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Do Penis Pumps Work? The Vacuum Pump Verdict

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/17/2023

Medical conditions beyond your control shouldn’t come with any stigma, but many -- including erectile dysfunction (ED) -- unfortunately do.

Erectile dysfunction affects approximately 30 million men of all ages and backgrounds across the United States. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including physical conditions such as heart disease and psychological issues such as sexual performance anxiety.

Fortunately, there are solutions out there that can help you get relief from erectile dysfunction and enjoy a fulfilling, satisfying sex life again.

These include erectile dysfunction medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), as well as non-pharmaceutical options such as penis pumps. 

Although using a penis pump to treat ED may not be your top choice, these devices can offer real benefits for your erections and sexual health.

Below, we’ve explained what penis pumps are, as well as how they work to make getting and maintaining an erection easier.

We’ve also discussed the scientific research on their effectiveness, potential risks associated with using a penis pump and alternative options you may want to consider if you’re one of the tens of millions of men affected by ED every year.

What You Should Know About Erectile Dysfunction Pumps

  • Penis pumps, or vacuum constriction devices (VCDs) work by using suction to draw blood into your penis, helping you to get and maintain an erection for long enough to have sexual intercourse.

  • Many studies have shown that penis pumps offer benefits for men with ED, although they’re not always the most effective form of treatment.

  • Penis pumps are meant to promote erectile function, not penis enlargement, so they will not permanently increase penis size.

  • Penis pumps can cause side effects when misused, including injury to the tissue and blood vessels inside your penis.

  • Although using a penis pump can make getting an erection easier, it can be awkward and interrupt intimacy, meaning it isn’t right for all sexual situations. 

  • Your healthcare provider may suggest using a manual or battery-powered pump if you have erectile dysfunction as a result of prostate surgery.

What Are Penis Pumps?

Penis pumps (also referred to as vacuum pumps, vacuum erection devices and ED pumps) are tube-shaped devices that treat erectile dysfunction by using suction to draw blood into the tissue inside your penis. 

Vacuum devices such as penis pumps have a long history as treatments for ED. In fact, the first devices for treating ED using suction were developed in 1917, according to an article published in the journal, Reviews in Urology. Decades later, penis pumps were marketed as a type of “youth equivalent device” for improving blood flow to the penis.

The science behind penis pumps is simple. Instead of relying on the vascular system to provide a consistent supply of blood for the penis naturally, a penis pump uses negative air pressure and an airtight seal to pull blood into the erectile tissue of the penis.

Most penis pumps are designed for use with a constriction ring, or penis pump cock ring, which is worn at the base of the penis to prevent venous outflow.

By pulling blood into the erectile tissue of the penis using negative pressure, a penis pump can make getting and maintaining an erection easier for men with damage to the nerves around the penis or fibrosis (scar tissue that develops in the penis).

Penis pumps are used by a diverse variety of men, but they’re a particularly common treatment option for men who have erectile dysfunction after radical prostatectomy -- a surgical procedure that involves removing the prostate gland.

This type of procedure can affect the nerves around the penis, which may affect sexual function and blood flow.

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How to Use a Penis Pump

Penis pumps are typically easy to use. Most consist of an elongated tube that’s designed to fit over your penis, as well as a constriction ring that’s worn during sex. 

Many penis pumps feature a battery-powered vacuum that removes air from the tube to create a harder erection. However, some penis pumps use a manual hand pump that you’ll need to operate by hand to produce a vacuum. 

To use a penis pump, place your penis inside the plastic tube. If necessary, you can apply lube to your penis to prevent rubbing or discomfort from the device. Either activate the pump or use it manually to remove air from the tube and stimulate blood flow to your penis.

Most penis pumps produce an improvement in penile blood flow almost immediately, allowing you to get an erection over the course of a few minutes. 

If you use a constriction ring to maintain your erection, carefully wear it near the base of your penis after using the pump. Make sure to pay close attention to the amount of time you wear any type of constriction ring, as excessive use may damage the tissue inside your penis.

To keep yourself safe, try to set a timer for 30 minutes after using your penis pump to prevent your constriction ring from affecting blood circulation within your penis.

How Does a Penis Pump Work?

Numerous studies have looked into the effects of vacuum therapy for erectile dysfunction, with most showing promising results. 

In one survey published in the Journal of Urology of more than 1,500 penis pump users, researchers found that 92 percent of men who used vacuum erectile devices reported being able to achieve an erection that was reliable enough to have sexual intercourse.

77 percent of the men reported having sex at least one time every two weeks, with none of the men that participated in the survey reporting any serious adverse effects.

A scientific review published in the International Journal of Impotence Research in 2010 looked at findings from 13 studies of vacuum therapy in ED treatment. 

Although the studies varied significantly in size and quality, many showed patient satisfaction or erection rates of more than 80 percent.

One of the longer studies published in the Journal of Urology analyzed as part of the review followed 202 men with ED for a period of 29 months.

