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Do Male Enhancement Pills Work?

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/20/2021

When it comes to sexual satisfaction, the big question is: does size really matter? It depends who you ask.

Women often report that how a man uses his penis and whether he excels in other aspects of sex is more important than size. In fact, researchers at UCLA published a report showing that only 14 percent of women wished their partner’s penis was larger while 84 percent were “very satisfied” with its size.

For men, penis size is closely linked to self-image and self-esteem. Men who are self-conscious about the length or girth of their penis may be more likely to experience anxiety-induced erectile dysfunction.

If you’re worried that your penis is too small, take a moment to explore the research.

According to a study published in the British Journal of Urology International (BUJI), the average length of a flaccid penis is just over 3.6 inches. The average length of an erect penis, according to this same study, is just over 5 inches.

In another, small study, researchers surveyed women about their preferences for penis size and found that, for a long-term relationship, the women’s preferences were only slightly larger than the average.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get a little more out of your sex life. That being said, if you’re concerned about whether your penis measures up, you probably have nothing to worry about.

Below, we’ve delved deep into the subject of male enhancement to explore what it is, whether it works, and what options exist. We’ve also included some practical tips for choosing and utilizing male enhancement products.

Male Enhancement vs. Penis Enlargement

Before we dive into the world of male enhancement, it’s important to understand the difference between male enhancement and penis enlargement. The male supplement market is littered with confusing claims and conflicting evidence, so you should know what you’re getting into.

The term male enhancement generally refers to improvements in blood flow to the genital region to increase the length, girth, and strength of an erection. The idea is to enhance your sexual experience by helping you achieve and maintain an erection.

Penis enlargement is a different story.

This term is often used in conjunction with products that claim to increase the size of the penis itself, either flaccid or erect. Though certain male enhancement products may work to temporarily increase the size of your erection, there isn’t much you can safely do to permanently enlarge your penis.

The only way to safely and effectively make your penis look bigger is to lose weight.

Many men who think their penis is below average size are overweight. Excess fat in the abdominal and genital regions can hide the shaft of the penis, making it appear smaller. Losing weight won’t change the size of your penis, but it could make it appear larger in proportion to your body.

Do Male Enhancement Pills Really Work?

Men have been searching for ways to boost libido and improve sexual function for as long as we’ve had penises. Just about every culture has its own herbal remedies and supplements for this purpose, but male enhancement treatments backed by scientific evidence are limited.

In fact, some of downright dangerous.

The big question is: do male enhancement pills actually work? Again, the answer isn’t exactly clear.

It all comes down to the concept behind the product and the desired result. 

There are no male enhancement strategies that have been scientifically proven to safely and permanently increase the size of the penis, but the scientific community has accepted numerous treatments for erectile dysfunction. 

The idea behind most male enhancement pills is that increasing blood flow to the penis can contribute to a thicker and longer-lasting erection.

This is the concept harnessed by FDA-approved drugs like Viagra® (sildenafil) and Cialis® (tadalafil).

FDA-approved medications for erectile dysfunction generally contain active ingredients which increase the production of nitric oxide or testosterone. 

Increased testosterone production can increase libido and sexual function while higher nitric oxide production can dilate blood vessels, boost blood flow to the penis and increase the strength of the resulting erection.

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Pros and Cons of Male Enhancement Pills

There’s a great deal of misinformation out there regarding the safety and efficacy of male enhancement pills.

There are always risks involved when using medications or supplements, so it’s important to do your research before you try anything new.

We strongly caution against taking over-the-counter male enhancement supplements, especially products you find advertised online. 

In fact, the FDA issued a consumer update about the risks of male enhancement products sold online.

Here are some of the potential risks associated with male enhancement pills:

  • Unknown ingredients. Many male enhancement supplements make generic claims linked to specific ingredients, but they may not list all of the ingredients in the product. You should always exercise caution when taking supplements because they could contain ingredients you’re allergic to or ingredients the FDA has deemed unsafe.

  • Unclear ingredient concentrations. An FDA report revealed that many male enhancement supplements on the market contain sildenafil, the active ingredient found in Viagra. Because these supplements often don’t disclose the concentration of that ingredient, however, it could lead to negative reactions — particularly if you have a health condition.

  • Potential drug interactions. Not only can some of the ingredients in male enhancement pills be dangerous, but they could interact with other medications you’re taking. Many online manufacturers don’t clearly list the active and inactive ingredients. If you’re already taking medication for other health issues, it’s very risky to add a supplement unless you know exactly what’s in it.

  • Dangerous side effects. Some male enhancement supplements may not be quite clear when it comes to ingredients and manufacturing methods, so it’s hard to gauge the risk for side effects. Suffice it to say that if you don’t know what’s in the product, you can’t predict how your body will react and it’s probably better not to take the risk at all.

Generally speaking, the risks do not seem to outweigh the potential benefits when it comes to male enhancement supplements. When it comes to FDA-approved medications, however, there’s enough evidence out there that you can have an informed discussion with your healthcare provider to weigh the pros and cons in your situation.

Other Options for “Male Enhancement”

When it comes to treatment for erectile dysfunction, medications like Viagra and Cialis are some of the most popular options but they aren’t the only ones out there. Before you decide what treatment is right for you, take a moment to explore the other options.

