Sex That Takes Your Breath Away Can Cause Depression


According to a new Danish study that is being presented at the ATS (American Thoracic Society) 2012 International Conference in San Francisco this week, patients with COPD and heart failure often experience shortness of breath (dyspnea) during sexual intercourse, which in turn can lead to depression and other quality of life issues.

According to Ejvind Frausing Hansen, MD, chief physician at Hvidovre Hospital in Denmark where the study was performed, "We compared measures of well-being, depression and sexual function among older patients with severe COPD or heart failure, both of which are associated with dyspnea during exertion…a significantly higher percentage of COPD patients than heart failure patients reported having troublesome dyspnea during sexual activity."

In the study, 39 patients with COPD (21 males and 18 females) with a median age of 66 years, and 22 patients with heart failure (16 males and 6 females) median age of 64 years, were given self-administered questionnaires, part of which addressed questions regarding their sexual functioning.

What the data revealed was that individuals with COPD were much more likely to experience shortness of breath during sex than individuals who had a history of heart failure. Of the COPD patients, 44% reported experiencing dyspnea during sex, whereas only 5% of heart failure patients reported difficulty breathing during sex. Furthermore, twice as many COPD patients listed dyspnea as a limiting factor toward engaging in sex in comparison to heart failure patients.

However, the data also revealed that both COPD patients and heart failure patients were more equal when they rated their sexual life as being inadequate (COPD: 38 %, HF: 32 %), admitted to feelings of depression (COPD: 34 %, HF: 37 %), and rated as having overall poor quality of well-being (COPD: 33 %, HF: 32 %).

"Dyspnea at exertion can also limit daily activities and increase the risk of poor well-being, social isolation, and depression...patients with COPD are known to have a high prevalence of sexual problems," says Dr. Hansen. "Our study shows that depression and poor well-being are also common in these patients. In our group of patients, dyspnea that limits sexual activity was more common among COPD patients than heart failure patients."


While COPD is treatable—but not curable—sex with COPD can be managed. According to an article in WebMD titled “9 tips for better sex and intimacy when you have COPD” the author points out that dyspnea saps energy levels and that conserving your energy before and during intercourse can be helpful toward achieving satisfying sex.

One of the ways to conserve energy is to find a position or positions that require less exertion. “For a man with COPD, the missionary position is probably worst,” says Robert A. 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.

Better positions for intercourse with COPD include spooning, lying on a side and facing each other, or assuming a sitting position and using pillows for support to keep a partner in an upright or semi-reclining position. Furthermore, supplemental oxygen during sex may be necessary for severe cases of COPD.

And finally, if sex with COPD is literally taking your breath away, the author of the WebMD article also points out the reminder that good sex isn’t just about giving and receiving orgasms—it’s about intimacy. “The goal [for COPD patients and their partners] should be to have the most intimate experience that they can manage,” says Sandhaus. “Sometimes that means coming to orgasm, and sometimes not.”

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia


"Sexual Dysfunction, Depression And Well-Being Among Patients With COPD Or Heart Failure" (Session B60, Monday, May 21, Area K, Moscone Center; Abstract 32631); M.F. Hansen, J. Willemoes, S.L. Nielsen, E. Kristensen, A. Giraldi, and E.F. Hansen

WebMD: “9 tips for better sex and intimacy when you have COPD” by Katherine Kam