Using vacuum erection devices (or penis pumps) after prostate cancer surgery

Older man and female partner in bed looking at their phones

Vacuum erection devices (VEDs) help you get and keep an erection. They are also called vacuum constriction devices, vacuum pumps or penis pumps. A VED is essentially a tube that you put over your soft penis to help you get an erection, when it’s time for action.

How effective are VEDs in producing erections?

VEDs are successful in producing an erection for 8 out of 10 men. They also help prevent shrinkage in your penis—when used as part of penile rehabilitation after prostate cancer surgery. There is no medication in a VED and they can be more convenient than using erection pills.

How exactly do VEDs work?

VEDs consist of a plastic tube with a pump at one end and a constriction band placed at the other end.

  • The plastic tube is placed over the entire length of the penis.

  • Operating the hand or battery-powered pump attached to the tube creates a vacuum around the penis.

  • The vacuum forces blood into the penis and creates an erection.

  • The constriction band (also called a penis ring) is slid off the end of the plastic tube and onto the base of the penis to maintain the erection by trapping the blood in the penis.

    *The band should be worn for no longer than 30 minutes to avoid bruising or damaging the penis.

Your penis will return to its normal size when the constriction band is removed

Pumps can be used daily and come with instructions for how to use them. It may take a while to learn how to use VEDs properly, but you’ll get the hang of it.

Benefits of using VEDs

    There are good reasons for using a VED to get an erection, including:

  • Most men can get enough of an erection to have penetrative sex

  • No ongoing costs—once you’ve bought the pump (and maybe some lubricant)

  • Lower risk of side effects or complications

  • Not invasive like penile injections or penile implant surgery

  • Can be easily used with medications or a penile implant if required

  • Might help with getting back natural erectile function after prostate cancer treatment

What are some drawbacks of VEDs?

Although VEDs have fewer risks and side effects than other erectile dysfunction treatments, there are still some unwanted effects you should be aware of. You may notice the following when using a VED:

  • A discoloration or bluish appearance of the penis while the constriction band is in place (which disappears when the constriction ring is removed)

  • Penis may feel cold while the constriction band is in place (because the band does not allow blood to enter or exit the penis)

  • Pinpoint-sized red spots may appear under the skin (this could be due to too much pressure being applied or the constriction band being too tight)

  • Pain or bruising along the penile shaft

  • A greater likelihood of your penis slipping out during certain sexual positions because erections point downwards rather than forward or upward when a VED has been used (partner on top may decrease the risk of this happening)

While VEDs are safe for most people, there are potential risks to be aware of:

  • An increased risk of bleeding if you are also taking blood-thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, or NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen .

  • An increased risk for blood clots or bleeding if you have sickle cell anemia or another blood disorder

Talk to your doctor about all of your health conditions, any other erectile aids you’ve tried, and any medications you take, including herbal supplements. This will help prevent potential problems. Make sure any VED you use has been properly tested and has received proper health regulatory approval. For example, you don’t want to use the same kind of penis pump that comes from a sex shop, it should be a medical grade pump.

Using vacuum erection devices to get an erection: tips for success

While all VEDs come with instructions for using them, it’ll help to know what to expect and how to address any unwanted effects. Here are some tips and suggestions to successfully getting an erection with a VED and what to do in case of side effects.

Tips for using the VED

There may be some small differences in the instructions for using various VEDs but here are some general tips that can help get the device on and off your penis easily, and keeping the penis erect after using the pump.

  • Shave the hair near the base of your penis to avoid it getting caught in the device.

  • Apply a small amount of water-soluble personal lubricant on your penis and the open end of the VED—this will help your penis to slide inside the VED more smoothly.

  • Make sure the tube covers the whole penis.

  • Use the pump to create just enough vacuum pressure to get an erection—too much pressure may injure the penis.

  • Once you have an erection, slide the constriction band (penis ring) off the end of the tube and onto the base of your penis. This keeps the penis erect.

    *Make sure the band does not stay on for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

  • Removing the band will bring the penis back to normal. Applying more lubricant can help slide off the constriction band more easily.

Tips for having sex after using a VED

When you use a VED to get an erection, the penis will only be erect beyond the constriction band and a part of the penis that is inside the body does not fill with blood. This can cause the penis to pivot or rotate and as erections point downward, there is a greater risk of separation (penis falling out) in certain positions.

  • Reduce the chances of separation by having your partner in the top position during sex.

  • Plan your sexual activity so the penis ring doesn’t stay on for longer than 30 minutes—blood cannot enter or exit the penis during this time so to be safe don’t leave the ring on for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

  • Be prepared for your penis to become cool to the touch—this is due to the restricted blood flow when the penis ring is on.

Things to consider before getting a VED

Talk to your doctor:

You can get a VED without a prescription but to make sure you get one that is safe and suits your needs, it’s best to talk to your doctor beforehand. They might recommend or prescribe a specific type. If you have health insurance, having a VED prescribed by your doctor may help get some or all of the cost covered.

Make sure your pump has a pressure gauge or vacuum limiter:

As mentioned earlier, too much pressure could potentially injure your penis. A pressure gauge will allow you to track the amount of pressure being applied and a vacuum limiter will stop you over-pumping.

Get a pump that is approved for use:

This is to make sure you buy a safe and effective pump. Approval is given by the FDA in the United States, Health Canada in Canada, the TGA in Australia, EMA in the UK and Ireland, and MedSafe in New Zealand.

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