What is a penis pump? How do I use one?

last updated: Dec 21, 2021

4 min read

If you are among the 55% of men who are dissatisfied with the size of their penis, you may feel as though you have no recourse but to suck it up, figuratively speaking (Lever, 2006). But if you are convinced that there has to be a way to enlarge your penis and start poking around on the internet for options, it won’t be long before someone tries to persuade you to suck it up literally. That someone will almost certainly be trying to sell you a penis pump. 

What is a penis pump?

A penis pump — also known as a vacuum pump, an erection pump or a vacuum erection device (VED) — consists of a plastic chamber into which the penis is inserted, and a pump that’s powered by hand or battery. The suction increases blood flow to the penis, giving you a stronger erection. Then, a constriction ring (or cock ring) can be worn around the penis to maintain the erection during sex.

Some people use penis pumps on a purely recreational basis, as sex toys during foreplay. Others are prescribed a penis pump as a treatment for ED (erectile dysfunction). And some people try out these devices in an attempt to achieve permanent penis enlargement. But everyone wants to know: Do penis pumps work?

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Does it work?

Penis pumps are heavily promoted as penis enlargement devices on adult websites. Sure, they can help you get an erection, but it’s a temporary fix—they don’t make your penis permanently bigger. 

While there’s a lot of hype around penis pumps, a lot of the touted health benefits are anecdotal. That said, let’s look at what a penis pump can do for you. 

Increase penis size

While a penis pump will most certainly help when it comes to getting a bigger erection, those results don’t translate to a permanent boost in penis size.

In a small 2006 study, researchers observed 37 men who were given vacuum treatment (penis pumping) for 20 minutes, three times a week, for six months. They found that the average penis length increased only 0.3 cm (that’s less than 1/10th of an inch). Also, they couldn’t say for sure if the minuscule increase in length was because of the device or poor measurement on their parts (Aghamir, 2006). 

So when it comes to getting a bigger penis, a penis pump isn’t the right choice.

Treat erectile dysfunction 

Erectile dysfunction can have many different causes, like diabetes, heart disease, smoking, and more, and penis pumps won’t cure any of that, but they can be an effective way to treat the symptoms of ED. Just like Viagra and other similar medications, penis pumps improve blood flow into your penis and help you get stronger, harder erections (Brison, 2013).

And the research has shown that they work. A study of 45 men with diabetes and ED showed that 75% of participants who used penis pumps were able to achieve an erection sufficient for satisfactory sex (Price, 1991). 

Researchers analyzed data on people who’d had a prostatectomy, a procedure used to treat prostate cancer and which is known to cause ED. The researchers found that using a penis pump improved ED in up to 95% of men during their recovery period from surgery (Lin, 2013).

In addition to the fact that they work, penis pumps have the added benefit of being a one-off expense that can save you money you would otherwise have to spend on prescription medications to treat ED. And better yet, when used correctly, they don’t have any of the side effects that can sometimes accompany prescription drugs.

But keep in mind that you don’t actually have to choose. Some people find that using a penis pump along with prescription medications is more effective, so you can try them out together and see how that works for you.   

Improve erections 

One thing penis pumps can do is create better erections—at least temporarily.

How to use a penis pump

Getting started with a penis pump is pretty simple. 

  1. It’s a good idea to apply some lubricant to the head and shaft of your penis and the opening of the penis pump to make sure you don’t scratch yourself. 

  2. Next put your penis inside the chamber of the pump. It should reach all the way down and sit close to your body. Some people find that trimming or shaving their pubic hair allows for a closer seal. 

  3. Next, flip on the switch if it’s battery-powered, or start pumping by hand. The vacuum force will pull blood into the blood vessels in your penis, facilitating an erection. 

Keep in mind that the process shouldn’t be painful. If it is, take a break. Once you get the blood flowing and achieve a satisfactory erection, you can secure a cock ring around the base of your penis to maintain your erection during sex or masturbation. You can remove it once your penis is back in a flaccid state.

