Mar 10, 2020
You probably know it’s important to keep your blood pressure under control. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) can lead to all sorts of health problems, including coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.
But did you know that high blood pressure can cause problems in your sex life, too?
What is high blood pressure?
As blood travels through your arteries, it exerts a certain amount of force along the arterial walls. This force is blood pressure. The higher your blood pressure, the more force your blood exerts against these walls.
Chances are, you have your blood pressure checked whenever you visit your doctor’s office. And it’s likely the nurse gives you two numbers:
- Systolic blood pressure. This refers to your blood pressure when your heart is beating.
- Diastolic blood pressure. This is your blood pressure between heartbeats, when your heart is resting.
Usually, your blood pressure is recorded with the systolic number first. So 120/80 might be read as “120 over 80.” In this example, the systolic blood pressure – the “upper number” is 120 and the diastolic pressure – the “lower number” – is 80.
These guidelines from the American Heart Association can help you determine if your blood pressure is high:
Less than 120
Less than 80
120 – 129
Less than 80
130 or higher
80 or higher
How Can High Blood Pressure Affect Sex?
For both men and women, good blood flow to the genitals is important for sexual response. But high blood pressure can damage the linings of your blood vessels, leading to plaque buildup and atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries. When this happens, blood has a harder time flowing to essential parts of the body.
Since blood flow to the penis is an important mechanism for erection, many men with high blood pressure develop erectile dysfunction, which means they can’t get or keep an erection firm enough for sex.
Men with high blood pressure might have problems with ejaculation and desire, too.
Reduced blood flow to the genitals can also be an issue for women, interfering with desire, arousal, vaginal lubrication, and orgasm.
Anxiety over high blood pressure and its associated health problems can affect the sex lives of both men and women, especially if it weakens relationships.
Couples may have less desire for sex. Or they may not feel sexually satisfied.
Sexual Side Effects of Blood Pressure Medications
Unfortunately, medications used to treat high blood pressure can cause sexual problems themselves. For example, diuretics (water pills) can reduce blood flow to the penis and lower levels of zinc, which a man’s body needs to make testosterone. Beta blockers are another type of blood pressure drug that can have sexual side effects.
If you think your medication is causing sexual problems, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. It might be possible to adjust your dose or change the drug you take. Don’t make any changes without a doctor’s guidance, however.
Keep Your Blood Pressure Under Control
Interested in maintaining healthy blood pressure? Great! Start by seeing your doctor. They can assess where you are right now and check for other medical issues that could be affecting your overall and sexual health, like diabetes and heart disease.
Then, consider making these lifestyle habits:
- Stick to a healthy diet. Some people follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You might also consider fat-free or low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts. Ask your doctor or nutritionist about the foods that are best for you.
- Cut back on salt and sodium. Check the sodium content of the foods you eat. Remember, processed foods tend to be high in sodium.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk for high blood pressure.
- Exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor about a fitness plan. It helps to find an activity you really enjoy. You might consider joining a gym, a fitness class, or a group activity with friends.
- If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke as well.
- Reduce your stress levels. Blood pressure can rise when we’re excited or stressed. Find ways to relax and try not to overextend yourself with commitments. Ask your friends and family for help if you need to. Some people manage stress with meditation.
- Consider using a blood pressure monitor at home. A home monitor can help you keep tabs on your progress.
Your doctor can help you with these strategies and suggest others tailored to you. If you need medication, be sure to take it as directed.
American Heart Association
“Monitoring Your Blood Pressure at Home”
(Last reviewed: November 30, 2017)
“This may be why slashing salt lowers blood pressure”
(May 13, 2019)
“What is High Blood Pressure?”
(Last reviewed: October 31, 2016)
“High blood pressure and sex: Overcome the challenges”
(January 9, 2019)
“High Blood Pressure”
(Page last updated: November 15, 2019)
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute
“DASH Eating Plan”
“High Blood Pressure and Sexual Problems”
(August 6, 2014)
“How Do Certain Diseases Lead to Erectile Dysfunction?”
(January 12, 2016)
“How High Blood Pressure Leads to Erectile Dysfunction”
(Reviewed: November 6, 2019)
“Meditation, Stress, and Your Health”
(Reviewed: June 18, 2018)