Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/20/2021
When you’re dealing with sexual problems, any solution is worth exploring. After all, sexual health is an important part of life and overall health.
But not all solutions are right for all men. When it comes to vacuum devices, there are some things you should know.
The vacuum erection device, or VED, has been around since the late 19th century, when doctor John King stated “when there is impotence with a diminution of the size of the male organ, the glass exhauster should be applied to the part.” The “glass exhauster,” in this case, was the vacuum device, and “the part,” the penis. In other words, the science for VEDs is not new.
Now, there are many vacuum devices available for men to use, but how do they work?
The premise of a VED is that a vacuum creates a negative pressure around the penis, speeding blood flow into the organ and creating an erection. As many as 90% of men who use a VED will achieve a usable erection “with adequate practice,” according to research published in the journal Nature. So, there’s a bit of a learning curve.
Many of these devices can be purchased online, but your healthcare provider can also talk with you about available options.
Generally, a VED is made up of a plastic tube and an electric or hand operated pumping mechanism. You apply a lubricant, insert your penis into the tube and the vacuum removes air from inside. This causes blood to rush into the penis, creating an erection in about five minutes.
A band is placed around the base of the penis (think of a rubber band) to help keep the penis engorged and the blood flow within. This band can be left on for up to 30 minutes.
You’ll often hear VED (vacuum erection device) and VCD (vacuum constriction device) used interchangeably, and we’re doing so in this article. But they are slightly different. A VED does not involve positioning a band at the base of the penis, where the VCD does. VEDs with no constriction device may be more commonly used in post-surgical rehabilitation, where it’s believed the increased blood flow can speed healing and reduce side effects.
Because VEDs are not prescription devices, they haven’t undergone the rigorous clinical trials that other ED treatments — such as PDE5 inhibitors — have. That said, research has indicated some risks or side effects of using the devices.
Ischemia, or reduced blood flow, can occur after 30 minutes of applying the ring, which is why it’s not recommended you keep it on any longer than that. If an erection is desired for a longer period, you can remove the ring and re-apply the vacuum to begin again.
Other side effects include numbness or loss of feeling, coldness in the penis, pain and bruising. You can also pinch your scrotum in the device. Rarely, leg spasms and bleeding can occur.
It seems the largest risk associated with VEDs is simple dissatisfaction. Depending on your source, anywhere between 3 and 7 men out of 10 say they’re satisfied with it. And this makes sense -- the device can be cumbersome, and it can be humiliating to have to use it in the presence of a partner.
The first-line treatment for erectile dysfunction is medication. PDE-5 inhibitors such as Tadalafil (Cialis) and Sildenafil (active ingredient in Viagra, or generic Viagra) are widely accepted as effective methods of treatment, with clinical research to back that effectiveness and safety.
Further, your partner doesn’t have to even know you’re being treated for erectile dysfunction, eliminating the potential discomfort of using a mechanical device.
That said, not everyone wants to take medication. For them, a VED might be a viable alternative. Surgery is another option for some cases of erectile dysfunction.
Talking with your healthcare provider will help you determine which course of treatment is the right one for you.
VEDs are not new technology -- they’ve been around in one form or another for over 100 years, and are effective at restoring an erection in many men. Vacuum devices work by creating negative pressure to pull blood into the penis, and a band is typically placed around the base of the penis to maintain that engorgement.
VEDs are just one option though. Medications are another. If you’re dealing with erectile dysfunction, the best place to look for answers to your treatment questions is from a medical professional.
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