Vacuum pump devices for
erection problems

May take some practice

Vacuum pump devices or vacuum constriction devices are a non-drug alternative to help with erection problems following treatment for prostate cancer.

They may be a good option for men who don't want to use oral or self-injected drugs.

How do vacuum pump devices work?

Generally, a man uses a special jelly that is applied around the base of the penis to create a “seal.”  Trimming pubic hair may help make this easier.

  • A clear plastic cylinder goes around the penis and it is held firmly in place
  • The device has a pump mechanism at one end that is used to pump out air to create a vacuum
  • The pump may be used by hand, or may be battery operated, depending upon the device

While either type requires some practice, the manual type may be trickier to use.  A man needs to pump with one hand and use his other hand to hold the cylinder in the right position.

It also may take some time to master the right pumping action (not too slow or too fast). Some men may need to:

  • Repeatedly pump
  • Release and wait
  • Pump again until they achieve an erection
Tip: A battery-operated device may be easier for some men to use.

Pumping action is key

The pumping action causes blood to be drawn into the penis.

Once the erection is achieved (which may take 10 to 20 minutes), a band called a constriction ring is placed around the base of the penis to help maintain the erection.

It may take some experimentation to find the right-sized band with the right amount of tension.

Once the band is in place, the cylinder can be removed for lovemaking. Generally, the band should remain in place for no more than 30 minutes to prevent injury.

How well do they work?

Studies have shown that vacuum pump devices can be successful for treating erectile dysfunction (ED) following radical prostatectomy, especially when they are used together with medications for ED.

The two appear to work together to aid penile rehabilitation.

Many different styles

If you type “vacuum pump devices for erection problems” in your Web browser, all kinds of mail-order products will come up. Before you buy, make sure that the device:

  • Has been tested
  • Is approved for use by the FDA
  • Has a pop-off valve for safety

The reason a pop-off valve is needed is because a device that applies too much pressure can actually injure the penis. Also check with your health insurance provider to see which products are covered.

Stay safe

Before using a device your loved one should check with the doctor if he:

  • Is taking blood thinners (including baby aspirin)
  • Has diminished feeling in his penis
  • Has a history of priapism (erections that won’t go down)
  • Has a history of bleeding problems (may cause bruising or swelling)
  • Has a curved penis (a vacuum pump device may not be appropriate)

Updated 11/15

Back to sex after prostate cancer

Always consult a medical professional.


Cornell University. Vacuum devices for erectile dysfunction. Accessed December 1, 2008.

Hoyland K, Vasdev N, Adshead MA. The use of vacuum erection devices in erectile dysfunction after radial prostatectomy. Rev Urol. 2013; 15(2):67-71. 

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Erectile Dysfunction. Accessed December 1, 2008.

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