an older man and woman rub noses. The man is full of bright-colored scribbles to indicate COPD

Sexual Health and Intimacy With COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an ongoing (chronic) condition. COPD affects the lungs. It can cause difficulty breathing, coughing, or a loss of energy. These symptoms can impact many different areas of your life.1,2

One area of your life that COPD can change is your sexual health and intimacy with your partner or partners. Sexual activity and intimacy can be an important part of mental health. Luckily, there are steps you can take to manage how COPD affects your sexual health.1,2

How does COPD impact intimacy?

COPD can affect sexual health in several ways. Physical activity causes heavier breathing and may trigger COPD symptoms. Some people with COPD avoid physical activity for fear of making their symptoms worse. Sexual activity is a way of being physically active. Some people with COPD avoid it or struggle to feel comfortable during it.1,2

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Additionally, rates of erectile dysfunction (ED) are higher for people with COPD. ED is a condition that makes it difficult to hold an erection long enough to be sexually active. One study found people with COPD were about 25 percent more likely to have ED. We do not know exactly why COPD is linked with ED. One possibility is the link between smoking and COPD. Smokers also have higher rates of ED.3,4

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Research on COPD and sexual health

It is very common to feel that COPD has an effect on your sexual activity. Studies usually find about 60 to 90 percent of people with COPD report an impact. The most common symptoms that affect sexual activity are:2,3

  • Tiredness
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Difficulty breathing

Research also shows that as COPD progresses, it changes sexual health more. People who have mild symptoms may not see an effect on their intimacy.3,4

Managing COPD and intimacy

If you have COPD, you may feel out of breath during sexual activity. Feeling out of breath is uncomfortable. But, it is not always a sign of a problem. Talk with your doctor about what to expect during physical activity.1,2

There are other steps you can take to help manage your COPD and how it affects your sexual activity. Tips that can help include:1-3

  • Communicate with your partner about your COPD and concerns.
  • Try different positions to see if any are more manageable or comfortable for you.
  • Experiment with rhythm to see if a slower rhythm is easier to manage.
  • Start with activities that do not need as much energy. You can gradually increase the physical intensity.
  • Make use of the treatments available for your symptoms. For example, some people use their bronchodilator before or during sexual activity. You can also take medicine for ED.
  • If it is safe, remove your oxygen treatment during sexual activity. If you need to keep it on, try to find positions that make it more comfortable.

For many people, sexual health is an important part of quality of life. If you struggle with COPD and sexual activity, talk with your doctor. You may feel uneasy bringing it up. But your doctor may be able to help you find safe and comfortable ways to manage intimacy.4

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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