Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/20/2022
Erectile dysfunction (ED) has entered the chat. After endless internet searches for ways to treat ED, you somehow landed on electrical stimulation. And now, naked from the waist down and fiddling with adhesive pads, you’re Googling “male TENS unit pad placement for ED.”
Erectile dysfunction can be an embarrassing problem. After all, it affects men in one of the most intimate, vulnerable and unmasked areas of their lives: sexual intimacy.
If you’ve ever failed to get your erection off the ground, you know how bad it feels. Even a little electroshock therapy seems tolerable when faced with the chance of experiencing that again.
But is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) the solution? Are you really going to "fix" your penis with some battery-operated zapping? And how close, exactly, does this thing need to get to your family jewels to work correctly?
We’ll walk you through the answers to these questions, starting with how this thing with the wires and the pads works. Here’s what to know about male TENS unit pad placement for ED.
TENS is short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. A TENS pad is an electronic device designed to give you that stimulation directly in a targeted location on your body.
You may already be holding one of these medical devices, but if you’ve never seen one before, it’s typically battery-powered and often small enough to fit in your pocket.
Electrodes are placed on the skin with pads, where they conduct the unit’s power source into the body through small pulses of energy between roughly 10 to 50 hertz, depending on your needs.
There’s a whole rabbit hole you can go down in the history of this treatment. Some argue it traces back to the year 60 when Roman physicians prescribed touching electric fish in the ocean for symptom relief.
Fast-forward to recent decades when the modern version of a TENS unit was developed for migraines, gout and general back pain.
Today, these devices can be used outside the ocean. They can even be used while going about your daily life — as long as you’re not bathing, driving or operating heavy machinery.
What about erectile dysfunction? Can a TENS unit stimulate the blood vessels or nerves in your most sensitive areas and help with ED? And if so, where do those electrode patches have to go?
While these are important questions, they don’t have clear answers.
Take this 2008 study that looked at electrode stimulation through the perineum (yes, that’s also known as the taint). Electrostimulation was used to treat neurogenic erectile dysfunction — ED caused by neurologic issues.
Researchers looked at 28 healthy patients and 18 with complete neurological ED. Both the healthy volunteers and the ED patients saw benefits from the treatment, with the ED patients actually seeing a longer response in comparison.
This led the study’s authors to suggest that when other treatments of erectile dysfunction fail, electrostimulation provides a potential solution to ED problems (though additional research is necessary to understand how and further develop the optimal system).
So yes, research shows that electrical stimulation of the area between your anus and scrotum can offer some erectile function benefits.
But that’s assuming you can handle the idea of a medical treatment resembling a Jackass stunt.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself how safe this is. What do clinical trials say about using electrical impulses for ED?
Are your genital nerves and penile nerves in danger? Are you one mishap away from becoming the least child-friendly superhero in Marvel’s canon? Not hardly, according to what we know from observational studies.
Generally speaking, TENS units are considered safe.
They’re a contact-based application of electricity. Some research shows TENS electrodes may cause problems with transdermal drug delivery where the pads are placed (or near the area). Still, your highest risk is for something like contact dermatitis where the electrode pads are placed — in other words, an allergic reaction to the adhesive materials.
Oh, and they make special pads for people with this problem.
Aside from the risk of injury due to malfunction or an errant zap causing you to careen off the road if you use this thing while driving, the risks are generally very, very low.
Unfortunately, along with those generally low risks of injury comes a generally unproven benefit for this treatment — at least in comparison to proven ED treatments.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there’s no consensus on whether TENS is effective in pain relief. And from what we can tell, this applies to other uses for TENS, including erectile dysfunction.
For example, no NIH resources mention ED treatment as a proven or approved use for a TENS unit. In fact, none of the official resources mention ED at all.
But a 2020 study that compared electrical stimulation to aerobic exercise for erectile dysfunction had some interesting findings.
Exercise (specifically the type that improves your heart health) is considered a great element of treatment for vascular erectile dysfunction because high blood pressure and hypertension can be associated with ED issues.
In this experiment, the active electrode pad was placed “circularly” on the penis (which we assume to mean around the shaft). After six weeks, researchers found that electrical stimulation from a TENS unit on penises was more effective in managing ED than exercise.
Now, that study has some holes we’d like to point out. It excluded people with diabetes, cardiac pacemakers, uncontrolled high blood pressure and other medical conditions often associated with poor health.
In our opinion, that’s precisely the kind of stuff that could benefit from exercise. Also, the study’s length was arguably too short for serious changes in health to result from exercise.
But even with these caveats, it’s a substantial accolade for electrical stimulation to perform so well.
Sadly, that’s most of the data we have.
TENS units and electrical stimulation, in general, have seen limited research as ED treatments. Compared to the numerous clinical studies proving the benefits of medication and therapy, there’s just no way a TENS unit is your best first-line of treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Instead, you should look at existing ED treatments and talk with a healthcare team.
Medications like PDE-5 inhibitors are a great place to start. These prescription drugs increase blood flow to your cavernosal arteries, potentially restoring your ability to get hard when aroused.
PDE-5 Inhibitors like sildenafil (generic Viagra) or tadalafil (generic Cialis) provide men with erectile dysfunction some options as well. While sildenafil can be taken on an as-needed basis to prepare for intimate activities ahead of showtime, versions of tadalafil can be taken as a daily medication (at lower dosages) so that every day is sex day for you.
But medication and electrodes aren’t your only options. Therapy has helped many men work through the non-physiological causes of erectile dysfunction, including low self-esteem, performance anxiety, fear of intimacy and depressive disorders. Therapy can help you overcome those feelings and get back to business.
And while the study we mentioned earlier wasn’t so impressed with exercise, experts generally agree that lifestyle changes can benefit erectile health and sexual function. Eating well, getting enough sleep, working out and laying off tobacco, alcohol and recreational drugs can improve your health, heart function and erections.
So where does all of this leave TENS? In our opinion, it should be left on its charging stand.
The reality of TENs and other electrical stimulation techniques is that we don’t know enough about them to be a first-line treatment, especially when medication, therapy and lifestyle changes offer so many proven alternatives.
If you were thinking about buying a TENS unit to evade speaking with your healthcare provider, you’re out of luck.
Typically, our first recommendation is to speak with a healthcare professional. They can help you identify your root cause or causes for ED and set you on the path to the best treatment tailored to your unique circumstances.
While current study records are promising, the fact is you can’t get that kind of help from a battery-powered Amazon purchase. What you can get online, however, is the professional support we just mentioned — and you can get it through us.
Our sexual health resources are a great way to talk to a healthcare professional and, should you decide to go that route, get medications for erectile dysfunction.
We also have an online therapy platform where you can conveniently and discreetly talk with a mental health professional about the psychological side of ED and work through whatever’s delaying your intimate launch schedules.
TENS units may one day be part of the first line of treatments for improving men’s sexual quality of life, but for now, you should stick with what’s proven and recommended. Get the right recommendations today.