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Sex and breathlessness

How do I stop myself getting out of breath during sex?

You’re not alone: people often worry about whether sex will make them short of breath, or tired, or if it will make their symptoms worse. Just like any other physical activity, sex can make you get out of breath.

Feeling out of breath?

Don’t worry: use our recommended breathing control techniques, and your breathing will return to normal.

Here are our suggestions:

Talk to your partner about how breathlessness is affecting you

Talk to your partner about your concerns and wishes – and theirs. If you talk frankly, you’ll both be more relaxed and come up with ways to enjoy being together and intimate. You could say:

  • “Sometimes my breathlessness gets in the way of sex. Normally I can manage it, but I wanted to let you know”
  • “Just to let you know, spontaneity in the bedroom might not work for me and my breathlessness”
  • “Can we try positions that help me manage my breathlessness more easily?”

Staying fit and active

Pulmonary rehabilitation and exercise can help you be active for longer, whether you’re walking, dancing, having sex or doing any other physical activity.

Sexual activity, including intercourse, oral sex and masturbation, requires energy. As with all physical activity, you’ll use your heart, lungs and muscles. You might need to breathe more frequently, and your heart rate and blood pressure might go up for a short time. These will return to normal levels quickly, so don’t worry if this happens – it’s the same for everyone. The energy you use during orgasm is about the same as the energy you need to climb stairs or take a brisk walk.

And remember - there’s lots of less physically demanding ways to be intimate with your partner like hugging and touching.

Remember that some changes in your sex life are part of getting older and not because of your lung condition. Slower erections and delayed orgasms are normal as you get older.

Pick a good time to have sex

Have sex when you’re rested and your breathing feels comfortable. This is likely to be when your medication is working best and your energy levels are highest.

If you’re feeling stressed or tired, having sex could intensify these feelings. Plan ahead if you can - but don’t change your habits if this stresses you or your partner.

Make sure you’re comfortable and relaxed:

  • avoid being where you’re too cold or too hot
  • wait for 2 hours after a heavy meal - your breathing might be more strained if you have a full stomach and feel bloated
  • avoid alcohol. Drinking can decrease your sexual function and make it more difficult for men to get an erection

Pick a good place to have sex

Sometimes the environment can affect your breathing, so try to avoid things that can trigger shortness of breath. You might want to avoid dust, smoke or heavy fragrances, for example. Have a look at our information about air quality indoors to find out more.

Have your symptoms under control

You might find your cough gets in the way of having sex. If this is the case, make sure you talk to your GP to help get to the cause of the cough. It might be you need to clear your chest of sputum more effectively. Try clearing your chest 2-3 times a day. That way, you might not have to worry about clearing your chest before having sex.

If you use an inhaler to open up your airways, called a bronchodilator, try taking 1 or 2 puffs before starting sexual activity. This may relieve shortness of breath and wheezing during sex. Keep it to hand in case you need to use it again.

Experiment with sexual positions

Intimacy is a source of pleasure and relaxation. Sex is also about enjoyment and fun, so having a sense of humour and being able to laugh with your partner will help. It’s important to talk about any difficulties either you or your partner have. Be prepared to try different ways to express your affection and tell each other what feels good!

Try different positions to find ones that work best for you both. The key is to avoid positions that put pressure on the chest. You could also try using pillows to maximise your comfort. Positions that use less energy to maintain may be also more comfortable. Here are our suggestions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples:

Try both partners lying on their sides, either facing each other or with one partner behind the other.

example 1
example 2

If you prefer one partner being on top, it might be better for the partner who has a lung condition to take the lower position, as it tends to require less activity. It’s important that the person on top doesn’t press down on their partner’s chest.

example 3

You could try one partner kneeling on the floor, bending over with their chest resting on the bed.

example 4

One partner sitting on the edge of the bed with their feet on the floor, with the other kneeling on the floor in front, might be comfortable.

example 5

Holding each other, hugging, kissing and caressing are also fulfilling expressions of love and affection and require less energy.

example 6

Take a break

If you start to feel breathless, try slowing down or taking a rest. Stop to use your reliever inhaler if you need to. You could try to build in frequent rests, changing positions or taking turns with sexual activity. And there’s no need to stop giving or getting hugs during the lull.

If you get very short of breath, try to pause and take some slow, deep breaths. These will also help you relax.

Talk to your GP about how breathlessness is affecting you

Having a long-term lung condition can affect any relationship. It can make you feel tired, anxious or depressed. You might worry about sex if you are afraid that you will become too short of breath or need to cough up sputum.

Your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist can help you to manage this. It might feel embarrassing, but they’ve heard it all before! You might find it easier to write down questions, such as:

  • “My breathlessness is affecting intimacy with my partner. What can I do to prevent this?”
  • “Do you have any suggestions for breathing techniques I can use to manage my breathlessness? Especially ones I can use in the bedroom?”
  • “As soon as I lie down I start coughing. This becomes very frustrating. Can you suggest what I can do to prevent this?”

Managing incontinence

If you experience incontinence, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP to find a way to manage it effectively. Read more about urinary incontinence.

Next: Will my medications affect my sex life? >

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