Lotions and Creams

Topical male enhancement products typically come in the form of lotions and creams. These products typically include ingredients that are said to work by dilating the blood vessels to increase blood flow to the penis. Unfortunately, none of these products have been scientifically proven to deliver the desired result and some may even be harmful.

Vacuum Pumps

This method of male enhancement consists of a plastic tube that fits over the penis. 

Once the device is in place, a hand- or battery-operated creates a vacuum to draw blood into the penis, making it swell. 

When you’ve achieved the desired erection, you slip a rubber ring around the base of the penis to maintain the erection by preventing blood from escaping.

Also known as a penis pump, vacuum pumps like this can be used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction and they can temporarily increase the visual and workable size of the penis. 

Using these devices too often or for too long, however, can damage the elastic tissue in the penis. 

You could also develop numbness while the constriction band is in place or experience bleeding under the skin of the penis. Some users experience painful ejaculations or unnatural-feeling erections.

Exercises

Penis stretching exercises known as jelqing involve massaging the penis in hand-over-hand stroking motions to stretch the skin and push blood from the base into the head. 

The idea is to make the penis appear larger by creating micro-tears in the skin that swell when they heal. 

Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to suggest this method actually works to increase the length or girth of the penis.

Though jelqing may not increase the size of your penis, limited research suggests similar stretch techniques may be effective when paired with a traction device. 

A 2011 review of penile lengthening literature revealed that such traction devices yielded results comparable to surgery.

A 2013 review found, however, that traction devices were only effective in treating penis deformities, while a 2016 report found increased effects on penis length and girth.

Despite the conflicting studies here, it’s important for us to remember that the research in this space is extremely limited, which means we should take their findings with a healthy amount of skepticism.

Surgery

Surgical techniques are available to lengthen the penis, but they are not without risk. However, these surgeries can be quite expensive (think thousands of dollars), and if for cosmetic reasons, likely won’t be covered by insurance. 

Very few practitioners will even perform penis enlargement surgery for purely cosmetic purposes — it is typically reserved for men whose penises don’t function properly due to an injury or birth defect.

Penuma is the only penis enlargement surgery currently cleared for cosmetic use by the FDA. 

This procedure involves inserting crescent-shaped pieces of medical-grade silicone under the skin of the penis to increase its length and width. Aside from pain with erection and some loss of sensation in the first few weeks after treatment, potential complications of this type of surgery include infection, suture detachment, scarring, and blood clots.

How to Avoid the Scams

If you’re thinking about trying male enhancement pills, we encourage you to exercise a certain degree of caution. Not only do over-the-counter male enhancement remedies come with a risk for negative side effects, but some of the products out there are more than a little sketchy.

How do you know who to trust? What can you do to avoid falling for a scam?

Look for the following red flags when shopping for male enhancement products to avoid falling victim to a scam that, at best, doesn’t produce the desired result and, at worse, could harm you:

  • Promises of immediate results. You should always regard promises of immediate results with a healthy dose of skepticism, regardless the product. When it comes to male enhancement, consider that it takes time for a supplement to enter your bloodstream and produce the desired result. It simply isn’t practical to expect a male enhancement product to deliver results in under an hour, let alone within minutes.

  • Not made in the USA. This is not a red flag you should ignore. If the product isn’t made in the USA, that means it isn’t subject to FDA regulations. It may contain dangerous ingredients and the production methods could be sub-standard.

  • Spammy advertisement methods. If you only heard about the supplement because you received a spammy email, it’s probably not something you should trust. Stick to companies that operate with transparency and that don’t rely on tricking consumers into buying their products.

  • Marketed as an alternative to Viagra. When you come across a male enhancement product marketed as an alternative to FDA-approved drugs like Viagra, you should ask yourself why, if the product is so effective, the company hasn’t applied for approval.

  • Incomplete list of ingredients. You should never put something in your body unless you know exactly what it is. Don’t trust a male enhancement supplement that doesn’t include a full list of ingredients and be sure to check the list for ingredients deemed unsafe by the FDA.

Checking for red flags is an important step in avoiding scams and potentially dangerous products, but it’s important to know exactly what you’re buying as well.

Remember, scientific evidence doesn’t support the use of supplements to physically increase the length or girth of the penis. If you’re struggling to achieve and/or maintain an erection, however, medically approved treatments could help.

Final Thoughts

You deserve a satisfying and enjoyable sexual experience — so does your partner.

Whether you suffer from erectile dysfunction or you’re simply curious to know whether you can get a little bit more out your erection, you’ll be glad to know you have options. Talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns and to discuss treatment.

Though male enhancement pills may not be the right choice for everyone, there are natural, over-the-counter and prescription options available to help you achieve a stronger, harder erection for a more satisfying sexual experience.

However, It’s important to keep in mind that your best bet is always going to be with science-backed, FDA-approved medications that have decades of clinical trials and medical testing behind their proven efficacy.

Schedule an ED consultation online for free advice or check out our selection of online ED treatment options to get started.

Above all else, however, you should communicate with your partner about your concerns. It can be difficult to broach such an awkward subject but having an open and honest conversation with your partner could ignite the spark you’ve been looking for in your sexual relationship.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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