Sexual Activity and Your Heart

Overall Health Benefits

Humans are wired for social connection and close connections with others, including your partner, makes you happier and healthier.  Intimacy and sexual activity facilitates bonding and creates a feeling of connectedness with your partner.  In addition to pleasure, studies have found that sex actually boosts your overall health. Sexual arousal releases chemicals and hormones within the body – these act as messengers and help control a variety of our body systems and promote positive mood.

  • Sexual arousal releases feel good chemicals and hormones that stimulate our reward and pleasure    system in the brain – this results in decreased anxiety and is overall supportive of brain health. 
  • Many people have an easier time sleeping after sex and this is because a natural hormone is released which promotes feelings of relaxation. 
  • Sexual stimulation and orgasm promotes hormone balance and can help reduce pain.  Hormones are released that can help block pain signals.
  • Regular sexual activity supports cardiovascular health.
  • Women who have regular orgasms have stronger pelvic floor muscles and less urinary incontinence


Hearing and Understanding Each Other’s Emotions

A chronic health condition can be hard on relationships especially your relationship with your partner. Talking openly and honestly to your partner about your needs, desires and fears about sex is important as you return to sexual activity after your heart event. Ask your partner how he/she is feeling and listen to what they’re saying. What are his/her fears? Focus on his/her experience and acknowledge that their feelings are real. You may be having the same feelings or concerns. Sharing your feelings and emotions with each other can help build and improve sexual intimacy

Once you have listened and expressed that you hear each other, share your thoughts and feelings. Problem solve together and collaborate. If you feel that you have drifted apart from one another, take this time to rekindle your romance and remind each other what drew you together in the first place. To get the support you need, be clear and direct about the help that you want.  Support each other by not being judgmental of each other or yourself. Be compassionate, experiment, and remember to laugh when things don’t go as planned.

Having fears and anxiety around sexual intimacy after a heart event is normal. These emotions may lower your interest in sexual activity. Talk to your doctor about risks and what precautions to take. Ask Cardiac Rehab about seeing our Behavioral Health Specialist to discuss your emotions after your heart event. Consider sharing this article with your partner.

Ways to Build Intimacy

Intimacy is about feeling connected and close to someone and feeling loved for who you are. Even if you are not able to be sexually active, it is still possible to feel close to your partner. Take the time to reconnect emotionally. Try some of these ways to build intimacy while nurturing your relationship as well as your heart.

  • Kissing, cuddling, kind words and togetherness are all important ways to be close to each other. This will increase your feelings of intimacy.
  • Offer physical touch on a daily basis. Touch non-verbally reassures your partner that you care. Simply touching, being touched and being close to someone helps a person feel loved and special. For example, a hug or a kiss for no reason or a brief back or shoulder rub. Hold hands while watching TV or while out and about.
  • Give each other a massage. Massage can reduce physical limitations and aid in arousal.
  • Try different touches, pressures and strokes all over the body to learn how one’s body best responds. This is a good exercise for partners to gain an understanding of each other’s bodies and arousal response in a safe, less vulnerable way than during sexual activity.
  • Listen to your favorite kind of music together. Slow dance together if you are able.
  • Go on a date together. Go to a museum, show, concert or movie. Take an interest in your partner’s hobbies. Do anything that you both enjoy or try something new together.
  • Take a walk or stroll together. Getting out and enjoying fresh air can help improve your mood. Exercise itself releases endorphins, or feel good chemicals, which may help you feel happy and counteract negative emotions such as fear or depression.

