You may feel conflicted by all the RED you are seeing in February: red hearts, red roses and suggestive ads reminding you to embrace your partner this Valentine’s season. The next commercial may remind you that 1 in 3 women die of cardiovascular disease and the symptoms in women often are not as clear as in men. Coupled with the media’s spotlight of people who die while shoveling snow or exerting themselves because of their cardiovascular disease, you may be wondering if being sexual active is safe with cardiovascular disease.
Too often I find women are reluctant to discuss their concerns about sexual performance and health with their doctors. I try to be proactive and ask my patients about their sex life and their satisfaction with it, and I find many women are choosing not to be sexually active, despite the desire to be, because of misinformation and a lack of attention to the issue by health care providers. Similar to heart disease in men and women, medicine for women’s sexual performance is less talked about than men’s. This leaves women in the dark and at risk for making decisions that may not be fulfilling to them or even place them at risk for discomfort or illness.
Cardiovascular disease certainly can affect a woman’s sex life negatively for many reasons, but for most women it does not mean the end of being sexually intimate if that is still something she desires. Most women with well-controlled and stabilized cardiovascular disease can safely engage in sexual activity. The key is that her disease is being controlled. Certainly following acute heart attacks, strokes or cardiovascular surgery there will be a period of recommended reduced physical activity that may alter a woman’s sexual practices. However, most women who complete any recommended cardiac rehabilitation and gain control of their disease can engage in sexual intimacy again.
How do you know if it is safe for you? If your doctor does not raise the issue with you: ASK YOUR DOCTOR! Don’t be shy. Your cardiologist, gynecologist or primary care doctor is able to answer this question for you. Even if your PCP or cardiologist gives you the green light, you may still experience discomfort or have questions about desire, arousal or performance. In this case, I encourage you to talk to a gynecologist. We are not only equipped with the ability to prescribe medications that can make your sex life more enjoyable if needed, but we are well- versed in talking comfortably with you about sexuality and how to achieve your personal goals in that area of life.
Dr. Gray-Swain is a board-certified physician at West End Ob/Gyn. Her practice can be reached at 314.286.2620.