Don’t Lose Your Breath: Asthma and Sex
Imagine trying to have sex when you can’t breathe. I’m not talking about being breathless from excitement. I’m talking about literally being unable to get air into your lungs.
Living with asthma is difficult enough without worrying about its effect on your love life, but with some background information and helpful tips, sex can be a breeze.
A medical overview
Asthma is a medical condition in which a person’s airway becomes swollen and can produce extra mucus. The narrowed, obstructed airway allows less oxygen to fill the lungs, which can result in difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, coughing and wheezing, hyperventilation, panic, difficulty talking and fatigue. Twenty-five million Americans suffer from asthma, based on 2018 figures.
Of course, the severity of the condition varies greatly. Some people have mild asthma and are rarely affected, while others have frightening attacks that send them to the emergency room. For this reason, many people with asthma keep rescue inhalers with them at all times. Activities that can induce flare-ups include exercise, respiratory infections, stress, environmental factors (such as pollution or fumes) and allergens (such as pollen).
The exact cause is unknown, but asthma has been linked to both environmental factors, such as pollution, and genetics. Other risk factors include smoking and being overweight.
No cure is available, but the disease can usually be controlled well by treatments, including quick relief (rescue inhalers) and long-term medications (anti-inflammatories and long-acting bronchodilators). Daily breathing exercises can be helpful. Other management techniques include eating well, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, minimizing stress and not smoking.
Impact on quality of life
Asthma can impact sleep and, in turn, affect daily activities, work performance and social life. If asthma worsens over time, it can cause airways to permanently narrow and decrease the regular quality of breathing.
Asthma can sometimes prevent people, especially kids, from enjoying daily life with friends, family and partners. They may be unable to participate in sports or have to forgo outdoor activities where air pollution or allergens could be a trigger. This can lead to a feeling of social isolation.
Additionally, at its core, being unable to breathe is terrifying. An asthma attack can be an extremely traumatic experience, and the sufferer may avoid triggering activities afterward for fear of a repeat scenario.
Impact on sex life
Exercise and physical activity can cause an asthma attack, and sex definitely qualifies. Toting an inhaler around might not feel super-sexy, and using it in front of a partner—imagine that on a first date!—might be extremely anxiety-provoking.
In a 2017 survey, 73 percent of asthmatics said they were embarrassed to bring their inhaler on a date, and 68 percent said their sex life had been directly impacted by their condition. Sex with asthma ain’t easy but can usually be well-managed.
Sex with asthma
Talk with your doctor about your concerns, explaining how asthma has interfered with sex in the past. Create an asthma action plan specifically for sex, share it with your partner(s) and follow it. Avoid any triggers, which can include indoor allergens such as dust mites—special bedding prevents them—mold, candles and perfumes.
Choose positions that won’t leave you out of breath or put weight on your chest; let your partner take on the hard work. Having sex on your side, like in the spooning position, could be helpful. Monitor your breathing and slow things down whenever you feel the need.
It’s always important, but especially when dealing with a health condition, to keep communicating during sex. Let your lover know if you feel an attack coming on. If you need to stop to take medication or use a rescue inhaler, that’s OK. Your partner will understand. We all have to breathe, and your partner would much rather have you inhaling and exhaling normally. If you feel weak or can’t breathe normally despite having taken your meds, head to the emergency room straight away.
Most of us take breathing for granted—asthma sufferers can’t. But if you’re mindful of limitations and careful about precautions, your asthma doesn’t have to interfere with your sex life.