What is COPD?
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a general term referring to lung diseases and conditions which restrict or obstruct air flow. Some of the most common cases of COPD are chronic asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. The symptoms of COPD include: breathlessness, excessive coughing, chest pressure, wheezing, excessive mucus buildup, and extreme fatigue. Symptoms can vary in severity with some sufferers living a productive life and others unable to perform simple daily tasks.
Sex and COPD
Men and women suffering from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease experience problems with their sexual health. The inability to breath properly can cause insecurities and physical symptoms which make sex seem impossible. If a person with COPD fears sex it will become more difficult overcome the challenges.
Common Fears of Sex
A large part of sexual health is feeling secure during sexual activity. Many people with COPD do not feel safe when performing sexual acts. There are several fears that play into this insecurity:
- The fear of not being able to breathe.
- The fear of pain and discomfort.
- The fear of not being able to perform.
- The fear of being rejected.
- The fear of never being “normal” again.
How to Cope with Fear
Coping with the fear of COPD is half the battle to taking back your sex life. Some fears are only insecurities with the condition and can be explained away or talked through. The primary goal when overcoming the fears is to accept that there are limitations but there is no need for fear. A healthy sex life is possible with COPD.
- Do your research. Understanding COPD is important. Research your condition to find facts on coping with the inability to breath, pain or discomfort, ability to perform, and body image insecurities during sexual activity.
- Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can direct you to many credible resources which offer advice to people suffering from COPD and the symptoms. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Get support. The feeling of being alone when suffering from disease, even common ones, can further isolate a person. Reach out to those around you. They are there for you.
Common Sexual Problems
For many people with COPD it is the symptoms that cause problems during sex preventing a healthy sex life. The problems can be frustrating to overcome leaving the sufferer feeling as though sex is no longer a safe and healthy option.
Sexual Problems for Men
Problems Becoming Aroused: Maintaining everyday life with COPD can be a challenge. These challenges can exhaust and frustrate the sufferer leaving them with little hope of maintaining a healthy sex life. Being too tired, too frustrated, too irritated, and just out of touch contributes to problems becoming aroused.
Loss of Breath: Without the ability to take deep breaths sex can be overwhelming for the body. The lack of oxygen leads to extreme fatigue very quickly. Once out of breath it may take 10-20 minutes to recover.
Erectile Dysfunction: Lack of proper oxygen can hamper blood flow to the penis. Without proper blood flow it may be difficult to obtain or maintain an erection.
Depression: Depression has many symptoms on its own that may interfere with a person’s ability to become engaged during sexual activity. Being withdrawn, unhappy, frustrated, and just plain careless are common feelings for those suffering with depression.
Unhealthy Lifestyle: Being short of breath prevents many COPD sufferers from maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The inaccurate notion that exercise is not possible and lack of a healthy diet can affect self-esteem and energy levels.
Sexual Problems for Women
Problems Becoming Aroused: For many women becoming aroused has more to do with their own personal security than the sexual activity. With COPD they may feel inadequate or unattractive. They may also feel too overwhelmed by the daily symptoms and lose interest in even trying to become aroused.
Loss of Breath: The strenuous act of sex requires that the body be oxygenated well. Without the ability to take deep breaths during sexual activity the body becomes exhausted quickly. Once out of breath it may take 10-20 minutes to recover.
Depression: Depression is more common in women than men. The symptoms of the depression can add more stress which can exaggerate the symptoms of COPD even more. This infinite loop can feel too frustrating to break free from. Common symptoms of depression include: feeling alone, unhappy, frustrated, hopeless, and too tired to care.
Unhealthy Lifestyle: Difficulty breathing can stop a sufferer of COPD from remaining active and taking care of themselves. A healthy diet and regular exercise is very important. An unhealthy lifestyle leads to body image insecurities and inadequate energy levels.
How to Cope with Sexual Problems
Coping with sexual problems is a fulltime job. When making changes to your lifestyle for a better sex life you must remain consistent. Your commitment to changing how you think and the choices you make can bring back the sexual desire you had before being diagnosed with COPD.
Take care of your health. Eating healthy, staying hydrated, exercising daily, and sleeping regularly will keep your health in better shape. Being healthy is the number one contributor to a healthy sex life. Your sex life falls behind mental and physical health. If you are not physically and mentally healthy then it is safe to say you will not be sexually healthy.
Change your environment. Pain and discomfort during sexual activity is a common concern for those with COPD. Make changes to your environment that will accommodate a better sex life. Turn a fan on, keep the room cool, set up a humidifier, and turn up the romance with things that make you feel sexual.
Have a general plan for sex. Your plan does not have to make sex predictable or mundane. Sexual activity can still happen at any time. Better sex is possible when you are prepared.
- Take advantage of the time when your breathing medication is working best.
- If needed, use tube extensions for nasal canula to be more flexible.
- Don’t have sex during the first 2-3 hours following a meal.
- Save sexual activity for when you are feeling your best. This includes physically, mentally, and sexually.
Learn how to breathe during sex.
- Keep a fan on.
- Support yourself with a pillow. Keeping your chest elevated will make it easier to take in air.
- Find positions that allow you more oxygen. Being on your side or on bottom will mean less work for you making it easier to keep your breathing under control.
- Kiss for less time but more frequently.
- Take time to breathe even if it means taking a break to just cuddle for a few minutes.
- Talk to your partner. Don’t be afraid to communicate when you feel overwhelmed or too short of breath. Trying to ignore the problem will not make it go away.
Be prepared just in case. Sometimes just knowing that you are safe will help you cope with the fears and problems with sexual activity. It is also much better to be safe than sorry when preparing for problems breathing.
- Speak to your doctor about what breathing aids are safe and best for you during sexual activity.
- If you use oxygen have it available.
- If you use a bronchodilator have it available.
- If you use an inhaler have it available.
- Don’t be afraid to interrupt activity if you need your breathing aid.
There is no questioning whether chronic obstructive pulmonary disease interferes with sexual health. It most certainly presents challenges that can be overwhelming to say the least. Knowing how to cope with your fears, insecurities, and problems during sex is half the battle to taking back your sex life. Your understanding of your limits and your partners support will contribute to a more comfortable, fulfilling, and enjoyable sexual health.