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Vacuum erection assistance devices: frequently asked questions

Patient information A-Z

What are vacuum erection assistance devices or vacuum therapy?

Vacuum therapy is a non invasive method of obtaining and sustaining an erection in men with impotence (erectile dysfunction). An erection is obtained by inducing a negative pressure with a hand or battery operated pump. To use this device, the penis is inserted into a cylinder with plenty of lubrication being used to provide a seal at the base of the penis.

How do they work?

Activation of the vacuum device removes air from the cylinder. This is accomplished using either a small electric motor or a hand operated pump. The negative pressure produced encourages blood to flow into the penis, thus causing an erection. A constriction ring is then slipped around the base of the penis to hold blood in and to maintain the erection.

Diagram demonstrating how to use a vacuum erection assistive device
Diagram demonstrating how to use a vacuum erection assistance device

How long are they effective?

It may take up to seven minutes to obtain a full erection using the vacuum device but, once an erection has been obtained, the cylinder is removed and the constriction ring maintains the erection. The constriction ring should not be left in place for more than 30 minutes to prevent bruising or discoloration of the penis. Some patients find this process rather mechanical and it can make the penis feel “cold”. The constriction ring can, sometimes, be slightly uncomfortable. About 60% of men experience some difficulty with ejaculation since the constriction ring stops the flow of semen; this causes no harm although it may be slightly uncomfortable at the time of climax. (Men who have undergone prostatectomy will not ejaculate as their seminal vesicles will be taken out at the time of surgery).

Approximately 70% of men are able to obtain an erection using this method but are sometimes put off by the expense; the pumps cost between £120 and £300. They are available on the NHS, if funded by the local primary health care.

What happens when sexual activity has finished?

Once intercourse has been completed, the constriction ring should be grasped firmly by its tabs and stretched, to allow the trapped blood to pass out of the penis. Once the erection has subsided, the constriction ring can be removed from the penis without difficulty.

How can I try a device?

Patients who wish to consider using a vacuum device will have its use demonstrated by a nurse practitioner if they have a face-to-face appointment. Alternatively, there is an option to have a secure tele-health chat with a representative. You can discuss this with your specialist nurse.

The information on details of using the pump effectively can also be sent to the patient via email. If they are convinced, they can discuss with their GP the option to get a prescription (if funded) or purchase the pump themselves. Vacuum pumps can be re-used many times after washing with soap and water.

Other information

This patient information leaflet provides input from specialists, the British Association of Urological Surgeons, the Department of Health and evidence based sources as a supplement to any advice you may already have been given by your GP. Alternative treatments can be discussed in more detail with your urologist or specialist nurse.

Who can I contact for more help or information?

Oncology nurses

Bladder cancer nurse practitioner (haematuria, chemotherapy and BCG)
01223 274608

Prostate cancer nurse practitioner
01223 274608 or bleep 154-548 or 01223 216897

Surgical care practitioner
01223 256157 or bleep 154-351

Non-oncology nurses

Urology nurse practitioner (incontinence, urodynamics, catheter patients)
01223 274608 or bleep 154-594

Urology nurse practitioner (stoma care)
01223 349800

Urology nurse practitioner (stone disease)
07860 781828

Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)
01223 216756

Chaplaincy and multi faith community
01223 217769

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998.

Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151