. Pay attention to your body’s signals to 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 bedtime — having sex when you’re most rested and taking breaks during sexual activity if needed can make sex easier and more rewarding.

Conserve Your Energy

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. Try side-to-side positions, which use less energy.

Use Your Bronchodilator

Sometimes people with COPD have bronchospasms during sexual activity. To reduce this risk, use your bronchodilator prior to sex. Keep it handy so you can use it during or after sex, as needed. Clean your airway of secretions before sexual activity to reduce the possibility of breathlessness.

Use Oxygen

If you use oxygen for daily activities, you should also use it during sex. Ask the oxygen supply company for extended oxygen tubing so there’s more slack between you and the tank. This can help with breathing and reduce restricted movement that comes with short oxygen tubing.

Remember that intimacy isn’t just about intercourse. When you’re not feeling up to having intercourse, other ways of expressing intimacy can become just as important. Kissing, cuddling, bathing together, massage, and touch are 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 related to side effects of medication or natural changes that occur with age. Discussing any sexual issues with your doctor 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 about COPD is the first step in remaining sexual.

Preparing for intercourse can make the experience feel more natural and relaxed. Listen to your body, communicate with your partner, and be open to new sexual experiences. These steps will help you lead a fulfilling sex life while living with COPD.