There can be a learning curve when it comes to penis pumps.  "Typically, the issue many men have with these initially is difficulty in achieving an air-tight seal at the base of the penis," says Landon Trost, MD, a urologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. 

"This can be aided through the use of Vaseline-soaked gauze, or just through getting past the learning curve of the device.” And when it comes to cock rings, use caution. “Constriction bands can potentially lead to penile scarring, so, this should be taken into account when deciding on whether this is an appropriate therapy or not."

Disadvantages of penis pumps

The main problem with penis pumps is that they aren’t the most effective treatment out there for ED. More sustainable treatments for ED include medications such as sildenafil (brand name Viagra) or tadalafil (brand name Cialis).

A 2019 study assessed medication-free treatments for ED and found that shockwave therapy and exercise were the most effective non-drug options and that more research was needed when it came to penis pumps (Ciocanel, 2019).

Vacuum devices also come with risks. They can impair sensation and ejaculation, and chronic use of pumps or constriction bands (cock rings) can lead to penile deformity or scarring. If used incorrectly or for too long, pumps can damage blood vessels in the penis, which could actually cause ED.  

Viagra Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

Cialis Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.

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Can you use a penis pump recreationally?

The short answer? You probably shouldn’t. Although penis pumps (such as the Bathmate) are promoted as sex toys on social media and porn sites, they can have serious side effects. 

Some experts worry penis pumps can actually do the opposite and trigger erectile dysfunction by impairing blood flow to the penis. Side effects from using a penis pump can include scarring, bruising, blood clots in the penis, and injury to blood vessels (Yuan, 2010). 

If you're experiencing erectile dysfunction, it's best to talk with a healthcare provider before buying a penis pump. They can determine if you have any underlying conditions that might be contributing to your erectile woes and recommend the appropriate therapy, including dietary changes, getting more exercise, and medications that can help.


If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

  • Aghamir, M. K., Hosseini, R., & Alizadeh, F. (2006). A vacuum device for penile elongation: fact or fiction? BJU International, 97 (4), 777–778. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2006.05992.x. Retrieved from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16536772

  • Brison, D., Seftel, A., & Sadeghi-Nejad, H. (2013). The resurgence of the vacuum erection device (VED) for treatment of erectile dysfunction. The Journal of Sexual mMedicine, 10 (4), 1124–1135. Doi: 10.1111/jsm.12046. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23347150/

  • Ciocanel, O., Power, K., & Eriksen, A. (2019). Interventions to Treat Erectile Dysfunction and Premature Ejaculation: An Overview of Systematic Reviews. Sexual Medicine, 7 (3): 251–269.Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6728733/

  • Lever, J., Frederick, D. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). Does size matter? Mens and womens views on penis size across the lifespan. Psychology of Men & Masculinity , 7 (3), 129–143. doi:10.1037/1524-9220.7.3.129. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/buy/2006-09081-001

  • Lin, H. & Wang, R. (2013). The science of vacuum erectile device in penile rehabilitation after radical prostatectomy. Translational Andrology and Urology, 2 (1), 61–66. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2223-4683.2013.01.04. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4708600/

  • Price, D. E., Cooksey, G., Jehu, D., Bentley, S., Hearnshaw, J. R., & Osborn, D. E. (1991). The management of impotence in diabetic men by vacuum tumescence therapy. Diabetic Medicine : A Journal of the British Diabetic Association, 8 (10), 964–967. doi:10.1111/j.1464-5491.1991.tb01538.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1838050/

  • Yuan, J., Hoang, A. N., Romero, C. A., Lin, H., Dai, Y., & Wang, R. (2010). Vacuum therapy in erectile dysfunction--science and clinical evidence. International Journal of Impotence Research , 22 (4), 211–219. doi:10.1038/ijir.2010.4. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/ijir20104#citeas

How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

December 21, 2021

Written by

Michael Martin

Fact checked by

Gina Allegretti, MD

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