Medical Device Therapy (Vacuum Devices) for Impotence

Vacuum devices are simple mechanical tools that allow a man to develop an erection suitable for sexual intercourse.

Vacuum devices work best in men who are able to achieve partial erections on their own. Vacuum devices work by bringing more blood into the penis and then trapping it. The penis is inserted into a hollow plastic tube, which is pressed against the body to form a seal.

A vacuum is created in the tube by the use of a small hand pump. This, in turn, draws blood into the penis, causing the penis to engorge, enlarge and become rigid. After one to three minutes in the vacuum, an adequate erection is created and a soft rubber O-ring is then placed around the base of the penis to trap blood and maintain the erection. Sexual intercourse can occur after the vacuum tube is removed. The rubber O-ring maintains the erection until removed. Generally, it can be left in place for 25 to 30 minutes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Vacuum Devices

The vacuum device can be used any time at a patient's convenience. Another major advantage is safety. There is no surgery involved and there are no injections or significant side effects. These devices work for almost any type of erectile problem, and cost less than surgery or ongoing self-injection therapy.

Vacuum erection devices range in price from $300 to $500 and they do require a prescription. Some insurance companies reimburse all or part of the costs associated with this type of treatment. Most of the larger companies that manufacture these products provide a refund policy if the vacuum device isn't successful.

Using a vacuum device involves a mechanical process. They generally take from 5 to 10 minutes to set up, so they can interfere with foreplay. The body shapes of some men can make it difficult to apply these devices. Once the O-ring is applied, there is no erection between the rubber band and the body, making the penis somewhat floppy. In some men the O-ring inhibits the normal flow or ejaculation after orgasm. This is not harmful, and semen does pass once the rubber band is removed.

In addition, some men complain of a coldness and/or numbness of the penis after the O-ring has been placed. The O-ring should be removed after 25 to 30 minutes because of restricted blood flow. Vacuum erection devices can be harmful to men who have blood clotting problems or use blood thinners.

Publication Review By: David M. Kaufman, M.D., Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 10 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 01 Dec 2011