“It’s about finding the ‘new normal’” – Zena’s story

Zena Jones, 62, from Newcastle, had a heart attack in 2017. “I feel guilty about not being able to do the things we did before, from going on holiday to going back to how our sex life was,” she says.

Zena has been with her partner Ray for five years. She was diagnosed with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) – which causes high levels of cholesterol from birth – in March 2017, and had a heart attack shortly after. She had an angioplasty and stent procedure, but still has some blockages in her arteries.

After her heart attack, it took Zena a while before she felt ready to have intercourse. “Initially I felt so scared to do anything,” she says. “All sorts of questions kept going through my head: ‘If I have an orgasm, will my heart stop or explode?’”

Instead, she shared intimate moments with her partner, which included lots of hugs. “It’s now about finding the ‘new normal’ for us,” she says.

There were some funny situations, too: “During a particularly intimate moment, my partner asked if I was okay. I was just checking my Fitbit to see what my heart rate was doing!”

Zena was told to lose weight to put less strain on her heart. She lost 32kg in 40 weeks, going from a size 22 to a size 12. “When I was a size 22, I always knew that I was gorgeous,” she says. “Now I am a size 12 with droopy boobs and a flat bum, I am not so sure. Taking my clothes off feels like a challenge.”

She’s found that nice underwear has helped her confidence. “I used to keep the nicest for ‘best’,” she says. “I have now taken to making sure I always buy and wear my ‘best’ every day – lots of lace, silk and satin and vibrant colours. I think this is helping me with my body image and confidence, which in turn is helping with my intimacy.”

She used to feel anxious if her partner was lying on top of her, so the couple have tried different sex positions.

Communication is key: “I talk to Ray while lying in bed because that is the relevant environment to discuss the issues. I draw pictures on his back with my fingers and discuss my thoughts and feelings with him, so we are still having close moments but in a different way.”

Where to get more information

The Sexual Advice Association (SAA) has downloadable factsheets on a number of symptoms and sexual problems - you can show these to your GP and partner to help start a conversation.

The SMART SAA app, created by the Sexual Advice Association, gives you information and advice on what you can do if you have any type of sexual problem or concerns. You can use the app yourself or with your partner. Download it via the App Store, Google Play or via the Sexual Advice Association website.

If you want to speak to a specialist doctor or therapist you can try:

  • Institute of Psychosexual Medicine – provides both private and NHS doctors specialising in sexual health across the UK – although be aware that for a NHS consultation you will probably need to be referred by your GP.
  • College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists – provides private consultations across the UK. You can search by location for a therapist.
  • If you decide to have a private consultation, be aware that fees can vary. It’s worth ringing around to make sure you find someone you like, and that the timing of the appointment works for you (consultations over Skype and telephone are often available). The outcome is usually better if you go as a couple.