If you or your partner are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you may be wondering what effect COPD will have on your sexuality. Will sex be possible? Will it be safe? Satisfying?
COPD symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath will almost certainly change the way you and your partner express yourselves sexually. But that doesn’t mean you must bid adieu to sex or other forms of physical intimacy.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure both cause difficulty breathing. For people who have both COPD and heart failure, identifying the cause of breathing symptoms can be challenging.
Of course, good sex isn’t automatic when COPD is in the picture. To get things right, it’s essential to talk about sex with your partner (or, if you’re single, with prospective partners).
“I tell my patients to approach the subject openly and directly,” says Robert A. (Sandy) Sandhaus, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health hospital in Denver and a member of the medical and scientific advisory board of the COPD Foundation. “Starting the conversation is often the most important step -- and the biggest hump to get over.”
If you’re uncomfortable with a face-to-face talk, consider communicating with your partner or prospective partner via telephone or letter. Make it clear what you want and expect from sex, ask what your partner wants and expects, and do your best to agree upon the steps you’ll take together to overcome any sexual problems that arise.
Here are nine helpful strategies for sex and intimacy when you have COPD:
1. Get Fit
Not sure you or your partner has the stamina for sex? Ramping up your fitness regimens might prove helpful.
Maybe it would help to initiate a program of walking or gentle exercises. Perhaps it would make sense to join -- or rejoin -- a local hospital’s pulmonary rehabilitation program.
“Rehab programs aren’t limited to people who are newly diagnosed with COPD,” says COPD specialist Teresa T. Goodell, PhD, RN, assistant professor of nursing at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “They‘re for anyone who needs to build exercise tolerance. They provide a safe place to exercise and help show people with COPD that it’s safe to exercise.”
Rehab programs typically meet once or twice a week for up to six months.
2. Pick the Right Time
Good sex needn’t require expending lots of energy. “The energy requirements for sex aren’t that different from the energy requirements for doing other things,” says Barbara Rogers, president and CEO of the Emphysema/COPD Association in New York City.
“If you can walk up two flights of stairs or walk briskly, you can probably handle sex,” she says.
Still, people with COPD sometimes become fatigued during sex. To make sure you or your partner doesn’t poop out, schedule sexual encounters for a time of day when the partner with COPD feels most energetic.
True, scheduling sex means forgoing the spontaneity that often makes for good sex. But requesting sex in the form of a flirtatious note can add a dash of excitement. Or you and your partner might wink at one another (or come up with another sign) to indicate that you’d like to “turn in early.” Make scheduling sex an erotic game, not a chore.