Penile implants

To solve erection problems

Penile implants — or penile prostheses  — are permanent devices that give a man the ability to have an erection. These devices have been available for more than 40 years and are implanted through a surgical procedure.


How penile prostheses differ

Inflatable (also called hydraulic implants) typically include the use of:

  • An internal pump system
  • Saltwater
  • Inflatable plastic cylinders
  • A chamber (or reservoir) to hold the saltwater

Depending upon the model of the implant, it might include two or three pieces. When a man desires an erection, he:

  1. Squeezes an internal pump that is usually hidden inside his scrotum
  2. The saltwater fills the cylinders
  3. The penis is inflated

After intercourse, the man “deflates” the erection either by pressing a valve, which is connected to the pump, or bending the penis. The saltwater is then released back into the reservoir.

While three-piece implants have larger reservoirs — which may aid in the strength of an erection  —  when not in use, it has been reported that the penis may appear to be more fuller than normal.

Semi-rigid implants generally include a type of metal or plastic rod that is implanted, which causes the penis to hang at an angle, so that it is close to being fully erect.

However, the penis can be bent, so that it can be concealed under clothing.

Rigid implants use the same type of materials as semi-rigid implants, but the penis is permanently hard and erect, so it is not as discreet.


Important factors

While inflatable implants may be more complicated to implant, they seem to have gained in popularity because they allow a man to control when he wants (or does not want) an erection.

All three types of implants may erode over time, and there is the possibility that an inflatable device may stop working correctly. Cornell University reports that:

  • About 15% of men needed re-operation (over a 10-year period)
  • This means that 85% of men still had their original implant after 10 years

Cornell University also reports that the chance of post-operative infection may be low. But if infection does occur, the device may need to be removed, which can lead to scarring or shorten the length of a man’s penis. If this occurs, a man may not be able to get another implant.

What penile prostheses do not do

Penile implants do not:

  • Lengthen the size of a man’s penis
  • Increase a man’s desire to have sex

What they can do is make it easier for a man to have intercourse if he has erection problems following prostate cancer treatment.

Before you get one

It is important to discuss:

  • The pros and cons of the different penile implants with the doctor
  • Your expectations before you make a final decision

Updated 3/15

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Saleh H, Abboudi H, Ghazal-Aswad M, et al. Management of erectile dysfunction post-radical prostatectomy. Res Rep Urol. 2015; 7: 19–33.

Bostwick DG, Crawford DE, Higano CS, Roach M, eds. American Cancer Society’s Complete Guide to Prostate Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society Health Promotions; 2005.

Cornell University. Penile Implants. Accessed December 6, 2008.

Always consult a medical professional.

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