Intimacy and Living Well With COPD

Posted on April 24, 2022   |   

This post was written by: Amanda Atkinson, MSN, RN.

A diagnosis of COPD or other lung disease does not mean that you have to say goodbye to intimacy. While there may be challenges such as shortness of breath, coughing, or other symptoms that impact your activity level and how you feel each day, it is possible to maintain intimate relationships while living well with COPD.

Dr. Barbara Yawn and I discuss some common questions about intimacy and COPD.

What if I am nervous to speak to my partner about intimacy?

Remember, your partner is likely just as nervous about intimacy as you are. Most partners want to make sure they can continue sharing intimacy without causing harm. Many may have concerns about hurting you, or making you more short of breath. Talking is key. Remember, intimacy is much more than just sexual intercourse. Intimacy can be hugging, cuddling, kissing, rubbing, or massaging anything from your scalp to your feet. Let your partner know you want to continue being intimate. Talk about your needs, desires, and concerns and ask your partner about theirs.

It can help to ask your health care team about intimacy. You can talk about it in the office, pulmonary rehabilitation, or education programs. The discussion can help support ideas you have and reassure you and your partner about safety and satisfaction.

What are some tips for overcoming challenges with intimacy?

First, make sure you and your partner know how to tell when the other person wants intimacy. If it is uncomfortable to ask, come up with some clear hints like holding hands or guiding your partner to hugging, cuddling, or kissing. Find a private place where you can be comfortable sitting or reclining. Try positioning your body so that you feel comfortable and less short of breath, such as lying on your back or side with your head and chest elevated. If you are using supplemental oxygen, make sure you have a long enough tube to be comfortable. You may also want to use nasal prongs to help with kissing, rather than a mask. As a couple, think back on your history together before COPD. Talk about what intimacy looked like then, and how it can be adapted to your current opportunities and limitations.

What are some ways I can cope with the mental and emotional challenges that come with changes in intimacy?

It is normal to have strong feelings when something very important to you has changed. It is ok to talk about those feelings with your partner. They should also be discussed with your health care team so they can provide helpful ideas. Be honest about your concerns, fears, and frustrations. It is likely your partner wants to talk about this too but may be afraid to bring it up. You can also talk with a counselor, trusted friend, or relative. If you are a member of a support group or COPD community such as COPD360Social, you may find posts by other members that discuss what helped them overcome intimacy challenges.

A few things to remember about intimacy:

Know your limits: Pay attention to your body and look out for warning signs such as fatigue or shortness of breath. Stop when you need to. As always, follow your health care provider's advice regarding physical activity of any kind. Always have your short-acting emergency medication available.

Conserve your energy: Take part in intimacy when you have the most energy. Plan ahead if you can. Engage in intimacy when you know that you will feel rested and will not have other distractions. Pace yourself and increase your activity slowly. Having a fan nearby may make you feel less breathless because it increases airflow across your face.

Be creative: Intimacy is more than just sexual intercourse; it is a deep connection between two people that creates a place of love and acceptance. When needed, find ways to create that connection that are not so energy intensive, such as massage, cuddling while watching your favorite movie, or sitting on the porch holding hands while watching the sunset. Words can also express intimacy just as much as touch. Be positive and loving when talking to your partner. This helps to strengthen your connection.

Talk to your partner and your health care team: Be open to talking to your partner about your needs and how you are feeling. Remember, speak to your health care provider before engaging in any type of physical activity.

Having a strong, intimate connection is possible, and no one is ever too old to enjoy touch.


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  • Thank you, Amanda and Dr. Yawn! I remember many moons ago, when I was running a Facebook COPD group, there was a tentative question about how intimacy could work with oxygen tubing and so forth. It's a difficult subject to bring up or even ask about, so many don't and therefore miss out on a really important part of their lives. But once the subject was broached, many people really appreciated the opportunity to learn from others and to have "real talk" conversations with people on the journey. I encourage everyone to share their stories in this safe space! You are ABSOLUTELY not alone!
  • This is a very real topic that I appreciate you addressing. Intimacy in a relationship is incredibly important and knowing how to navigate it when you have a chronic illness is challenging. Open and honest communication between partners is critical. Thank you, Amanda and Dr. Yawn, for this great post!
  • Thank you, Amanda and Dr. Yawn, for shedding some light on this important aspect of our lives, and for these great, practical tips on how to communicate and connect!