Heart Matters sex survey
In our first ever sex survey, we asked you to tell us whether heart disease has affected your sex life. And it has – 1,423 members told us frankly about the problems it has caused. Sarah Brealey reports.
Up until now, you may not have felt you could talk openly about your sexual concerns. Perhaps you’ve been waiting for someone else to bring up the subject – your doctor, your partner, people at cardiac rehab – but to no avail. That’s why Heart Matters decided it was time we tackled the issues head on with our exclusive sex survey. Here’s what we found out…
"For most people, sexual issues are caused by the underlying heart disease and not by the drugs"
Three out of four respondents said that a heart condition has affected their sex lives. Of those who have been affected, 32 per cent said they had sex less often, while 19 per cent told us they had stopped having sex completely as a result.
The biggest single issue was erectile dysfunction (ED), which affected 70 per cent of men. Of those, 46 per cent believed this was due to their medication, 36 per cent believed it was both their medication and their condition, and 18 per cent blamed just their condition.
Loss of interest in sex was also a big issue, affecting 55 per cent of women and 44 per cent of men. Again, the most common reason given for this was medication, or both medication and their condition.
However, Graham Jackson, Honorary Consultant Cardiologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and Chairman of the Sexual Advice Association, said: “For most people, sexual issues are caused by the underlying heart disease and not by the drugs. There are some drugs that can cause problems, but often there are alternatives that are less likely to be a problem, or you can take other medication that can help.” He added that ED can often be a warning sign of heart disease, and it can be caused by psychological and other issues, too.
Read about erectile dysfunction
Dr Mike Knapton, our Associate Medical Director and a GP, said: “Speak to your doctor if you have issues with ED – don’t just stop taking your meds.”
Talking to my nurse and my partner about our anxieties and worries has been of great help
When we asked people to tell us about their concerns, a key theme was the emotional impact of their condition. For women, one of their biggest worries was having a heart attack or cardiac arrest during sex. This was significant for men, too, though not as big an issue as ED. The impact of the issue on their partner was also a common concern among both men and women.
Some people were resigned to the end of their sex life, and comments included “sex is not everything”, and “we are lucky to have each other at our time of life”. But it was clear that for many people this is a big and often upsetting issue. One respondent wrote: “I have a fear that I will never have sex again.” Another described “feeling useless at times, wondering what my partner thinks as sexual activity declines – does she feel unloved; would she look elsewhere to satisfy her needs?”.
Talking about sex
We found that a significant proportion of people (44 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men) have not discussed their issues with anyone. The difference between sexes could be partly explained by the availability of drugs such as Viagra (sildenafil), which have made men more likely to seek help for ED. Men were much more likely to have discussed problems with their doctor than women, though even when it came to talking to a partner, men were more likely (59 per cent) to discuss issues than women (48 per cent).
It’s important not to suffer in silence, and respondents to our survey who had talked it over were clear this helped. One person wrote: “Talking to my nurse and my partner about our anxieties and worries has been of great help.” Another wrote: “Make sure your partner is aware of any issues you have. Good communication is the best way forward.”
When we asked what would help people deal with their issues, there was an overwhelming demand for more information, especially on side effects of medication and what options there are for treatment. More professional help was also a common request.
"Stress and anxiety could have been alleviated with better information"
One man wrote: “I was unaware that erectile dysfunction was a common complaint following a diagnosis of coronary heart disease. Stress and anxiety could have been alleviated with better information.” Many people also mentioned that they wished their healthcare professional had brought the subject up, for example when prescribing new medication or during cardiac rehabilitation.
Sex should be covered as part of cardiac rehab, but this may not always happen, and not every heart patient attends a rehab course. We’d encourage healthcare professionals to discuss this with their patients, but if you’re affected, don’t be scared to ask questions.
See the interactive infographic showing the results of our sex survey
Read about erectile dysfunction
Read the stories of two couples who've dealt with their issues around sex and heart disease, or watch our short films
About our survey
After receiving 1,932 responses, we asked those who said their sex life had been affected to complete the survey in full. (Those who said they were not sexually active anyway were excluded.) Heart Matters readers of all ages responded to the survey, though most were aged 55–74.
All respondents had a heart-related condition, of which heart attack and angina were the most common. Respondents could select more than one answer to questions such as how their condition had affected their sex life. Survey invitations were sent by email in January 2014.