A penis pump is one of several nondrug treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED). These devices can be relatively easy to operate. It’s important that you take precautions, however, as there’s a slight risk of damage or side effects from improper use.

A penis pump is also known as a vacuum pump or a vacuum erection pump. The device consists of:

  • a tube that fits over your penis
  • a seal or ring that fits around the base of your penis
  • a battery-powered or hand-powered vacuum pack that removes air from the tube, triggering an erection

A penis pump may not be the right choice for someone with mild ED, and it may not be effective for severe ED. But if you’ve been diagnosed with moderate ED, a penis pump may be a nondrug treatment option to consider.

Using a penis pump may seem a little awkward at first, but it’s a fairly simple device to operate.

  1. Start by placing the tube over your penis. You may want to use a lubricant to avoid irritation from the tube.
  2. Turn on the pump if battery powered or use the hand pump to start removing air from inside the tube. The change in air pressure will cause blood to start engorging the blood vessels in your penis. It may only take a few minutes for you to achieve an erection.
  3. You can then remove the tube and engage in foreplay or intercourse.

Should you use a penis ring?

Most penis pump systems include a penis ring or constriction ring that you wear at the base of your penis. It’s meant to help maintain your erection by limiting the flow of blood from your penis.

Once you have an erection, you can place the constriction ring around the base of your penis, and then remove the tube. Keep the penis ring in place, but for no more than 30 minutes, as it could affect blood flow and harm your penis.

Penis pumps are effective at producing erections for the majority of users. Duration of the erection depends on the individual, but 30 minutes or so may be expected. Some men may use the pump prior to foreplay or wait and use it just prior to intercourse.

The devices are generally safe and have none of the side effects that can accompany ED medications. It’s also noninvasive, compared with penile implants which require surgery.

A penis pump is usually less expensive in the long run than medications or other treatments, because it can be used repeatedly without any recurring costs.

A penis pump has the added advantage of being effective after procedures, such as prostate surgery or radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

One other benefit of a penis pump is that it can be used along with ED pills or other treatments without any additional risk. For some men, regular use of a penis pump may help lead to more naturally occurring erections.

When operated correctly, there are few risks when using a penis pump. It can be used as frequently as your body responds to the treatment. Some men may be able to use one multiple times in one day, while others may need to use it less often.

It’s important that you carefully follow the directions that come with the pump. Too much air pressure in the tube can injure your penis. Also, there’s a chance of mild bleeding under the surface of your skin. That can leave small red spots, or petechiae, on your penis.

Because of the nature of the device, it takes away some of the spontaneity of a sexual encounter. Some men and their partners may feel uncomfortable or awkward using a penis pump, especially at first. Some men also note that the erection sometimes doesn’t feel as firm at the base of the penis as it does farther up the shaft.

Most men with moderate ED can use a penis pump safely, though if you take a blood-thinning medication, such as warfarin (Coumadin), you may face a higher risk of internal bleeding complications. Blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, that put you at risk for bleeding events or blood clots, may preclude you from using a penis pump safely.

If you’re interested in purchasing a penis pump, talk with your doctor. A prescription will ensure that you obtain a penis pump that’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Not all pharmacies carry these devices, however, so you may want to call around to find a store that sells them. Your urologist’s office may know of pharmacies in your area where FDA-approved penis pumps are available.

Can I purchase a penis pump without a prescription?

There are many types of these devices on the market, many of which are not approved by the FDA or by any health agency. These over-the-counter penis pumps can be purchased at drug stores, novelty sex shops, and online.

However, because they are not FDA-approved, they may not be safe or effective. The pressure inside some OTC devices may not be safe.

What to look for when choosing a pump

When choosing a penis pump, be sure it has a vacuum limiter. This feature makes sure the air pressure inside the tube doesn’t get too strong, which could potentially injure your penis.

The size of the ring that fits around the base of your penis is also important. It needs to be tight enough to work, but not too tight that it’s uncomfortable. You may need to try different sizes to find the right one.

Also, be careful about making sure the penis pump you buy is specifically for ED. It should be designed to create a temporary erection and not to enlarge your penis.

You may see ads in magazines and online or see vacuum devices in stores that promise to enlarge your penis. There is no evidence that such devices are effective. You may risk injuring your penis using one.

Because a penis pump is a recognized treatment for ED, many insurance companies will cover at least part of the expense. Typically, coverage is around 80 percent. So, for a $500 pump, you would need to pay about $100. If you’re unsure about coverage, contact your insurance provider directly.

A penis pump is generally very effective but there are other treatment options. Among them are:

  • Oral ED medications. Popular drugs include sildenafil (Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis).
  • Penile implants. A prosthetic rod is placed in the penis that can inflate with a saline solution and cause an erection. A button under your skin near the scrotum is pushed, releasing saline from a small storage bag implanted in the groin.
  • Penile suppositories or injections. A suppository is a tiny, dissolvable drug that’s placed in the head of your penis to bring about an erection. The drug can also be self-injected using a very fine needle at the base of your penis.

Erectile dysfunction affects about 40 percent of men age 40 and older, and a significant majority of men age 70 and older. It can affect confidence and self-esteem, and lead to problems in a romantic relationship.

However, achieving and maintaining erections by using a penis pump, oral medications, or other treatments isn’t an essential part of intimacy. You can sexually satisfy a partner in other ways. And couples can achieve a closeness and loving bond that doesn’t include intercourse.

A penis pump or other ED treatment may be worth investigating, especially if both partners take a patient and positive approach to managing ED.