Penis pumps: Who uses them, and do they work?

It might be a scary statistic for some blokes, but most men aged over 45 have some form of erectile dysfunction (ED)

There are many causes of ED, and health problems increase your risk of developing it. For example, you’re more than twice as likely to have erectile dysfunction if you have diabetes than if you don’t. ED can also be caused by psychological problems or cardiovascular disease — if you are worried about ED, you should book in to see a GP.

The good news is, ED is much less likely to affect you if you’re healthy, and there are several successful treatment options available, such as keeping fit and eating well, psychological help, and drugs known as phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE5) inhibitors, like sildenafil (Viagra) or tadalafil (Cialis).

Another treatment option is the use of a penile vacuum device, also known as a vacuum erection device, or a penis pump. 

What is a penis pump? 

Penis pumps are devices (often a plastic tube) designed to create a low-pressure vacuum that draws blood into the penis, resulting in an erection. 

A penis pump is made up of:

  • A plastic tube that fits over the penis
  • Hand or battery-powered pump attached to the tube
  • Band that fits around the base of the penis once it is erect, called a tension ring (or constriction band).

Do penis pumps work?

These devices may be effective for some men to achieve temporary improvements with their erections. However, they may not be effective for all men, and should not be used as a replacement for other treatments for erectile dysfunction.

Darren Katz, a urologist and the founder and medical director of multi-disciplinary clinic Men’s Health Melbourne, says the devices can work, but men experiencing ED shouldn’t use them as their first option.

“Penis pumps are generally second-line erectile dysfunction treatments — they can be considered after simpler measures, such as after PDE5 inhibitors, fail,” he says. “In general, second-line therapies include vacuum erection devices (VEDs) and penile injection therapy. Therefore when someone comes in for advice regarding vacuum erection devices, they should also be considered for other second-line therapies like penile injection therapy. Each of these options has its pros and cons, which need to be discussed with your doctor or specialist.”

Are penis pumps safe?

Although penis pumps are generally safe, it is important to note there are some risks and potential complications from their use, including bruising, numbness, and injury.

Potential side effects of using a penis pump include: 

  • Pinpoint-sized red dots called petechiae, which are caused by bleeding under the surface of the skin of the penis
  • Feeling of numbness, coldness or a bluish or purple appearance due to the tension band that fits around the base of your penis is in place
  • Pain or bruising
  • A feeling of trapped semen or painful ejaculation
  • Erections may not feel like they used to, due to a lack of firmness at the base of the penis

Katz says the devices can be good treatment options for some men, but they’re not for everyone. 

“On a superficial level they seem like a great idea,” Katz says. “There is a once-off cost and in about 30 seconds you have a strong erection that lasts until you remove the constriction band. But in reality, and in my experience, very few men see this as a good long-term solution for erectile dysfunction. The reasons are, is they can be cumbersome to use, especially in patients who are overweight or with dexterity issues. Secondly, the constriction band can be painful and causes the penis to become discoloured with venous congestion and can sometimes feel cold to touch. There is also the ‘hinge effect’ whereby the penis which is beyond the constriction band is firm but before (below) the constriction band is still soft. This can cause the penis to become ‘wobbly’ and bend with penetration.”

Where can you buy a penis pump?

Penis pumps can be bought online, over the counter or in specialist stores, but getting advice and a prescription from a doctor is the safest bet. 

“There are different vacuum erection devices which can be purchased either through specialty shops or online,” Katz says. “There are all different types including manually operated ones, or battery-operated ones. They vary in terms of their quality, durability and ease of use. Some can be less than $AU100 but a few are much more expensive than that.”

If you are concerned about erectile function and want to explore the use of penis pumps, speak to your GP or a specialist.

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