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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.
Erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or maintain an erection, is a common problem affecting about 12 million men in the United States alone. ED is caused by a lack of blood flow to the penis. It can result from many conditions, from depression to prostate cancer and heart disease (Rew, 2016).
For most men suffering from ED, medications called phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE5is) solve the problem. But some men don’t respond to PDE5is or can’t take them due to allergies or side effects.
Restoring sexual function for these men can be complicated, but penile support products can help.
What is an erectile dysfunction support sleeve?
An external penile prosthesis may allow these people to achieve sexually fulfilling, penetrative intercourse without resorting to surgical options. Unlike other non-pharmacological, non-surgical strategies such as vacuum erection devices (VEDs) and cock rings, support devices have few potential adverse effects.
Two different products fall into the broad category of external penile prosthetics. First, there are penis sleeves, which slip over or around the penis. Second are external penile support devices, which provide a kind of “scaffolding” to hold a flaccid penis in an erect position.
Because support sleeves are not medical devices, they are not likely to be covered by insurance. However, there are inexpensive options to try before upgrading to one with more bells and whistles.
Penis sleeves, sometimes called penis extenders or enhancers, are not just for erectile dysfunction. Some couples use these sleeves to create the appearance or sensation of added length or girth. The user places their penis into a hollow dildo. The whole device is then held in place by a band around the testicles called a ball-strap. Some users may prefer the added stability of a strap-on secured by a harness around the waist.
Sleeves come in a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors. Whether your preference is flesh-toned hard plastic or glow-in-the-dark silicone, there are sleeves for every taste. Some brands, such as RXSleeve, may be customized to resemble the user’s regular erect length and girth. These brands tend to be very expensive and can cost more than $500.
Other options include built-in vibrators for extra sensation or malleable forms, allowing for the creation of different curves. This latter option may be preferable for those with a curvature of the penis, also known as Peyronie’s disease. However, it can also enhance partner pleasure, allowing for g-spot stimulation in female partners, among other things.
Sleeves can be beneficial for men suffering from premature ejaculation, as well. First, they may dull the sensation and prolong one’s erection. Second, they allow for continued intercourse after ejaculation, during the refractory period, or sexual recovery time when a penis often loses its erection.
How can a sleeve benefit a man with ED?
Erectile dysfunction doesn’t mean that the penis has no sensation. It simply means that the penis doesn’t get hard enough for penetrative intercourse. Men can achieve ejaculation even without an erection (Giuliano, 2011). With a properly sized sleeve and a bit of lube, someone with ED can experience many of the tactile, pleasurable sensations of sex while simultaneously pleasuring their partner (Wassersug, 2017).
Sexual dysfunction is a challenging subject, and the idea of using a prosthetic penis can feel awkward to many people. Research has suggested that instead of thinking of it as a medical device, thinking of it as a sex toy you’re experimenting with may ease the process (Warkentin, 2006).
Penile support devices
External penile support devices are more minimal in design. Rather than sheathing the entire penis, a support device consists of two rings connected by a stiff rod. One ring goes around the base and one behind the glans (head) of the penis, with the rod running along the underside of the penis shaft.
Holding the flaccid penis in an erect position with the shaft and glans exposed allows for more natural intercourse than a sleeve. It can be especially beneficial for partners wishing to conceive, as it allows for direct ejaculation into one’s partner rather than into a plastic tube.
These support devices must be customized for proper fit and are typically much more expensive than sleeves. Brands such as Elator and Erektor sell for about $300, as of this writing.
Get the help you need
If you’re suffering from ED and haven’t responded to medications or can’t take them, see your healthcare provider or a urologist for medical advice. There are many paths to treating erectile dysfunction, and a sleeve or support device may be helpful for you.
- Giuliano, F. (2011). Neurophysiology of erection and ejaculation. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8 Suppl 4, 310–315. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02450.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21967393/
- Rew, K. T., & Heidelbaugh, J. J. (2016). Erectile dysfunction. American Family Physician, 94(10), 820–827. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27929275/
- Warkentin, K. M., Gray, R. E., & Wassersug, R. J. (2006). Restoration of satisfying sex for a castrated cancer patient with complete impotence: a case study. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 32(5), 389–399. doi: 10.1080/00926230600835346. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16959662/
- Wassersug, R., & Wibowo, E. (2017). Non-pharmacological and non-surgical strategies to promote sexual recovery for men with erectile dysfunction. Translational Andrology and Urology, 6(Suppl 5), S776–S794. doi: 10.21037/tau.2017.04.09. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29238658/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.