COPD and Sexual Health

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic condition that affects the lungs and airways. It can cause difficulty breathing, coughing, fatigue, weakness, and energy loss. This condition can be associated with anxiety and depression, and since the majority of COPD patients are former or current smokers, sometimes they experience feelings of guilt about their smoking.

Because physical activity prompts heavier breathing, some individuals with COPD may avoid it for fear of triggering their COPD symptoms. Sexual activity can be a way for people to be physically active, so it is important to consider the implications of COPD during sexual activity and make adjustments if necessary.

People with COPD may want to consider making the following adjustments during sexual activity to make it as comfortable and enjoyable as possible:

Recognize that shortness of breath is normal during physical activity.

Some individuals with COPD may be reluctant to engage in sexual activity for fear of worsening COPD symptoms. While it is important to be aware of symptoms and listen to your body, shortness of breath is normal for all people during physical activity, and not necessarily a sign of a problem. Talk to your general practitioner and/or respiratory specialist if you need more information.

Gradually work up to more involved sexual activities.

If you are concerned about your COPD symptoms acting up during sex, it is a good idea to gradually work up to more involved activities. You and your partner can consider trying sensate focus therapy, which progresses from nonsexual touching to sexual touching to (usually) penetrative sex.

Try sexual positions that don’t interfere with long-term oxygen treatment devices.

Some COPD patients use long-term oxygen treatment that delivers oxygen from a container through a nasal cannula. If your health care provider recommends you keep the device on during sex, experiment with different sexual positions that will not be compromised by it.

If possible, remove the long-term oxygen treatment device during sex.

Generally, removing your long-term oxygen treatment device for a short period of time will not impede its long-term effects. Therefore, you may be able to remove this device during sexual activity without issue. Again, speak with your general practitioner or respiratory specialist if in doubt.

Communicate openly with your sexual partner(s).

It can be very helpful to include your sexual partner in any medical conversations you have with your health care providers regarding sexual health. Additionally, engaging in conversations about the impact of COPD, needs for sexual intimacy, long-term oxygen treatment, and shifts in relationship roles (i.e., becoming “patient” and “caregiver”) can set the stage for more successful sexual experiences.


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