A vacuum device, which is sometimes used to treat erection problems (erectile dysfunction), is a tube made of plastic that fits around the penis. You coat the base of the penis with lubricant and insert the penis into the tube. Air is pumped out of the tube, which creates a vacuum. The vacuum helps blood flow into the penis, producing an erection-like state in about 5 minutes. A constrictive band is placed around the base of the penis to maintain the erection, and the tube is removed.
The constrictive band may be left in place for up to 30 minutes. If you want the erection to last longer, you may remove the band for a few minutes and then repeat the process.
Vacuum devices may block ejaculation. You can still have an orgasm but may not ejaculate (release semen).
Some men say the erection is "wobbly" or has a "hinge-like" feeling, since the tissues beneath the ring on the base of the penis don't get hard. A small number of men consider this a major problem, and it may make penetration difficult.
A prescription is not needed to buy these devices. They are reusable and should be cleaned after each use.
What To Expect
The device usually produces an erection, which goes away when the constrictive band is removed.
Why It Is Done
Most men who have erection problems from physical causes can use vacuum devices. Men who have erection problems because of psychological causes may also use these devices.
How Well It Works
Between 6 and 9 out of 10 men who use a vacuum device say that they are able to get an erection that is satisfactory for sexual intercourse.footnote 1
The vacuum device is less popular than other methods used for creating an erection. The number of men who are happy with the device ranges from 3 to 7 out of 10 men who use it.footnote 1
The risk of side effects is low, and they are usually minor. Possible problems may include:
Pain or discomfort.
Numbness or loss of sensitivity. This occurs sometimes in about half of men but is a major problem for only a few men.
A sensation that the penis is cold.
Pinching scrotal tissue in the device.
No significant side effects or complications have been reported.
What To Think About
Be sure to discuss using a vacuum device with your partner. It is important that both of you have realistic expectations of what the device can do. The vacuum device gives you an erection that may be suitable for sexual intercourse but is not the same as a normal erection.
The device can be difficult to learn to use, and about four tries are needed to learn to use it successfully.
Some men find the band around the base of the penis distracting or irritating during sex.
Burnett AL (2012). Evaluation and management of erectile dysfunction. In AJ Wein et al., eds., Campbell-Walsh Urology, 10th ed., vol. 1, pp. 721–748. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Current as of: May 28, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Christopher G. Wood, MD, FACS - Urology