Sex and Your Heart
Sex is part of a healthy life. And it can be safe for people who have heart problems. But some of these people may worry about having sex. Or they may have problems having sex or enjoying sex.
If you are having sexual problems, talk with your doctor. Your doctor or another health professional can give you information, support, and advice so you can enjoy sex again.
Sex is exercise
As far as your heart is concerned, having sex is like doing any mild to moderate exercise.
If you can do moderate exercise—like brisk walking—you're probably ready to resume sex. Your doctor might tell you that if you can climb two flights of stairs without having symptoms, such as chest pain, it's fine for you to have sex.
Being physically active—getting regular exercise—can help you build up stamina and make yourself stronger so that sex is more enjoyable.
Safe return to sex
If you've just been diagnosed, had a heart attack, or had surgery on your heart, you may want to know when it will be okay to have sex again. You can ask your doctor to help you know if or when it's okay for you to have sex.
Some heart patients may have reasons to avoid sex for a while. If you have serious heart problems and have symptoms, like chest pain, when you do anything physical, you probably should avoid sex until treatment stabilizes your symptoms. If you've just had heart surgery, you'll want to make sure that your incision has healed well before resuming sex.
Worries about sex
If you are worried about having sex, maybe you're afraid you'll have symptoms, such as chest pain. Or maybe you think that you won't have enough energy for sex. You may even worry that having sex can cause a heart attack.
But sex is actually safe for most heart patients. They don't seem to have any more sex-related heart attacks than other people do.
For both men and women, a heart problem can cause physical changes that lead to sexual problems. For example, some people have less interest in sex. Men may have erectile dysfunction. Women may have symptoms like vaginal dryness.
If you are having sexual problems, talk with your doctor about what treatments are right for you. Treatments may include counseling or medicine.
Talk with your doctor before trying an erection-enhancing medicine. Some medicines for erection problems can cause serious problems if you also use a nitrate medicine, such as nitroglycerin.
If you are having problems, talk honestly with your partner. Your partner may have the same worries that you have. Encourage your partner to come with you to talk with your doctor.
Tell your doctor about any concerns you have. Counseling might be an option for you and your partner. A doctor, nurse, or other health professional might provide this counseling. It may include information and advice on how to resume sex. It may include support or ways to help you relieve anxiety, worry, or fear about sex. It may include treatment for physical problems. The goal is to enjoy sex again.
How to talk to your doctor
Sometimes doctors are so focused on your disease that they forget to ask about important parts of your life, like sex. You may have to bring up the subject yourself.
It can be hard to talk about sex, even with the person you are closest to. So it can be even harder to bring it up with your doctor. To be successful, try these tips:
- If you think you will have trouble bringing up sex, practice how you will introduce the subject. You might say something like, "I have some concerns about sex, and I'd like to talk about them today."
- Before your appointment, make a list of questions to ask your doctor.
- Be as specific as possible. Tell your doctor what you have tried, what works for you, and what doesn't work.
- If you have trouble asking the questions directly or you feel rushed, give your list of questions to your doctor. Then ask for another appointment to discuss them.
- Consider having your partner go with you. For some people, having their partner there makes it easier to talk. And your partner may want to ask questions too.
Other Works Consulted
- Levine GN, et al. (2012). Sexual activity and cardiovascular disease: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 125(8): 1058–1072.
- Steinke EE, et al. (2013). Sexual counseling for individuals with cardiovascular disease and their partners: A consensus document from the American Heart Association and the ESC Council on Cardiovascular Nursing and Allied Professionals (CCNAP). Circulation. Published online July 29, 2013 (doi:10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829c2e53).