Sex and COPD

Friday, August 19, 2016


Dear Patrick: I was diagnosed with COPD a few months ago. It is a problem I got from a job in the manufacturing industry, being around too many solvents. Before the diagnosis, my doctor told me I had asthma, and I used various inhalers. I am noticing that the shortness of breath is affecting my sex life. I am having a hard time continuing to enjoy intercourse when I reach a point where I feel light-headed, as if I might faint. My muscles become weak, and I can’t trust myself to continue thrusting the way I want to move to express my passion and please my partner. If I am able to have an orgasm, it is brief and pretty weak.

My doctor is elderly and rather conservative. I would rather not discuss this with him. Do you have any recommendations for people with COPD and other breathing conditions who would like to enjoy sex for as long as possible? I love my husband. We have been married for 23 years, and I intend to keep on making love with him until the good Lord takes one of us away.


Dear Wheezy: I really think you need to find a new doctor, somebody you are comfortable asking questions about sexuality. You don’t have to tell him or her that you are gay, if that is the issue, but you do need to bring up the problems you have been having during intercourse. It may be that your current medications for COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) are not adequately controlling your symptoms. It could also be that you are having other problems, perhaps with your heart. Only a physician can tell us what is really going on with your body and give us better information about what you can do to address these problems.

Without that information, all I can recommend are things that will no do any harm, regardless of your diagnosis. I would suggest that you try to manage your sexual encounters so they take place during the peak effectiveness of your medication. Having sex when your breathing is at its best is a wise practice. Make sure the room where you are having sex is set up to promote good breathing. Eliminate all allergens and make sure the humidity is correct. This may mean you need to get allergy-proof covers for your mattress and pillows, and buy a humidifier that is rigorously cleaned (or a de-humidifier, depending on where you live). Positions that don’t require you to take the most active role might also help. If your partner can be on top, for example, he can do most of the active movement, so that you are not thrusting quite as much. This could help your breathing somewhat.

Please remember that there are a lot of ways to have sex. If active intercourse is not going to be possible for you, get some toys you can use for penetration. I know this isn’t ideal, but it is better than giving up intimacy altogether. Would oral sex or manual stimulation be less challenging than intercourse? Experiment a bit and see what is possible. Please be honest with your partner about what is going on with you, and let him contribute his ingenuity to the process. He may be able to come up with a solution that you and I might overlook.