Returning to sexual intimacy

A healthy sex life has many benefits. It can lower stress, make you feel better about yourself and deepen your relationship with your partner. Here are some tips for getting your sex life back:

  • Set up a healthy routine for eating, resting, sleeping, exercising and managing stress. Maintain good attendance at cardiac rehab. This can help you feel good about your body, build confidence and improve heart health.
  • Think about your daily schedule and choose a time of day where your energy is at its peak. Plan other activities so your day is more conducive to sexual activities.
  • Planned sex does not mean boring sex. Picking a time and location can help both parties avoid over exerting themselves and thus help the experience be more enjoyable.
  • Use a comfortable, familiar setting so you feel less stressed. Or create a romantic atmosphere using soft music and candles.
  • Avoid having sex in a very hot or cold place, after a heavy meal and after drinking a lot of alcohol. Sex in these situations can cause more stress on your heart.
  • Take things slowly at first (just like warming up before exercise) to help reduce the work the heart has to do. Plan to have plenty of time to enjoy each other.
  • Foreplay in a relaxed setting lets your heart rate and blood pressure increase gradually.
  • Understand that things will not be perfect at first. Reaching orgasm may not be the goal at this time. You might need to lower your expectations. Go slowly and at your own pace.
  • Have your partner on top to lower your effort and reduce the work you have to do. Lying on your back or side may be more comfortable.
  • Returning to sexual activity gradually can help you avoid symptoms of angina. Stop if you have chest pain. Rest and allow pain to resolve. If pain doesn’t resolve or worsens, call 911. Contact your cardiologist or family doctor as soon as possible.

When is it Okay to Return to Sexual Activity?

Many people are concerned about having sex after a heart attack or heart surgery. It’s important to know that sexual activity (full intercourse, masturbation, orgasm, and/or oral stimulation) is like any other activity and requires less exertion than many activities such as bicycling, golf or gardening. Sexual activity uses about the same amount of energy as brisk walking or climbing two flights of stairs.

Talk to your cardiologist about when you can safely have sex again. For most people, that is two to eight weeks after your heart attack or heart surgery. As a general guide, when you can climb 20 stairs or can go for a brisk walk, you’re probably fit enough to have sex. People with persistent unstable angina, shortness of breath or tiredness after climbing two sets of stairs should wait until they are doing better.

Sexual Activity after a Heart Attack

If you’ve had a heart attack, your doctor may recommend you wait for one to six weeks before resuming sexual activity, depending on the severity of your heart attack and your treatment

Sexual Activity after Surgery

Recovery from your surgery is one of the few times that you may have to postpone the resumption of sexual activity. Fatigue after surgery is very common and may understandably delay your desire to resume sexual activity. Open heart surgery causes significant trauma to your chest. Bones, muscles, tissues and incisions both need time to heal. As you resume sexual activity, remember to use a position that doesn’t require to hold yourself up by your arms and/or put pressure on your sternum/chest for at least six weeks.

Living with Heart Disease

There is no reason to avoid sex if you live with a heart condition such as stable coronary heart disease, heart failure or atrial fibrillation. The same cautions apply as they do for sex following a heart attack such as being well rested, not eating too heavily and avoiding alcohol and tobacco. If you have heart failure, then fatigue due to heart failure or your medications may be the most limiting factor preventing sexual activity. Discuss your concerns and problems relating to sex with your doctor or our pharmacist.

Sexual Dysfunction and Medications

Some men may experience erectile dysfunction after their cardiac event due to their medications. Medications for erectile dysfunction are generally safe to continue using with one exception- if you take nitroglycerin you need to take precautions regarding the timing of erectile dysfunction with your nitroglycerin medication. Your physician or our pharmacist can give you the information you need.

Vaginal dryness is a common symptom of sexual dysfunction among women. Some heart medications can lead to vaginal dryness and/or affect the flow of blood to the vagina. Less blood flow to that area can cause the vagina to be less sensitive or cause discomfort and pain thus making it difficult to reach orgasm.  You may also find it useful to talk to a psychologist/therapist about the emotional aspects of sexual desire.

Antidepressants can interfere with libido and orgasm in both men and women as well. Some medications used to treat coronary artery disease, hypertension and depression can cause a drop in your sex drive and difficulty with erections or orgasms.

Talk with your doctor if you think your medications are causing sexual dysfunction. You may have to try a different medication or dose.

Never stop taking your medications because you have side effects that affect your sex life.


♥ Finally, try to let go of any fears and be in the moment.