Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for chronic lung conditions that cause difficulty breathing. This may have an impact on a person’s sex life. But people living with COPD can still have active and fulfilling sexual relations.
While there is currently no cure for COPD, treatments can help a person to control symptoms and manage the condition. Despite this, having sex may become more difficult with COPD, as some positions can put pressure on a person’s chest or constrict their airways. Additionally, the physical exertion of sex may also make symptoms worse.
Managing treatments, open communication, and finding suitable sex positions can help people to control their symptoms and enjoy sexual activities.
In this article, we will discuss some sex positions people with COPD may consider trying and suggest other tips to help with intimacy.
COPD refers to chronic conditions that affect the lungs, such as bronchitis and emphysema. A person with COPD may regularly experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, a chronic cough, or wheezing. These symptoms may get worse with physical exertion.
There is currently no cure for COPD. Treatments cannot reverse damage to the lungs, but they can help manage symptoms and control exacerbations of COPD or help prevent further damage in the lungs.
Even with treatment, COPD can make some regular activities difficult. As COPD progresses, the increasing breathlessness can make it difficult for people to participate in strenuous activities such as sex. Some people may also find that this level of activity exacerbates some symptoms of COPD.
A 2020 study notes that 60% of sexually active people with COPD had to make changes to their sexual life because of COPD. Symptoms frequently caused sexual dysfunction, including reduced sexual desire and sexual appetite.
COPD may also contribute to other factors that may impact sex, such as erectile dysfunction. Some evidence suggests that lower blood oxygen levels, psychological factors, and other associated conditions such as sleep apnea and diabetes may affect erections.
Despite evidence that people with COPD may be at a higher risk for sexual dysfunction, there are currently no specific guidelines on how best to engage with people who have COPD regarding their sexual well‐being. As such, it is important for healthcare professionals to discuss potential sexual problems.
Similar to other aspects of daily life, making some simple changes, such as communicating and finding less strenuous positions, may help a person with COPD achieve sexual satisfaction.
For people who find sex difficult due to COPD symptoms, experimenting with sex positions may help keep sex enjoyable without putting too much stress on the body or making symptoms worse. Sex is about having fun and connecting with a partner, so it is important to communicate during sex and state whether a position is comfortable and pleasurable. Some positions to consider may include:
Lying on the side
Lying on the side, or “spooning,” during sex may help keep both parties from exerting themselves too much. The position is simple and allows for easy penetration without too much work from either person. Alternatively, people can also face each other while on their side.
The partner with COPD laying down
As it is less likely to be an exertive position, the person with COPD can lie on their back while their partner is on top, in either the missionary or a riding position. This position may also benefit from the use of pillows to help prop the torso up to ensure they stay at an incline and can breathe easily. It is important that the partner on top does not press down on the other’s chest.
People can also try to utilize a kneeling position to make intercourse easier. This could involve one partner sitting on the edge of the bed while the other kneels in front of them, or both partners kneeling, with one bending over and resting their chest on the bed.
The exact sexual position that works best for a person with COPD will vary in each case. It is an individual process that the person and their partner should explore together to identify what feels best. Other intimacy tips that may help include:
Communication is a key part of any sexual encounter and may be especially important when working around a chronic condition such as COPD. Both partners should work together to express what they need to feel sexual satisfaction and how they can both get there.
If certain positions do not work or make symptoms difficult, the partners can work together to find alternatives.
Sexual experience is personal, and everyone is different. Experimenting with a partner can help both parties identify what works best for them, both individually and as a couple.
Setting the mood for sex is important, and staying comfortable may help a person with COPD stay in the mood. This may vary from person to person, but can include factors such as:
- how rested a person is
- if they are breathing easily
- staying at a comfortable temperature
- being in a comfortable position
- avoiding sex after a heavy meal or heavy drinking
- avoiding potential irritants such as candles with heavy fragrance or incense smoke
The American Lung Association also recommends planning for sexual activity when the long-acting medication is at its peak. This may vary slightly with each medication, but may help keep the person comfortable and avoid symptoms.
Take a break
Nerves or excitement may be normal in sexual encounters, but if symptoms of breathlessness show up, slow down or take a break. Take some slow, deep breaths together to relax, and take a reliever inhaler if necessary. Some gentle touching may keep arousal levels high while a person catches their breath.
Using toys and other sexual aides may also help reduce the physical demands of sex by providing other, less strenuous forms of stimulation.
For example, using a vibrator or massager may be a useful way to stimulate and pleasure a partner without too much physical exertion.
Getting or staying physically active is important for COPD and may help with symptoms from sex. Exercise can help build endurance in the body and lungs, which may help prevent a person from getting too exhausted during sex.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a combination of an educational and exercise program to help those with COPD work toward less shortness of breath while understanding more about COPD. Insurance or Medicare may cover pulmonary rehabilitation in some cases.
Sex is just one form of intimacy, and it may be too physically demanding at times, whether due to COPD or other factors such as age. There are other ways to stay intimate with a partner without having sex, which may help increase feelings of arousal and closeness when intercourse is not feasible.
Any activities a person and their partner can do together can be intimate activities. Some other forms of intimacy can include:
- gentle touching and massages
- bathing or showering together
- playing with each other’s hair
- doing everyday activities together, such as cooking or walking together
Anyone who is having difficulty with COPD symptoms while doing daily tasks should talk with their doctor to explore their treatment options.
If sexual activity is too exhausting or causes symptoms to get worse, it is advisable to speak with a doctor. As awareness of potential sexual dysfunction is increasing among people living with COPD, doctors are more likely to provide sexual guidance to improve the quality of sexual life during consultations.
This may include recommendations such as using a medicated inhaler before sexual activity to help with symptoms, referring the person to pulmonary rehabilitation to help control lifestyle factors of COPD, or suggest strategies to make sex less strenuous.
COPD symptoms can make some aspects of daily life difficult. If symptoms such as trouble breathing or coughing interrupt sexual activities, making some changes may help avoid these issues.
Some sexual positions are less demanding than others and may be better for those with COPD. The person with COPD and their partner can experiment with different positions and ideas to find what works best in their specific situation to bring pleasure while avoiding exacerbations.