How to Maintain Your Sex Life After a COPD Diagnosis

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD) is a debilitating illness that can dramatically affect many areas of your life, including your sexuality.

Sadly, for many couples, sex and COPD most definitely do not go hand in hand, mostly because of the fear of shortness of breath during times of sexual intimacy. This fear can become so great that people with COPD may begin to avoid it altogether.

Moreover, if they do become intimate, they may be unable to maintain sexual arousal or reach climax.

The partner who doesn't have COPD may also hesitate before sexual activity, thinking that sex may not be in the best interest of the person who has COPD. While nothing could be further from the truth, fear, and anxiety surrounding these types of sexual concerns can often lead to feelings of frustration, loneliness, and isolation for both people.

The good news is, avoiding sexual intimacy is not the answer, and a diagnosis of COPD does not mean the end of your sex life. With a patient partner and some sound advice regarding COPD and sexuality, you can enjoy sexual intimacy once again.


  • First and foremost, talk with your partner honestly regarding your feelings about having sex. This will keep the lines of communication open and allow your partner to express his or her feelings in return.
  • Discuss which sex position will require the least amount of energy. For example, lying side to side during intercourse is much more comfortable and uses far less energy than the top/bottom position.
  • Ask the partner who doesn't have COPD to assume more of an active role during sex so that the COPD partner will be less fatigued.
  • If both partners agree, consider incorporating sexual aids to achieve a more satisfying experience.

Plan Ahead

  • Since sexual activity takes energy, plan to engage in sex when you are feeling most rested. If necessary, take short breaks during sex.
  • Avoid sexual activity immediately following a heavy meal. This may increase your fatigability.
  • Make sure that the room is at a comfortable temperature prior to engaging in sex. Use a fan during intercourse to keep from overheating.
  • Avoid alcohol prior to having sex as it can interfere with your sexual abilities.

Take Some Medical Precautions

  • To avoid bronchospasm during intercourse, use a bronchodilator immediately prior to (and during) sexual relations, if necessary.
  • If you use supplemental oxygen, plan on using the same amount during sexual activity. If you want, use extended tubing so there is enough to allow you to place the oxygen tank away from the bed or completely out of the room.
  • Clear your mucus prior to engaging in sexual activity. This may lessen the severity of breathlessness during sex. If you are having difficulty clearing your airway, try the controlled coughing technique.

Extra Ways to Enhance Your Sex Life

Now that you know how to enhance sexual intimacy in the bedroom, there are some aspects of sex and COPD that may be of further interest to you.

Remember, while COPD may decrease the frequency and duration of sexual activity, it does not diminish sexual ability.

  • Beginning an exercise program will help you build your activity tolerance which, in turn, will make the sexual activity easier and reduce your shortness of breath (both in and out of the bedroom).
  • Many medications have side effects that may affect your sex drive. Be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about this. 
  • Keep in mind that some changes in sexuality are a normal part of the aging process and have nothing to do with COPD, such as slower arousal time or delayed orgasm. This knowledge may give you more confidence in the bedroom. 

    Expressing the love that you have for your partner through sexuality is a wonderful part of human nature. Having COPD or any other chronic illness should not change that.


    • Living With COPD. The Canadian Lung Association. 2008.

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