Author. Sandy R. Passarelli, M.S.W., R.S.W.
Social Worker, Chronic Diseases Program & Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehab
Southlake Regional Health Centre
Sexuality is an important part of quality of life for many people, but the diagnosis of cardiovascular illness can impact a couple’s intimate relationship. It’s important to know that while these issues can seem problematic, they are not debilitating and there are solutions. With several factors affecting normal sexual activity, one less thing to be concerned with is the affect of sex on the heart.
According to a 2016 study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, “Changes in sexual satisfaction and decreases in sexual activity are often reported by patients with heart disease. Additionally, both patients and their partners exhibit sexual concerns and misconceptions that commonly result in the restriction of sexual activity. However, positive sexual self-perception and adjustment are directly linked to sexual activity and fewer heart problems. A negative impact of heart disease on patients' sexual health may primarily be attributed to emotional distress and the psychological implications of experiencing a heart condition, as well as erectile dysfunction or loss of libido, or both.”
“It is normal for patients to feel fear about rigorous physical activity, such as sex, having an adverse effect on their heart,” said Dr. Charles Peniston, medical director of cardiovascular surgery at Southlake Regional Health Centre. “While there are new challenges to consider, it is important to keep taking your medications, and know that if you can successfully walk up two flights of stairs, you should be fine to resume sexual activity.”
With the following considerations to keep in mind, sex does not have to be off the table for you and your partner:
1. Plan to have sex during times of the day where you have the most energy
2. Take things slow to reduce the work the heart has to do and stop if you experience chest pain (and make sure to speak with your doctor if this occurs)
3. Ease into sex with foreplay in a relaxed setting to gradually increase your heart rate and blood pressure
4. Avoid holding body positions during sex where you have to support your own body weight
5. Use the spoon position, lying on your side
6. Have your partner on top to reduce your effort/exertion during sex
If there are issues that prevent you from resuming your usual sexual activity, this is a good time to explore new possibilities. Think beyond sexual intercourse: activities that help foster a sense of closeness and emotional connection include hugging, snuggling, kissing, massages and holding hands. It is normal to have anxiety, fears and even depression that may impact your interest in intimacy and sex. Sexual intimacy does not have to disappear from your relationship – do what is comfortable to you and take things slow; getting back to normal activities takes some time. Ask your healthcare team for information to clarify specific issues you or your partner may have.
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