An erectile dysfunction pump is a device used to help achieve and maintain an erection by drawing blood into the penis via air suction. It’s not a cure for erectile dysfunction (ED), but can help increase your ability to have sexual intercourse. This device is sometimes called a penis pump or vacuum pump. It’s a noninvasive treatment that can be used alone or with other ED treatments or oral medications.

The ED pump is made up of three separate parts:

  1. A clear plastic tube that is placed over your penis.
  2. A pump that is attached to the tube and powered by hand or battery.
  3. A band (sometimes called a constriction ring) that fits around the base of the erect penis.

First, apply water-soluble jelly to the base of the penis to create a water-tight seal. Then place your penis in the tube and pump the air out slowly. This causes your penis to fill with blood. (Note: It takes an average of 10 to 20 minutes to achieve a full erection, according to Weill Cornell Medical College.)

Next, place the band around the base of your penis to maintain your erection. The band comes in several sizes and tensions. Trial and error may be necessary to determine which band size is the most comfortable for you. Once the ring is in place, you can remove the pump and start sexual relations.

Most men can keep an erection for about 30 minutes. However, the band can cut off blood flow and cause injury if worn for longer, according to the Mayo Clinic. Remember to remove the band after intercourse.

The ED pump should be used by men with ED. It’s an especially good option for men who can’t take oral ED medications.

According to Weill Cornell, men who have the following conditions should use caution before using an ED pump:

  • history of prolonged erection
  • history of bleeding disorders or use of blood thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • diminished penile sensation
  • spinal cord injury
  • curvature of the penis

You should see your doctor before using a pump. ED can be a symptom of a variety of underlying, and sometimes serious, medical conditions. Treatment for those conditions can often correct ED.

Talk to your doctor. Some ED pumps are available without prescription, but your doctor can make a recommendation based on your specific condition. Be sure to tell your doctor about any other illnesses or injuries you may have had and any medications you are taking, including any other ED treatments you have already tried.

Some ED pumps sold online and in magazines may not be safe or effective. Try to choose a model with a vacuum limiter — this will prevent the pressure from building too high and causing injury.

It may take a bit of practice, but most men are able to have sexual intercourse using an ED pump.

Other benefits include the following:

  • lower risk of complications than with other ED treatments
  • minimal cost after initial purchase
  • noninvasive treatment
  • it can be combined with other ED treatments, such as oral medications

The ED pump can interfere with spontaneity, and some men find it uncomfortable or awkward. Some men also find that they have to shave their pubic hair at the base of the penis in order to maintain a good seal.

The ED pump is generally considered to be safe, but can cause increased bleeding in men who:

  • take blood thinners
  • have sickle cell anemia
  • have any blood disorder that causes bleeding or interferes with clotting

Potential side effects include:

  • red dots caused by bleeding under the skin’s surface, called petechiae
  • numbness or coldness
  • bluish-colored skin
  • bruising
  • pain
  • painful ejaculation

Some advertisers claim that ED pumps can make your penis larger. While an ED pump will help maintain size and shape, especially after surgery, it won’t make your penis bigger. Using an ED pump in an attempt to make your penis bigger may even result in injury, warns the Mayo Clinic.

With proper, detailed medical documentation, some health insurance providers will cover the expense of an ED pump in certain circumstances. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be covered if you purchase one without seeing a doctor or receiving a diagnosis. Before purchasing an ED pump, check with your insurance provider to see if you’re covered and, if so, what documentation is required.