After any major health problem, it's understandable to feel trepidation when jumping back in the sack. Sex after any sort of trauma is something that doctors tend not to talk about with their patients, unless they have the wherewithal to ask. To that point: When is it safe to have sex soon after having a heart attack or stroke?
New guidelines from the American Heart Association regarding sex after a heart attack offer some answers. According to Elaine Steinke, the statement's lead author and a professor of nursing at Wichita State University, the period of time a man should wait to have sex following a heart attack varies, ranging from a week to a few months. She gives one simple test to measure whether you're ready for some action: Try climbing two flights of stairs at a pace of 20 steps in 10 seconds. Not a problem? You should be good to go.
There are some caveats. After having a heart attack – whether it's minor or major – you need to avoid heavy meals and alcohol before sex, and be well rested. Keep things familiar, such as your usual position, environment and, yes, partner (according to Steinke, chances of having a heart attack increase with new or unfamiliar partners). And take into consideration the broad spectrum of physical engagement, from kissing and touching to masturbation and intercourse. Start slow to build confidence before you get back in the swing of things.
Many patients unnecessarily hesitate resuming sexual activity following a heart attack, according to Steinke. "They fear that these risks are too great, so they prefer to avoid sexual activity altogether," she says. "That is really needless." After all, the heart health benefits of sex are similar to that of a moderate workout, and engaging in sex releases beneficial endorphins, lowers stress, can strengthen immunity, and increases self-esteem.