Sex and heart conditions

Couple laid in bed at home

It is normal to feel anxious about having sex if you have a heart condition. But there is no reason why you can’t continue to enjoy a healthy sex life. 

Sex is no more likely to trigger a heart problem, such as a heart attack, than any other form of activity. 

 

How can a heart condition affect my sex life?

In most cases, sexual problems are caused by the heart or circulatory condition itself. Or by worries and anxieties relating to it. 

It is common to experience impotence or erectile dysfunction (inability to achieve or maintain an erection). This can sometimes be a side effect of your medication. 

Do you have a heart or circulatory condition? You may experience the following symptoms: 

  • loss of sex drive
  • impotence or erectile dysfunction
  • vaginal dryness
  • difficulty reaching orgasm.

Why am I experiencing a loss of sex drive?

A loss of sex drive, or impotence, can affect both men and women. It is a common problem and may be a side effect of your medication. Anxiety can also have a huge impact on your sex drive and your ability to orgasm. 

You should not feel embarrassed to talk to your GP, nurse or cardiac rehab nurse who will be understanding and can offer you advice and support.

Are you worried about any side effects of the medication you’re taking? You can speak to your GP to see if they can change or reduce your dose. 

Or you could call our Heart Helpline to speak to one of our cardiac nurses. They can provide you with more information and support. Call on 0300 330 3311 (similar cost to 01 and 02 numbers).

How soon can I start having sex again?

Whether you have angina or are recovering from a heart attack or heart surgery you should be able to continue having sex as soon as you feel well enough – usually around two to four weeks after a heart attack.  

If you’ve had surgery it might be longer. Find a position that works for you and doesn’t put too much strain on your wound. It might be helpful to place a small cushion against your wound between you and your partner.

Sex is just another form of exercise. You should be fine to have sex if you can walk a mile on the flat in about 20 minutes. Or climb two flights of stairs in 20 seconds. 

How can I reduce my anxiety about having sex?

There are lots of things that you can do to reduce your anxiety about sex, such as:

  • talking to your partner or GP about any worries you have
  • finding new approaches to being intimate, such as have an cuddle and pleasuring each other. You can still be sexually intimate without having sexual intercourse
  • changing the time when you have sex, such as in daylight hours when you’re less tired
  • keeping the room and bed at a comfortable temperature
  • choosing a relaxing atmosphere.

When you are ready to start having sex again, think about the following:

  • avoid having sex after a heavy meal as there is a risk of indigestion after eating which can mimic chest pain. This may cause you to feel lightheaded or dizzy during digestion.
  • avoid too much alcohol before sex as it could make you lightheaded and can increase the risk of arrhythmias
  • find a comfortable position that works for you
  • ask your partner to take a more active role
  • if you have a GTN spray or tablets, keep them where you can reach them just in case you need them.

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 SAA has created the SMART SAA app. Giving 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.  

Related content:

 

Want to know more?

Order or download our publications:

Booklet for people with angina.

Angina

Booklet

The front cover of the British Heart Foundation

Heart attack

Booklet