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Last updated September 16, 2019. 4 minute read

What is a penis pump? How do I use one?

Penis pumps — or “vacuum erection devices” — are used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) and, recreationally, as sex toys and penis-enlargement devices. Studies show penis pumps won’t make your penis permanently bigger.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

What is a penis pump?

If you are among the 55% of men who are dissatisfied with the size of their penis (Lever, 2006), you may feel as though you have no recourse but to suck it up, figuratively speaking. But if you are convinced that there has to be a way to enlarge your penis and start poking around on the internet for options, it won’t be long before someone tries to persuade you to suck it up literally. That someone will almost certainly be trying to sell you a penis pump. 

A penis pump — also known as a vacuum pump, an erection pump or a Vacuum Erection Device (VED) — consists of a plastic chamber into which the penis is inserted, and a pump that’s powered by hand or battery. The suction increases blood flow to the penis, causing an erection. Once that’s achieved, a constriction ring (or cock ring) can be worn around the penis to maintain the erection during sexual activity.

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Some people use penis pumps on a purely recreational basis, as sex toys during foreplay. Others are prescribed a penis pump as a treatment for ED (erectile dysfunction). Still others use these devices in an attempt to achieve permanent penis enlargement. But everyone wants to know: Do penis pumps work?

Can penis pumps increase your penis size?

Penis pumps are heavily promoted as penis enlargement devices on adult sites. They can help you get an erection, but studies show that they don’t cause your penis to become bigger permanently. In a study published in the journal BJU International, researchers observed 37 men who were given vacuum treatment, or penis pumping, for 20 minutes, three times a week, for six months. They found that mean penis length increased only .3 cm, which was not statistically significant. The efficacy of the treatment was only 10%, and patient satisfaction was only 30% (Aghamir, 2006).

Can penis pumps improve your erection?

They can — temporarily. According to a study published in the journal Translational Andrology and Urology, researchers have found that using a penis pump—also known as a Vaccuum Erection Device or VED—improved erectile quality in 84 to 95 percent of men who’d had a cancerous prostate removed, a procedure that is often results in ED (Yuan, 2014).

Can penis pumps cure erectile dysfunction (ED)?

“No. These treatments cause an erection and are very successful at achieving an erection that is sufficient for intercourse,” says Landon Trost, MD, a urologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “However, they don’t treat ED — they’re just a symptomatic treatment.” 

The main issues with penis pumps are that other ED therapies can get better results, and pumps might damage to blood vessels in the penis, actually causing erectile dysfunction itself. “With vacuum devices, the penis is cold, blue, hinges at the point of placement of the constriction band, and ejaculation is impaired,” says Trost. “Sensation is also often impaired, and chronic placement of constriction bands can lead to penile scarring or an hourglass deformity. 

“There is also a question as to whether the use of a vacuum device in younger men, who are trying to augment the penile girth, may result in some degree of erectile dysfunction (via impairing venous outflow mechanisms,” says Trost. “In general, men who try vacuum devices for ED use them a few times and then put them on the shelf.”

More sustainable treatments for erectile dysfunction include medications such as sildenafil (brand name Viagra) or tadalafil (brand name Cialis). In a September 2019 review of studies published in the journal Sexual Medicine, researchers found that “shockwave therapy and physical activity are currently the only non-pharmacologic interventions for which efficacy has been confirmed in large, well-designed clinical trials.” Using vacuum devices was not found to improve the symptoms of ED significantly (Ciocanel, 2019).

If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, it’s best to talk with a doctor before buying a penis pump. He or she might recommend improving your diet and getting more exercise in addition to other therapies.

Vitals

  • Penis pumps — or “vacuum erection devices” — are used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) and, recreationally, as sex toys and penis-enlargement devices.
  • Studies show penis pumps won’t make your penis permanently bigger.
  • More sustainable therapies for ED include medication such as sildenafil and physical activity.
  • In younger guys, using penis pumps might actually cause ED.

Can you use a penis pump recreationally?

“I would definitely advise against it,” says Trost. Although penis pumps (such as the Bathmate) are promoted as sex toys on social media and porn sites, they can have serious side effects. 

“There is some question as to whether these can actually propagate erectile dysfunction and clotting of venous sinuses,” says Trost. “There has been very little data studied about its recreational use, but as a sexual medicine provider, [I’ve seen that] it’s not uncommon that people develop various side effects after using — hourglass scarring, venous thrombosis, and possibly venous leak.”

How should you use a penis pump?

When using a penis pump, it’s important to use it for no more than 30 minutes at a time, although the true timing when penile damage occurs is not well known, says Trost. “Typically, the issue many men have with these initially, is difficulty in achieving an air-tight seal at the base of the penis,” says Trost. “This can be aided through the use of Vaseline-soaked gauze, or just through getting past the learning curve of the device. It’s important to recognize, though, that the constriction bands can potentially lead to penile scarring, so, this should be taken into account when deciding on whether this is an appropriate therapy or not.”

If you’d still like to shop for a penis pump, know that more expensive models aren’t necessarily safer. “Most penis pumps will accomplish the purpose,” says Trost. “There are some that require manual pumping, while others use a motor to pull out the air in the cylinder. I would just shop around to find one that has a good return policy more than anything else.”