Communicating about sexual activity and intimacy after a heart attack: a cross-sectional survey of Australian health professionals

Eur J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2024 Jan 3:zvad110. doi: 10.1093/eurjcn/zvad110. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Aims: Sexual activity and intimacy improve quality of life for heart attack survivors. After a heart attack, patients frequently experience sexual dysfunction and anxiety about resuming sexual activity. However, most health professionals do not discuss sex or intimacy with their patients. The aim of this research was to explore the perceptions and practices of Australian health professionals in discussing sexual activity and intimacy with heart attack survivors and the barriers to achieving this.

Methods and results: This study employed a cross-sectional study design and online self-administered survey questionnaire. Study participants were a convenience sample of Australian health professionals working with cardiac patients, including general practitioners, cardiologists, cardiac rehabilitation specialists, registered nurses, and allied health professionals. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and cross-tabulations to understand the different perspectives of health professional groups and the overall sample. Of 252 respondents, almost all believed discussing sex and intimacy with heart attack survivors was important, yet less than a quarter reported regularly doing so. About three-quarters reported feeling comfortable discussing sex and intimacy with either men or women, with half comfortable to do so with patients from diverse cultures. Barriers included lack of time, privacy, consumer resources, and protocols to guide discussions.

Conclusion: This research supports the need for structural changes such as a clinical protocol, longer and more private consultations, staff training, and culturally appropriate patient-oriented resources to support health professionals to guide discussions about sexual activity and intimacy with patients who have had a heart attack.

Keywords: Cardiac rehabilitation; Cardiovascular disease; Health education; Intimacy; Sexual counselling.