The researchers found that nearly 70 percent of the men used the vacuum device on a regular basis, with a patient-partner satisfaction rate of between 80 and 90 percent.

Benefits of Using a Penis Pump

Penis pumps aren’t necessarily the best option for all men with ED, but they can offer a range of unique advantages. 

One of the biggest advantages of using a penis pump is that they’re reliable, especially if you’re unable to use medication to treat erectile dysfunction. Many men with ED caused by damage to the tissue surrounding the penis find that penis pumps are quick to work and effective. 

Most penis pumps are also easy to use, with just a few steps required to stimulate blood flow to your penis and produce an erection.

Unlike penile implants, penis pumps also do not require any type of surgical procedure on your penis in order to function effectively. They’re noninvasive and, with some practice, can even be used as a sex toy during foreplay to make sex more intimate.

There are also no long-term, recurring costs involved in using a penis pump. Unlike medication for ED, which needs to be purchased on a frequent basis, a penis pump is a one-time purchase that can last for several years before it needs to be replaced. 

Penis pumps also have several downsides, most of which are fairly minor. Arguably the biggest is that they’re indiscreet and require you and your partner to take a break during foreplay to stimulate your penis and produce an erection. 

For most people, this isn’t a dealbreaker. However, it may make sex awkward, particularly if you are having sex with a new partner. 

Penis pumps can also be time-consuming and inconvenient, especially when compared to oral medications for ED that can be taken prior to sex. 

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Are Penis Pumps Safe?

Penis pumps are generally considered safe when they’re used as advised. However, there are a few potential side effects and safety risks that you should be aware of if you’re considering using a penis pump to treat ED.

Potential side effects of penis pumps include:

  • Discomfort due to suction or constriction

  • Cyanosis (bluish-purple skin discoloration)

  • Petechiae (round, pinpoint spots on the skin)

  • Bruising that affects your penis

  • Difficulty ejaculating during sex

When a penis pump is used with a constriction ring, there’s also a risk of damaging your penis if the ring is left on for an excessive amount of time. 

If you use a penis pump and constriction ring together, it’s important to pay close attention to the amount of time you wear the constriction ring. Constriction rings should be worn for a maximum of 30 minutes to avoid causing ischemic injury (damage due to poor blood flow) to your penis. 

It’s important to use a constriction ring that’s made using a flexible material, such as silicone, to allow for easy removal. Firm constriction rings, particularly rings made from metal, often provide an overly tight fit and may be difficult to remove when your penis is erect. 

One thing that’s worth noting is that the erection you obtain with a penis pump won’t always feel like a natural erection.

When an erection is obtained using a vacuum device, there may be less firmness near the base of your penis. This means that you may experience rotation or instability when using the device, as well as a less stable erection during penetrative sex.

Another thing to keep in mind is that penis pumps aren’t safe for all men. If you have a disorder or medical condition that affects your blood, or if you have a history of priapism (prolonged and painful erections), you generally shouldn’t use a penis pump.

It’s especially important to seek medical advice from your healthcare provider before considering this type of device if you have a blood disorder such as sickle cell disease, or if you have any form of neurological or degenerative joint disease. 

It’s also important to consult your healthcare provider if you’re currently prescribed medication to treat any type of cardiovascular health condition, such as a blood thinner or high blood pressure medication. 

What’s the Best Penis Pump for You?

You can find penis pumps online at just about every price point, but not all of these devices are created equal.

If you need to use a penis pump to treat erectile dysfunction, your healthcare provider may give you a specific model that’s both safe and likely to be effective.

One important feature to look for when comparing penis pumps is a vacuum limiter -- a feature that limits the amount of negative pressure in the vacuum. This may help to reduce your risk of injury while using a penis pump. 

It’s also important to choose a constriction ring that’s the right size for your penis. A good penis ring should fit firmly enough to prevent blood from flowing out from your penis, but not so tightly that it causes pain or discomfort.

As always, if you’re not sure what type of penis pump or constriction ring to purchase, the best approach is to talk to your healthcare provider.

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The Verdict on Penis Vacuum Pumps

Penis pumps are an accepted form of ED treatment, but they aren’t for everyone. Their use can be awkward and the erections they produce don’t always feel totally natural, meaning they tend to be used only when other forms of treatment for ED aren’t effective.

Using a penis pump also requires you to manually apply the device just before sex -- something that might be inconvenient if you aren’t in a long-term relationship with an empathetic partner. 

Worried you might be developing ED? You can learn more about what to look for in our guide to the most common symptoms of erectile dysfunction, or learn about improving your sexual health naturally in our detailed guide to natural methods for protecting your erection.

10 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

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  7. Yuan, J., et al. (2010). Vacuum therapy in erectile dysfunction—science and clinical evidence. International Journal of Impotence Research. 22, 211-219. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/ijir20104
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  10. Definition & Facts for Erectile Dysfunction | NIDDK. (n.d.). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/definition-facts

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. Learn more about our editorial standards here.