anonymous on September 12, 2011

For people who get out of breath easily, what are some ways to still enjoy sex?

I would like to know the easiest, least strenuous sexual positions for a man with emphysema so that he doesn’t get too out of breath. It’s been more than three years and it’s getting frustrating to both of us.

answered by Mitchell Tepper, PhD, MPH on September 12, 2011

I’m glad you asked this question because it’s a common concern among people with lung problems.

As you know, lung problems caused bychronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) includeemphysema, chronic bronchitis and bronchiectasis…all of which create difficulty breathing, which can limit sexual activity.


First, I would encourage anyone with COPD to speak with their doctor about sexual activity. Why? Because sex is a physical activity…so it makes sense for your partner to speak with his doctor about any necessary precautions to keep him healthy.

That said, theCanadian Lung Association offers several tips and tricks that can help you and your partner enjoy sexual activity. But keep in mind that someone with COPD will get out of breath during sex...and this should be expected. Luckily, research shows that the effort expended during intercourse is typically not so much that it would raise blood pressure, heart rates or breathing rates into dangerous levels.

As for some ideas to get you started...

  • Make a plan. It may help to schedule sex at the time of day when you and your partner are generally relaxed and well-rested. Again, sexual activity does take effort…so it’s likely that your partner will get winded during the course of your sexual activity. That’s fine (with doctor’s approval), but it’s a good idea to incorporate low intensity breaks into sex (e.g., sensual caresses, hugs and kisses) to allow him to catch his breath.

  • Create a comfortable environment and avoid stressors. Ensure that the space you’re in is at a comfortable temperature for both of you. It may also help to avoid physical stressors (e.g., consuming a heavy meal or alcohol) before having sex.

  • Clear the chest. Before sexual activity, your partner might consider taking a moment to clear any bronchial secretions.

  • Use a bronchodilator immediately before sex. Doing so helps prepare your lungs for exertion.  

  • Use oxygen, if needed. Your partner should plan to use the same amount of oxygen during sexual activity as with any other similarly strenuous activity.

  • Get creative. Explore sexual positions that take less energy and that don’t put pressure on your partner’s chest. For example, laying on your sides may be less tiring for your partner. Also, perhaps you can take on the more active role during sex, so that your partner is less likely to become fatigued and out of breath.

With these and other available tips and techniques, you and your partner will hopefully reclaim a fulfilling sexual relationship. While rigorous or acrobatic sex is probably out, sex can still be enjoyable with some modifications, and appropriate preparations and precautions.

Finally, I would encourage you to emphasize intimacy over intercourse. If intercourse proves too active for your partner’s comfort, taking a different stance toward intimacy may help. Touching, caressing, kissing and so on are ways to experience closeness and excitement without necessarily leading to sexual exertion.

Thanks again for sharing your concern, and I wish you and your partner the discovery of new ways to experience and express sexual satisfaction.

Mitchell Tepper, PhD, MPH

Dr. Tepper directs sexual health education at An AASECT-certified sexuality educator and counselor, his areas of expertise include sexual dysfunctions, sexuality following disability or illness, pleasure and orgasm, relationships, and military and veteran couples' counseling. Dr. Tepper was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

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