The XX Factor

Extramarital Sex May Be (Slightly) More Likely to Cause Heart Attacks

Then-incoming US Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich sits with his wife, Marianne, in a church in 1995.

Photo by POOL/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps Newt Gingrich was just being health-conscious when he reportedly asked his second wife Marianne for permission to take additional lovers in an “open marriage” arrangement. According to research sponsored by the American Heart Association released today, illicit extramarital sex may be slightly more likely than the consecrated kind to cause heart attacks in men suffering from heart disease.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on the study’s methodology :

[The researchers] reviewed more than 100 studies to determine the risks. In autopsy reports of 5,559 cases of sudden death, 0.6 percent occurred during sexual intercourse, they found. Of those who died, 82 percent to 93 percent were men and 75 percent were having extramarital sex, in most cases with a younger partner and after excessive food and alcohol consumption, the report said.

Glenn Levine, the lead author of the statement published in the journal Circulation, pointed out to Bloomberg that while “the risk of heart attack during sexual activity is about 2-3 times higher than during periods when one isn’t engaging in sexual activity,” in the grand scheme of things the risk does not outweigh the benefits of sex, which include exercise (one tryst is equivalent to walking up two flights of stairs) and emotional connection with one’s partner.

As for the true danger for cheaters, the researchers noted that the limitations of the study’s sample size made it impossible to truly quantify the absolute increase in risk, which can’t be much. Still, 75 percent is a strikingly large number, and it seems logical that the added stress of secret a rendezvous might be more likely to trigger an episode. Yet more evidence that couples might do well to think about a little negotiated non-monogamy, if only for their health.