Those who have experienced a heart attack may be able to engage in sexual activity safely once they can walk briskly or climb stairs without experiencing certain symptoms.

Recovery from a heart attack may be different for everyone, and people can discuss with a doctor when it is safe for them to have sex again.

This article looks at potential recovery times, tips for physical intimacy related to mental and emotional health, and any medical considerations.

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The American Heart Association states that most people can resume their usual pattern of sexual activity within a few weeks after a heart attack.

Having a heart attack during sexual activity is rare. However, to reduce the risk of cardiac-related complications, it is best to take part in regular physical exercise or cardiac rehabilitation.

Sex has the same effects on the body as other forms of exercise, meaning it can be good for the heart. Becoming sexually aroused after a heart attack will not cause people harm.

It is best for people to speak with a cardiologist to find out how long they may need to wait before having sex after experiencing a heart attack.

It may be safe for people to have sex once they can resume activities requiring a certain level of exertion, such as climbing two sets of stairs, without experiencing symptoms.

The time frame may differ for each person, depending on their symptoms and whether they have a heart condition. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, many people can have sex 2–8 weeks after a heart attack.

However, if people continue to have shortness of breath or fatigue with activity, they will need to wait until this no longer occurs.

People who have undergone chest surgery will need to wait until their breastbone has fully healed before having sex. This can take 4–6 weeks.

While recovering, people can ease into physical intimacy by holding hands, kissing, and cuddling. If people experience emotional concerns around sex after a heart attack, the following tips may help:

  • coming to understand that a heart attack or condition may alter a person’s sex life, and they can take resuming sexual activity at their own pace
  • discussing feelings and concerns with a sexual partner, if applicable, and spending quality time together to deepen the relationship
  • attempting to have sex in a relaxed setting free of possible interruptions
  • engaging in foreplay to allow a person’s heart rate and blood pressure to increase gradually
  • maintaining exercise, stress management, and heart-healthy eating habits as much as possible

Avoiding extra physical stress

People can reduce the risk of placing extra stress on the heart by avoiding sex in the following situations:

  • in very cold or hot temperatures
  • within 2–3 hours of eating
  • after drinking alcohol or having a heavy meal

It is important to stop sexual activity and seek immediate medical attention if a person experiences any chest pain during sexual activity.

Medication effects

Some erectile dysfunction medications may interfere with certain drugs for heart conditions. For example, although phosphodiesterase inhibitors are safe for people with cardiovascular disease, they are unsafe to take alongside nitrate medications.

Taking erectile dysfunction medications within 48 hours of any nitrate medication, including sprays and patches, can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Herbal medications for erectile dysfunction are also unsuitable to take with heart medications.

A heart attack may affect a person’s sex drive by impacting their mental health or due to side effects of certain heart medications.

Mental health and sex drive

A heart attack and the recovery process may affect a person’s mental health and a partner’s if they have one. Anxiety, depression, and other conditions can impact sexual function.

People may find it helpful to speak with a sex counselor or therapist, who may be able to help resolve any sexual issues relating to emotional or mental well-being.

Medications and sex drive

Some medications for treating heart disease or high blood pressure may cause a loss of sex drive or sexual dysfunction.

The National Heart Foundation of New Zealand notes that heart disease or the side effects of heart medication may cause a reduced sex drive or vaginal dryness. Additionally, heart disease may cause a lack of blood flow to the genital area, resulting in:

People may find that using lubricants and treatments for vaginal dryness helps. They may also try having sex before taking any blood pressure medications to prevent sexual dysfunction.

It is important that people do not stop taking any medication for a heart condition. They can discuss any side effects relating to sexual function with a doctor, who may be able to alter their dosage or suggest an alternative to prevent or reduce these.

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about sex and heart attacks.

When is it safe to masturbate or engage in oral sex?

Masturbation or oral stimulation can have the same effects on the heart as sexual intercourse. People can engage in these activities after a heart attack when it is safe to have sex again.

Are there benefits of having sex after a heart attack?

According to a 2020 study, resuming sex after a heart attack may help improve overall survival rates. Its findings suggest that resuming sexual activity within the first few months may link to improved long-term survival rates.

Should people with heart conditions avoid sexual intercourse?

According to a 2018 article, sexual intercourse is generally safe for people with cardiovascular disease whose condition is stable.

A doctor can advise on whether sex is safe and may carry out a stress exercise test or other cardiovascular diagnostics to check.

Are there any sexual positions to avoid after a heart attack?

People can choose positions that feel more comfortable and avoid those that put pressure on the chest area after open heart surgery.

Initially, people may want to choose less active positions that use less energy, such as missionary or sitting positions.

Visit our dedicated hub to learn more about a variety of sexual health topics.

People can speak with a cardiologist about when it is safe to have sex after a heart attack and heart surgery.

It may be safe to resume sexual activity once they can walk briskly or climb a few flights of stairs without experiencing symptoms such as breathlessness or tiredness.