COPD and Sex

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Ideally, you should feel comfortable talking to your doctor about any of your health concerns, but it’s understandable that some topics might be hard to bring up. If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), one difficult topic might be how this lung disease will affect your sex life. While this is not meant to replace a conversation with your doctor about your individual situation, let’s take a closer look at what occurs with COPD and what you can do to help maintain a satisfying sex life.   

What is COPD?

COPD is a disease that causes difficulty with the airflow from the lungs and often appears in middle-age. Smoking is the most common cause, but it can also occur after exposure to lung irritants, like air pollution or chemicals. In rare cases, it can be caused by a genetic disorder.

COPD is linked to two different conditions- emphysema and chronic bronchitis. With emphysema, the tiny air sacs in your lungs, called alveoli, are damaged, making it harder for them to inflate and deflate with each breath. With chronic bronchitis, the small airways in yours lungs, called bronchioles, become inflamed and clogged with mucus, also making it hard to breathe.

Symptoms of COPD include:

Treatment can slow the progression of COPD, but the damage to the lungs is not reversible. Patients with COPD may find they have a hard time with physical activity, including sex.

COPD treatments and therapies may help with your sex life.

Many of the same things you regulary do to manage your COPD can also make it easier and more enjoyable to have sex.  

  • Participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. These programs are designed to teach you about proper exercise and nutrition and provide counseling as needed. Improving your overall health can help you tolerate physical activity, like sex, better.

  • Take your medications as directed. Many patients with COPD are on medications, such as bronchodilators and steroids, to reduce inflammation and relax the airways. Make sure you aren’t skipping doses. Also, many people find using their short-acting bronchodilator inhaler before having sex can help improve shortness of breath or wheezing.

  • Use your oxygen as needed. If you require oxygen when you are doing something active, you’ll probably find that you feel better if you also use it during sex.

  • Clear your airways. If you produce a lot of mucus, try to clear it out before having sex. Practice controlled coughing to remove mucus from deep within the lungs, or use chest percussion, where you or someone else taps on your chest to loosen mucus that is present. Drink water, or use a humidifier to help too.

  • Practice your breathing techniques if you start to feel short of breath. You have probably been taught pursed-lip breathing, where you inhale through your nose and exhale with your lips “pursed” together as though you were whistling. Exhale longer than you inhale. Take some time to breathe slowly this way until the feeling passes.

Consider these other tips to make your sex life better when you have COPD.

You need to feel comfortable if you want your sex to be enjoyable. Here are some additional factors to consider:

  • Try to have sex when you are feeling rested and your breathing is good.

  • Keep the room a comfortable temperature, not too hot or cold.

  • Avoid things in the room that can trigger your COPD symptoms. This includes dust and smoke, or even strong fragrances for some people.

  • Remember that large meals may make you tired, and alcohol can slow sexual performance. Try to refrain from sex during these times.

  • Talk to your partner. Don’t be afraid to express your concerns, and allow your partner to help you as needed. Sometimes trying a different position or taking it slowly can help. Use this time to connect.

Though more research is needed in the area of COPD and sex, previous studies have pointed to the importance of addressing sexuality issues with your doctor. In addition, research has shown that depression and anxiety often occur along with COPD, and this can further exacerbate sexual difficulties. It might be a harder discussion to initiate with your doctor, but recognize that your quality of life is impacted by your sexual experience. Your doctor may be able to help.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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