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.
In general, the worse your underlying COPD, the more often you will have exacerbations. Acute exacerbations cannot be totally prevented. However, you can decrease how often you have them and how bad they are if you manage your care well.
General guidelines for reducing exacerbations include:
Wash your hands often. It is an easy way to prevent infection. Also, avoid close contact with people who have colds or the flu.
Keep your flu and pneumonia shots up to date.
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.