Erectile dysfunction pumps, which are also known as vacuum pumps, vacuum therapy, vacuum devices, and sometimes vacuum constriction devices, are one of the oldest medical erectile dysfunction treatments. The first patent for a vacuum pump was applied for in 1917.
With the introduction of oral medications for erectile dysfunction, vacuum pumps became less popular, as they are a more cumbersome, less discreet treatment. But they continue to be useful for treating erectile dysfunction in some men and have, more recently, become a product of interest in the process of penile rehabilitation following surgery or other kinds of penile trauma.
It's important to distinguish penis pumps that you can buy online and at sex shops from vacuum constriction devices. The latter have been clinically tested, while the former will likely have had no safety or efficacy testing. Penis pumps can not be said to be offering treatment, and this article only deals with vacuum pumps, which have been developed and tested for treatment of erectile dysfunction.
How Vacuum Pumps Work
The pump consists of a cylinder and pump mechanism. The cylinder is put over the penis and held tight against the body. The device works by creating a vacuum in the cylinder which draws blood into the penis causing an erection. Some pumps have a battery operated motor while others are manually operated to create the vacuum in the cylinder. If a man has erectile dysfunction, once he takes the pump off his erection will usually go away. For this reason most pumps are used with constriction rings, which are tight bands of rubber that go around the penis and hold blood in the penis. Essentially the pump gives a man an erection, and the rings keep the blood in the penis, maintaining an erection while they are worn.
The pump may be used immediately prior to wanting to get an erection. Vacuum pumps differ from most other treatments for ED because they don't require additional physical or sexual stimulation to produce or maintain the erection. It can take less than a minute and up to seven minutes to get an erection using a pump. Once the erection is achieved and the constriction rings are on the penis, they may be left in place for no more than 30 minutes.
Men who are taking blood thinning medication, on anticoagulant therapy, have a history of bleeding disorders, diminished penile sensation, sickle cell anemia, leukemia, or significant penile curvature should not use an vacuum pump. If you have a history of prolonged erections, tell your doctor before using this treatment.
How Effective are Erectile Dysfunction Pumps?
When talking about the effectiveness of treatment for erectile dysfunction, we need to specify what "effective" means. Is the goal just to produce an erection? Is the goal to be able to feel sexual pleasure, or increase sexual pleasure? Most research only focuses on erections, and the question that is always asked is whether or not the man was able to have an erection that allowed for intercourse (this, of course is a bit of a problem since lots of men don't have intercourse, and those who do don't always consider it the most pleasurable part of sex).
A 2010 review of thirteen studies documents that overall effectiveness of vacuum pumps are high, around 80%. Satisfaction rates range from as low as 27% to as high as 92%. In a five-year study of men who experienced erectile dysfunction following radical prostatectomy, 25% found that vacuum pumps didn't help at all, 37% said they helped somewhat, and 35% said they helped a lot. Of those men who found vacuum pumps worked for them, 25% said they produced erections firm enough for intercourse.
Side effects can be greatly reduced by making sure you are using the pump properly. Side effects include:
- erections that look different, including different coloration of the penis
- bruising of the penis
- pain caused by the constriction rings
- penile numbness
Wearing constriction rings can interfere with ejaculation, and result in either less ejaculate or less forceful ejaculation. This does not necessarily have an impact on orgasm or pleasure.
With any erectile dysfunction treatment, if you experience an erection for longer than four hours you should go to an emergency room and/or seek immediate medical attention.
Where to Get Erectile Dysfunction Pumps
Vacuum devices range in price from $400-$600 and in some places may only be available with a prescription. In the United States there are several manufactures who sell pumps under brand names including ErecAid, Encore Vacuum Therapy, and Pos-T-Vac. Some devices may be covered by some insurance plans, so it's worth doing some research to find out if this may apply to you.
Before Using Vacuum Pumps
If you are experiencing difficulty with erections, the first step should be to speak with a doctor. Erectile dysfunction is a known early warning sign for other potentially serious health problems and ED may be your body's way of telling you that something else is going on. For this reason simply pursing a treatment without consulting with a health care practitioner is not advised.
Penson, D.F., McLerran D., Feng Z, et. al. "5-Year Urinary and Sexual Outcomes After Radical Prostatectomy: Results From the Prostate Cancer Outcomes Study". Journal of Urology Vol. 173 (2005): 1701–5.
Yuan, J., Hoang, A.N., Romero, C.A., et. al. "Vacuum Therapy in Erectile Dysfunction - Science and Clinical Evidence" International Journal of Impotence Research Vol. 22 (2010): 211-219.