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Penis Pumps for ED: The Vacuum Pump Verdict

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 10/19/2020

Medical conditions beyond your control shouldn’t come with a stigma, but many — including erectile dysfunction — do. 

Erectile dysfunction affects millions of men of all ages, but when it affects you, you’re the only one that matters. Fortunately, there are solutions out there that can have you active in the sack once again. 

Erectile dysfunction pumps are one such option, though they may not be your top choice. Read on to understand the ins and outs of these medical devices. 

TL;DR: What You Should Know About Erectile Dysfunction Pumps 

  • Penis pumps work using suction to draw blood into the penis, creating a pseudo-erection for sexual activity. 

  • Many studies have shown such pumps to be effective in providing erections capable of sexual intercourse. 

  • There are possible side effects to using penis pumps, including penis injury. 

  • The erection you obtain with a pump isn’t like a naturally-obtained erection, as the base of your penis does not get rigid. 

  • Using a penis pump can be awkward and interrupt intimacy, making it not right for all situations. 

About Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction affects tens of millions of men in the U.S. alone. While the risks of developing ED increases with age and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, you don’t have to be old or unhealthy to experience it.

The potential causes of erectile dysfunction are many, as sexual arousal and the physical response to it are complex events in a man’s body. 

Physical conditions like diabetes, obesity, sleep disorders, alcoholism and surgeries can lead to ED, but so can mental conditions like stress, depression and relationship problems.

Depending on the causes of your ED — whether physical or psychological — there are treatment options out there.

Prescription medications such as sildenafil (Viagra® or generic Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis®) are widely accepted as safe and effective, as are certain forms of therapy, lifestyle changes, etc. 

Penis pumps are another option. 

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What Are “Penis Pumps”? 

Penis pumps — also sometimes called vacuum pumps, vacuum erection devices or ED pumps — are a treatment option for men who have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection. 

To use a penis pump, you place the plastic tube over your penis and operate a pump (either by hand or electronic) that removes air from the tube.

This creates suction, which brings blood into the penis. 

A constriction ring is placed at the base of the penis to prevent the blood from flowing out, allowing you to maintain the erection for sex. 

Penis pumps are an attractive option for men with ED for several reasons: after one up-front cost, they’re inexpensive; they’re noninvasive and they can be used with other treatments, such as PDE5 inhibitors. However, there are few risks involved.

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The Evidence: How Well Does It Work?

Numerous studies have looked at the effects of vacuum therapy for erectile dysfunction, and had promising results. 

One analysis sent out 1,517 questionaires to men who had used a pump to treat their ED, and found 92 percent acheived an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse, and 77 percent were having sex at least every two weeks with the help of a penis pump.

A 2010 review of existing literature at the time examined 13 studies on the effectiveness of vacuum therapy in ED treatment.

The studies varied widely in size and quality, but several of the studies had satisfaction or erection rates over 80 percent. 

One of the longer studies analyzed followed 216 men for a period of 29 months and found nearly 70 percent used the device regularly with a patient-partner satisfaction rate of between 80 percent and 90 percent.

The Downsides: Risks and Side Effects 

Penis pumps are considered safe, but there are a few side effects to watch out for

  • Pain or bruising

  • Tiny red dots caused by bleeding under the surface of the skin

  • Numbness or bluish-tinged skin, caused by the constriction ring

It’s recommended the constriction ring be left on your penis no longer than 30 minutes, to prevent injury.

Also worth noting: the erection you obtain with a penis pump won’t feel like a “natural” erection.

Generally, there’s less firmness at the base of your penis with an erection obtained through a vacuum device, so you’ll likely experience rotation or movement you wouldn’t normally see. 

This is part of the reason penis pumps are largely seen as a solution most acceptable among elderly men with only occasional need for its use. 

Rarely, complications such as leg spasms, bleeding from the urethra and testicular migration have been reported.

Choosing a Penis Pump

You can find penis pumps online, but not all of these devices are created equal.

Your healthcare provider can also prescribe specific models to help ensure you’re outfitted with one that is both safe and most likely to be effective.

One important thing to look for when comparing penis pumps is a “vacuum limiter.” This feature prevents injury by limiting the amount of negative pressure in the vacuum. 

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The Verdict on Penis Pumps for ED

Penis pumps are an accepted form of ED treatment, but they aren’t for everyone. Their use can be awkward and the results less-than natural.

While they can be effective, that doesn’t automatically mean a pump is the right solution for your lifestyle. 

Using a penis pump requires you to manually apply the device just before sex — if you’re in a long-term relationship with an empathetic partner, this may be fine. 

But for many men who crave spontaneity, this inconvenience could make it a last resort option.

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.