One woman reveals what sex after heart surgery actually looks like
“When I tell potential partners about my heart, the first question they always ask is ‘Is it physically limiting?’ and I know they mean sex.”
When Alicia Philipatos was just three-days-old doctors discovered she had a rare condition called Tetralogy of Fallot, which meant she had a hole in her heart.
She was then constantly monitored with XRays, ultrasounds and stress tests until she was 4 ½ years old and her heart started showing signs of stress. She underwent open-heart surgery where a hole between her bottom heart chambers was fixed.
Despite this, Alicia tell mybodyandsoul.com.au she’s lived a very normal life. “My parents never restricted me. I played lots of sport: sprinting, dancing, hockey, tennis. I was super competitive.”
However four years ago, at 29, Alicia’s heart showed signs of stress again so she had to have another round of open-heart surgery. This time she was given a new valve.
Kim Zolciak Biermann Undergoes a Successful Heart Surgery0:58
Kim Zolciak Biermann undergoes heart surgery to fix the whole in her heart.
During this period, Alicia had a long-term live-in partner and while she prepared herself physically for what the surgery would entail she didn’t realise it would have such an impact on her relationship – more importantly the intimacy in her relationship.
“I was aware of the new limitations of my body but my partner wasn’t. He saw that I was in pain and I’d gone through a lot and he was scared to touch me, for fear of hurting me. He shied away from intimacy of every form – from hugging on the couch to sex,” she tell mybodyandsoul.com.au.
“Although I communicated my limitations to some degree, he just didn’t have the confidence to proceed. It was like he needed an external, professional source to tell him it would be okay.
“After the surgery the scar on my chest was big and lumpy and I’d cover it up when I was out but at home it was on display and perhaps it was a reminder for him.
"We noticed a huge drop in intimacy and two years after my surgery we broke up. There were of course many other reasons, but lack of intimacy was a contributing factor.”
Alicia believes education before the surgery could have really helped them both. She explains that it would have been good for the two of them to sit down with a professional and talk about what they could and couldn’t do.
Alicia isn’t alone
The Heart Foundation released a survey in February this year that showed more than eight in 10 Australian health professionals believe it is important to talk to heart attack survivors about sexual activity and intimacy, yet fewer than one in four do so.
“You’re often told to listen to your body and do what you feel is right, but it would almost be better if we had specific guideline. For example, ‘you can have sex in the missionary position she just can’t use her hands.’”
Alicia recalls one occasion, a couple of months before the surgery, when she’d had to have an angiogram which required her to be fitted with two catheters. Once removed, her legs were covered in a huge bruise which she says was the biggest bruise she’s ever had. “He couldn’t zone out the bruise and was really hesitant to come anywhere near me, for fear of hurting me.”
If her partner had access to more information, perhaps he would have been able to deal with things better. “We just didn’t communicate about the intimacy issues we had, and it soon become this elephant in the room.”
Nowadays Alicia is dating and is finding the experience very positive. “When I tell potential partners about my heart, the first question they always ask is ‘Is it physically limiting?’ and I know they mean sex.”
“I’m pretty fit. I run, I do yoga, I lift weights and I’d like to think my mindset is to keep that up, so they realise I am strong enough to do other things. It’s almost like ‘She can lift kettlebells so she can get on top’.
“At the end of the day, dating stories are dating stories so I’m not sure if I’m treated differently because of my heart, but I do often need to explain myself, especially once they see my scar and talk about my limitations.
"For me, it’s never just take your clothes off, there is always more communication beforehand. But it’s been a positive experience. The dating experiences have been good. The intimacy is pretty typical.”
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