If you’ve ever ruminated on your own death, chances are you’ve considered a massive heart attack mid-orgasm while being ridden reverse cowgirl as a preferable way to go. But how likely is that, really? Let’s take a look at a few ways that sex affects the health of your heart.
Despite the cliché, you should pretty much never worry about having a heart attack during sex. According to research out of Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, while sudden cardiac arrest results in more than 300,000 deaths each year in the U.S., fewer than 1 percent were linked with sexual activity. In fact, only 1 in 100 men and 1 in 1,000 women experience sudden cardiac arrest during sexual activity, according to the data.
Furthermore, according to research from Harvard University, for a healthy 50-year-old man, the risk of having a heart attack in any given hour is about one in a million; sex doubles the risk, but it’s still just two in a million. For men with heart disease, the risk is 10 times higher — but even for them, the chance of suffering a heart attack during sex is just 20 in a million, which is still pretty good odds.
Unfortunately, not all sex is healthy. According to a study out from the University of Florence, there has been evidence that sex with an unfamiliar partner — like sex outside of a marriage — can be risky for men with heart disease. “Unfaithfulness in men seems to be associated with a higher risk of major cardiovascular events,” wrote lead author Alessandra D. Fisher.
According to a few studies published in the last few years, sex does count as exercise because, technically, it helps you burn calories. It is not, however, a particularly effective form of exercise: One study from the University of Quebec at Montreal examined 21 heterosexual couples in their early 20s, tracking energy expenditure during exercise and sexual activity. The results showed that men burned 101 calories (4.2 calories per minute) on average during a 24-minute session. Women burned 69 calories (3.1 calories per minute). You could, in other words, burn three times as many calories with a leisurely 30-minute jog — calories that a single small bag of chips would pack right back on.
Worse still, a 2013 study found that for the average couple, sex lasts just six minutes and burns only 21 calories. Even more depressingly, it’s likely that both studies are overestimating the calorie count, since it’s likely the sex was more energetic and longer than usual, due to the fact the participants knew they were being monitored and wanted to impress the researchers.
Perhaps the most effective incentive to have more sex is the fact that the more you have, the less likely you are to develop heart disease. One study from the New England Research Institute found that men who had sex twice a week or more were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who had sex once a month or less (research like this typically focuses on men because more men get heart disease, FYI).
While such studies don’t prove that sex prevents heart disease, they do suggest that sex is part of an overall heart-healthy lifestyle. That’s because if you’re having more sex, there’s a good chance you’re living a more active lifestyle than someone who’s not.