Scenario: It’s a cold winter night, and you’re happily snowed in with bae. You’ve Netflixed. You’ve chilled. You’re now in the throes of passion, but instead of clutching you, all of a sudden, he clutches ... his chest?
What would you do?
Sex has long been one of our favorite winter sports—and has been linked with a wide range of physical, mental and emotional health benefits. Since the advent of the HIV crisis, doctors have been vigilant in encouraging safe and informed sex by advising their patients to know their status and ask prospective partners for theirs. But according to new research, you may need to ask your partner another important question: “Can you perform CPR?”
A new investigation highlights the prevalence of sudden cardiac arrest during or within an hour of having sex. While previous studies have assessed the ways in which various types of physical activities contribute to other cardiac events, this study is the first of its kind to look solely at sex-induced SCA. The results, published this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Cardiology, indicate that although incidents of sex-induced sudden cardiac arrest were low, the majority of those who suffered from it were men—and about 19 percent of those men were black.
Disturbingly, findings also show that 66 percent of sexual partners did not perform CPR when witnessing their partner in cardiac distress. “Even though SCA during sexual activity was witnessed by a partner, bystander CPR was performed in only one-third of the cases,” said Dr. Sumeet Chugh, senior study author and associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in a press release. “These findings highlight the importance of continued efforts to educate the public on the importance of bystander CPR for SCA, irrespective of the circumstance.”
Sudden cardiac arrest is frighteningly common. Each year over 350,000 Americans experience SCA outside of a medical facility; and yet, according to statistics from the 2016 American Heart Association, only an estimated 46 percent receive CPR from those who witness it. Though a 2013 report (pdf) found that 60 percent of cardiac events are treated by emergency responders, bystanders can act, too—and they could make the difference between life and death.
But this information isn’t reaching the black community. In fact, a 2017 report indicated that a person suffering from a heart-related episode is less likely to receive lifesaving CPR or automated external defibrillators if it happens in a black neighborhood. Presumably, this disparity is due to lack of education and resources, but it highlights a vital need for more people, especially African Americans, to receive adequate training and attempt CPR when necessary. Performing CPR is easy, but the results are significant; it can double—and, in some instances, triple—an individual’s odds of survival.
And since this new research indicates that our men—who are often our intimate partners—may be especially vulnerable in their most intimate moments, it’s worth considering how basic knowledge of what to do in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest may ultimately save his life.
In the event of a cardiac emergency, the AHA encourages bystanders—both medical and nonmedical professionals—to call 911 and then to repeatedly push hard and fast at the center of the victim’s chest for 100 to 120 beats each minute. To find a CPR class in your area, contact the American Red Cross.
Ashley Lyles is a graduate student attending New York University’s Science, Health & Environmental Reporting Program (NYU SHERP). She is the 2017 recipient of the Cardiovascular Research Foundation’s Jason Kahn Fellowship in Medical Journalism and an aspiring pageant queen whose personal platform, Arrest the Risk, promotes heart-health awareness. Her work has appeared in the New York Times’ Daily 360, PBS NewsHour, the Huffington Post, TCTMD and Tonic (Health by Vice), among other publications.