What It Means When It Feels Like You Can't Breathe During Sex

When you're having sex with someone, it's possible to feel such intense pleasure where you kind of experience breathlessness, but not in a choking kind of way; it's more in a "Top Gun" soundtrack, "Take My Breath Away," kind of way. The person you're with is doing everything right and you're having a really good time.

But there are also times when you can start to feel like you can't breathe because of something physical happening inside of you. According to pediatric allergist and clinical immunologist Dr. Zachary Rubin (via YouTube), this is quite a common phenomenon but isn't really talked about — it's called "honeymoon rhinitis." "This phenomenon is not really well understood but we do know that your nasal passages have a lot of erectile tissue, meaning it can get engorged with blood pretty easily leading to congestion." Sex can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and lead to honeymoon rhinitis, per the expert. 

Other symptoms of honeymoon rhinitis include a runny nose and sneezing, and apparently, you don't have to be in the throes of sex for this to happen. So if you're wondering what it means when thinking about sex makes you sneeze, you've got your answer. 

There could be other reasons that you feel like you can't breathe during sex, however, such as certain health conditions.

Being out of breath could be related to health conditions

Everything from smoking, obesity, and respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to heart disease or even anxiety could be causing you to feel like you can't breathe during sex. Despite the fact that you and your partner are stationed in one space during physical intimacy, sex involves physical exertion and works your muscles, lungs, and heart. So any underlying health condition that may have the symptom of breathlessness with physical exertion could be the culprit too.

In the case of an asthma flare-up, you might experience a tightness in your chest, trouble breathing, coughing, or wheezing, shared co-director of Asthma and Allergy Associates in Chester, Pennsylvania, Sandra Gawchik (via Everyday Health). 

Another possible reason could be long COVID. Being short of breath and tired during sexual intercourse or any other physical activity is one of the symptoms of COVID that last months after you've had COVID, per the experts. Now that you know about the surprising things that can happen to your body during sex, how do you navigate feeling like you can't breathe when you're supposed to be having a good time?

What to do if it feels like you can't breathe during sex

In the case of honeymoon rhinitis, having a nasal spray on your bedside table can be helpful. However, if the feeling of not being able to breathe is getting in the way of your sex life, this might mean having to speak with your doctor about possible treatments. 

As for underlying health conditions like COPD or other lung conditions, it's important to be open with your partner about feeling like you can't breathe, per Asthma + Lung UK. Talk about different sex positions that might help you feel better or take things slow. There are breathing exercises you can do as well to strengthen your breathing muscles. For those who've had heart failure, it's important to keep up with your cardiac rehabilitation plan in order to build endurance, cardiologist Dr. Rekha Mankad shared with Mayo Clinic. It also means taking your medications and consulting with your doctor if things aren't improving. 

In the case of obesity and breathlessness during sex, consult with your healthcare provider about how to make lifestyle changes and find relief from feeling like you can't breathe during physical exertion. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and building your physical stamina by exercising regularly can also help when it comes to intimate time. 

Ultimately, the cause of your breathlessness is going to very much determine what it might look like handling it. Sexual intimacy is a big part of a fulfilling life for many people, so don't be shy to consult with healthcare providers when you need to.