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To Have Sex or Not to Have Sex (After Heart Attack): That is the Question!

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The good news is that you survived a heart attack and missed that early (unscheduled and unwelcome) appointment with the grim reaper. You cheated death and you are flying high! You’ve been through cardiac rehab, the doctor has given you a clean bill of health and you’re ready to jump back into this amazing gift of life with both feet. After your heart attack scare, you are savoring every moment and life is three kinds of sweet. The sun shines just a little brighter, the flowers a little more fragrant than before and that big old harvest moon…. Ahhh, muy romantico!!! The only problem is that you and your main squeeze are sitting in separate chairs on opposite sides of the room watching Lucy reruns on TV instead of dancing in the moonlight and “spooning.”

Now, ladies, why is that? Personally, I think that being with your significant other – holding one another – cuddling – and yes, having sex – is one of the greatest gifts and pleasures in life. When everything else in life is so sweet, why would you deny yourself the pleasure of physical intimacy with your loved one after a heart attack?

It seems that there is a myth floating around (and yes, it is a myth) that most of us have bought into which says that having sex after a heart attack will cause you to have a subsequent heart attack – and no one wants to do anything to cause a second (or third or fourth) heart attack! The myth that sex is bad for heart attack patients is pretty widely accepted as truth (guess no one has been checking Snopes!) because according to researchers at the University of Chicago, more than 60 percent of all women and a third of all men avoid sex for at least a full year following a heart attack. That is a long time!

This heart attack-sex-avoidance myth has probably been fostered by movies and television shows (or perhaps one of those steamy little Sunday afternoon romance novels). After all, most of us have watched movies where the couples were engaged in awe-inspiring, mind-blowing-once-in-a-lifetime sex only to have one partner (usually the man – sorry guys) suddenly drop dead from a heart attack.

The truth is that very few people drop dead of a heart attack during sex (you could but most people don’t). Sex falls into the category of moderate exercise (yes, I know that it can be strenuous but by the time you have that first heart attack, the gymnastics portion of sex has probably been retired simply because we aren’t as flexible at turning into pretzels as we once were). In most cases, it’s safe to resume sexual activity as soon as the doctor has cleared you to engage in moderate exercise. According to Johns Hopkins, most people can resume sex within three to four weeks after a heart attack.

One of the problems in resuming sexual activity is that when it comes to sex, some doctors and patients have a military attitude when it comes to sex – you know – don’t ask/don’t tell. According to one University of Chicago study, this is particularly true for women who frequently don’t receive advice on when to resume sexual intimacy after a heart attack. That study found that only 40 percent of men received guidance from their doctors on when to resume sex. While 40 percent isn’t much, men fared better than women when it came to receiving a green light from their doctors on having sex. Only 17.5 percent of women in the study reported receiving guidance about when (or if) it was safe to resume intimacy.

If your doctor doesn’t bring the subject up of when to resume sex, you should. Sex can actually be a good thing for you after a heart attack. Not only does it count as moderate exercise, it lowers stress, improves your mood, and decreases anxiety and depression. Also, let’s face it – intimacy is an important part in our relationship. A year is a long time to go without enjoying sexual intimacy with our loved one and that is one added stress that your heart doesn’t need!

Having Sex After Heart Attack Does No Harm to Heart, 22 May 2010, Med India,

Sex After a Heart Attack – When Is It Safe?, Johns Hopkins Heart Health Alerts, 26 January 2007, http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/heart_health/JohnsHopkinsHeartHealthAlert_522-1.html

Holly S. Andersen, M.D., After the Heart Attack: Sex is Still Good for You, 18 July 2010, Women’s Voices For Change,

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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