Vacuum Erection Devices

Vacuum erection devices (VEDs) create an erection by using a vacuum around the outside of the penis to draw blood into the erectile tissue. Various types of bands are used around the base of the penis to keep blood trapped in the penis during sexual activity.  

How Does It Work? 

All vacuum devices include a cylinder that is placed over a soft penis. After putting lubricant at the bottom of the cylinder, it is pressed against the pubic area, creating a tight seal. Using a small pump, the air is removed from the cylinder and the vacuum pressure draws blood into the penis.

Once the penis is erect, the pump is removed, but the rubber or silicone ring around the base of his penis to trap the blood in the erectile tissue is left on. Sexual activity can then continue, keeping the band on for up to 30 minutes.

About half of the blood comes from the arteries and half from the veins. Since the blood trapped in the penis carries limited amounts of oxygen, leaving the band on for longer could damage the erectile tissue.  

A vacuum device does not change sensation on the skin of the penis or change the ability to feel the pleasure of orgasm. In about half of men, the constriction band closes off the urinary tube, so semen does not spurt out of the penis at orgasm. Instead, it drips out after the man removes the constriction band. Some bands are made to give a little less pressure at the urinary tube, to prevent this problem. 

Some men may have dry orgasms because of their cancer treatment. There may be others who are not concerned about the change in ejaculation, unless they are trying to get a partner pregnant. However, ejaculation for others may feel significant to the sexual experience.

After using the vacuum device you may notice differences from a natural erection: 

  • The skin of the penis may look darker or more bluish in color than normal. This is especially noticeable with lighter skin tones. 

  • The skin of the penis will feel cool to the touch. 

  • Since blood is not trapped in the deeper parts of the penis, the erection may have a “hinge effect,” moving easily at the point where the penis meets the body. 

  • A couple may need to adjust the positions they use or the way they thrust during intercourse. 

Some vacuum erection devices are pumped by hand and others have battery-powered pumps. The battery models are somewhat more expensive but work faster and are easier for men who have limited hand strength or coordination. Most pump manufacturers sell several sizes and types of constriction bands. Some men use two bands at a time to trap the blood more effectively. Non-latex bands are available for men with latex allergies.   

Many vacuum pumps come in “over-the-counter” versions and are sold without a prescription. They may look very much like the FDA-approved prescription models, but some do not have a safety valve that limits the amount of pressure on the penis. Without that safety valve, it is easier to bruise the penis with the pump.  

What are the Common Side Effects?

Vacuum devices usually only have mild side effects. Discomfort from catching hair or scrotal skin in the pump is common but can be overcome with changes in technique or equipment. Numbness or pain from the constriction ring is also a problem for some. Bruises or small red marks on their skin can occur but these are rarely serious.

You should always follow your doctor's advice on using vacuum devices. 

Are There Health Risks?

Men with abnormal blood clotting or sickle cell anemia should not use vacuum erection devices. Men who take medications to thin the blood may have a higher risk of bruising and bleeding and should discuss the safety of using a vacuum erection device with their doctor.