Patients with heart and circulatory conditions are too embarrassed to talk about sex

10 October 2018        

Category: Survival and support

Our new findings reveal the devastating impact heart and circulatory conditions can have on many patients’ sex lives across the UK.

Our survey of over 2,000 patients, diagnosed with a heart or circulatory condition such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes found that 43% said their sex life had got worse as a result of their condition. The findings also revealed that over one in five (22%) of those surveyed stopped having sex altogether. 

picture of cushion depicting peoples answers to question - has your condition affected your sex life

Despite sex being a serious concern for over half of respondents, only 37% had discussed their concerns with someone else. Women found it a particularly sensitive subject to address, with over three quarters (79%) of female respondents having not discussed their concerns about sex with a heart condition with anyone.

According to our survey, the most common causes for concern are; the fear of  losing their libido (41%), the side effects of medication on their sex drive (33%), difficulties reaching orgasm (31%), their  conditions having an effect on their relationship (28%) and never having sex again (28%). Worryingly, 23% were worried about the chance of having a cardiac arrest during sex.

infographic to show results of a survey question using bed and bedside table

Nearly half (43%) of respondents said that their sex life has got worse as a result of their condition with 65% of men saying that erectile dysfunction had been one of the main ways their condition had affected their sex life. A third of women had lost interest in sex (31%) and more than one in five women (23%) reported that their condition had left them feeling unattractive and body conscious. 

Zena Jones, 62, from Newcastle, suffered a heart attack in 2017 and has since been concerned about the impact on her sex life, she said; “I felt guilty about not being able to do the things we did before. Initially I felt so scared to do anything, all sorts of questions kept going through my head like if I have an orgasm, will my heart stop or explode!”

The majority of those who said they had discussed their bedroom habits had only done so with a partner (77%) or a GP (64%).  Out of those who had attended cardiac rehab a quarter (25%) said they wanted more information, and over one in five (22%) would have preferred to discuss the subject on a one to one basis. 

picture of slippers indicating percentages of why people didn't discuss their concerns

Overall, it’s clear that many patients with heart and circulatory conditions felt that their thirst for information is not being satisfied. Nearly three quarters (72%) of respondents turned to the internet for information. However, over half (52%) hadn’t been able to find the information, from any outlet, they were after and nearly two thirds (63%) of those questioned still had not resolved their intimacy issues.

June Davison, our Senior Cardiac Nurse, said: “Sex is a hugely important part of life, but isn’t getting the attention it deserves in the consultation room. The results of our survey tell us loud and clear that patients with heart and circulatory conditions need better support and information on how to deal with issues affecting their sex lives.

"Having a heart and circulatory condition doesn’t mean your sex life is over. We need to break the stigma so people who have a condition that’s affecting their sex life feel comfortable and empowered enough to raise these issues, and ask for the support they need.

“The British Heart Foundation website offers information on where to get help if you’re experiencing sexual difficulties and we would encourage anyone who is affected to speak to a medical professional or contact our heart helpline. A diagnosis of heart or circulatory disease doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life.”

For more information and support call our Heart Helpline on 0300 330 3311

Find out more about sex and heart conditions