Here is the bottom line: a heart condition doesn’t automatically mean the end of your sex life. It is important to stress this fact as unfortunately many people with heart problems do find their sex life is negatively impacted. But with the right preparation and precautions this need not be the case. Many people with heart conditions enjoy healthy and fulfilling sex lives; indeed sex is generally beneficial for your health. The important thing is ensuring you don’t rush yourself into having sex before you feel comfortable about it again.
When exactly you have sex again is largely your choice. Whether you have angina or are recovering from a heart attack or heart surgery you can usually resume sexual activity once you feel ready and well enough. Following a heart attack or surgery, this is generally within four to six weeks. If you are recovering from heart surgery, try and avoid activities that put excessive pressure on your chest wound in the first few weeks. Sex with a heart condition is perfectly possible, although always take relevant precautions.
Reasons for avoiding sex
It is not uncommon to feel negative towards sex due to a heart condition or recent surgery. Indeed The British Heart Foundation estimates that more than a million people in the UK have forgone sex altogether following diagnosis of a heart problem. The most common reasons for this are:
- Medication causing erectile dysfunction
- Fear of having a heart attack during sex
- The emotional impact of the condition negatively affecting sex drive
Understanding these issues should make it easier for you to deal with them. Click here for further information about how heart conditions affect our sex lives.
Reducing your sexual anxiety
It is entirely natural to be anxious about having sex for the first time after a heart attack, heart surgery or even a newly diagnosed heart condition. The most important thing is to take your time. Wait until you feel that you are ready to resume sexual activity. If you are preparing to have sex again, there are several ways to minimise potential anxiety, including:
- Choose a relaxing atmosphere. This doesn’t necessarily mean scented candles and birdsong tapes but try and find somewhere you feel comfortable. If your home isn’t typically a sanctuary of peace – perhaps due to young children, pets, or a noisy urban area – then maybe you and your partner could book a hotel.
- Build confidence through touching and caressing. Foreplay generally increases sexual enjoyment and could be a good way to ease any nerves. Touching and caressing your partner allows you to ease back into the experience of having sex. Of course if you find the physical contact too much then you probably aren’t yet ready to resume sexual activity.
- Keep a comfortable room temperature. An overheated or chilly room is rarely enjoyable in any circumstances. Maintaining a stable room temperature should minimise any potential discomfort.
- Find a good bed location. It is no use taking great care over the room temperature if you then retire to a bed next to a heated radiator. Or beneath an uncovered window on a hot, sunny day. Be aware of the surrounding environment. If your bed is in an unsuitable location then go ahead and move it.
Further factors to consider
So we’ve examined a few ways to reduce potential anxiety about having sex. But what about the sexual intercourse itself? Here are a few pieces of advice in order to minimise any potential complications arising from sex, as well as maximising your enjoyment.
- Avoid having sex after a heavy meal. Eating heavily before exercising can cause nausea, cramps and heartburn – and sex certainly counts as exercise. Wait at least two hours after eating to allow your food time to digest.
- Avoid too much alcohol before sex. Use your judgement here. There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine or a cocktail to get you in the mood. Just don’t overindulge. As well as being bad for the heart, excess alcohol can negatively affect sexual performance. Alcohol is a major cause of erectile dysfunction.
- Find a comfortable position. Aerobic, energetic sex can be great – but perhaps it’s best you don’t try and break the bed straight away. Use a sexual position you feel comfortable with. Being on the bottom or lying side by side are two positions that generally require less exertion than most.
- Have your partner take a more active role. If you are generally the more ‘dominant’ one in the bedroom then it might be a good idea to take a backseat. Let your partner take the more strenuous stuff while you can just lie back and enjoy.
- Keep relevant medication close to hand. If you use a GTN spray or tablets then keep them nearby just in case they are needed. Although complications caused by sex are rare, you can never be too careful.
Heart Conditions and Erectile Dysfunction
Many men living with a heart condition complain they have subsequently experienced erectile dysfunction (ED) – either due to the emotional stress of the condition or as a side-effect of their prescribed medication. ED means you cannot get and/or maintain an erection. It can be easily treated but men are sometimes shy of seeking professional help or discussing their ED.
Notably there is a common link between heart problems and ED. In most cases, ED is caused by a narrowing of the arteries that transport blood to the penis. As with ED, narrowed arteries are the cause of many heart conditions; except the affected arteries are transporting blood to the heart rather than the penis. In fact the arteries supplying the penis are the same size as the arteries supplying the heart – so problems in one area most likely mean problems in the other.
A number of factors can increase the risk of both ED and potential heart conditions. These include:
- Being overweight.
- A poor diet. (Especially one heavy in fat and cholesterol.)
- Lack of exercise.
ED can also be caused as a side-effect of certain medications. Drugs that alter your hormone levels, or affect your nerves and blood circulation can result in erectile dysfunction. Consult your GP if you believe the medication you are taken might be responsible for your ED.
For further information and to try our free assessment you can visit our erectile dysfunction clinic.
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