Penis Pumps: How They Work & Tips for Use, According to Experts


HomeHome / News / Penis Pumps: How They Work & Tips for Use, According to Experts

Jun 02, 2023

Penis Pumps: How They Work & Tips for Use, According to Experts

Our product picks are editor-tested, expert-approved. We may earn a commission

Our product picks are editor-tested, expert-approved. We may earn a commission through links on our site. Why Trust Us?

At the very least, they can help you get—and stay—hard.

IF YOU'VE EVER felt a little less than confident about your penis size, rest assured you’re not alone. According to a 2021 survey, almost half of all male respondents have experienced sexual performance anxiety relating to their junk, and 29% felt shame about it. As for whether penis pumps can help make your penis larger? The answer is yes and no.

Contrary to what you might have heard, penis pumps won't permanently supersize your member. However, by increasing blood flow down there, these handy little devices can help you to get—and stay—as hard as possible, resulting in more pleasurable sex for all parties involved. Seeing as erectile dysfunction (ED) affects about one-third of men, it's no wonder why penis pumps have continued to surge in popularity. (And hey, a good old-fashioned erection is one way to make your penis larger, at least temporarily; it can grow up to 3 inches when you’re aroused.)

So, how exactly do penis pumps work? And can they really enable you to level up your sex life? Read on to find out.

In simple terms, a penis pump is a non-invasive device that creates negative pressure to suction blood into the blood vessels around your member. These pumps—also known as vacuum erection devices (VEDs)—can use air or water to create this pressure. By causing an increase in blood flow to the penis, the device produces an erection.

Fun fact: penis pumps have been around for a pretty long time. American physician John King is credited with inventing this contraption in 1874. The problem with King's prototype, though, was that the user lost their erection as soon as the pump was removed. Needless to say, these devices have come a long way since then.

Experts agree that penis pumps do, indeed, help men get a long-lasting erection. In fact, 2018 research shows that penis pumps can help people with ED achieve an erection about 90% of the time. Up to 77% of people with ED and their partners report being satisfied with the benefits of using a penis pump.

"VEDs do not require surgery or injections, and are effective in producing an erection in many men," says Amy Pearlman, MD, a board-certified urologist, men's sexual health specialist, and co-founder of Prime Institute.

Studies suggest that penis pumps can also help preserve penis size and function and reduce shrinkage, following prostate cancer surgery.

It's important to note that using a penis pump does not treat any underlying causes of erectile dysfunction, says Dr. James Elist, MD—a urologist in private practice and inventor of Penuma, the first FDA-cleared penile implant.

According to Elist, the effects of using a penis pump can last for up to 30 minutes. This can range, though, depending on your overall health and level of arousal.

According to Pearlman and Elist, penis pumps are generally considered safe for most men to use. However, keep in mind that using a penis pump can worsen existing penile conditions, like priapism.

In some cases, penis pumps can cause blood clots, scarring, and other damage—but don't worry, these issues are rare and typically only happen with improper use. One older study of 1,500 penis pump users showed that not a single participant reported any serious adverse effects.

Here are some precautions Pearlman and Elist advise taking to minimize the risk of any negative side effects:

• Consult with your doctor to ensure that you’re a good candidate for a penis pump.

• Following the manufacturer's instructions carefully.

• Consider applying a warm compress before sexual activity as the penis pump can make the penis colder to touch.

• Follow a pattern of pumping three times and then pausing for 10 seconds until you achieve a solid erection. If you pump too fast or too much, Pearlman warns that you may experience pain, bruising, and skin discoloration.

You’ll likely feel some pressure or a stretch in your penis, Pearlman explains—but you should never be in pain using a penis pump. If you do feel extreme discomfort or pain, stop using it immediately.

Using a penis pump for the first time may feel intimidating—but they’re actually pretty easy to operate.

Just follow these steps, per Pearlman and Elist's advice:

1. Trim public hair around the base of your penis. This isn't a requirement, but it's well worth the extra step—it allows you to get a closer seal, and prevents your pubic hair from getting caught in the ring (ouch).

2. Apply a water-based lubricant on the shaft and base of the penis. Lube reduces friction to prevent irritation, and also makes it easier to slip the pump off after you use it.

3. Insert your penis into the plastic tube—you may need to reposition your scrotum here until it's comfortable. Then, use the attached hand pump or electric pump attached to suction out the air and create a vacuum effect. Keep in mind: it's a marathon, not a race—so build the pressure slowly.

4. Most people get an erection in 30 seconds to seven minutes. Once you’re hard, hold the base of your penis firmly with one hand while you remove the tube, and then slip the constriction ring around the base of the penis to keep it hard. (If you’re using the penis pumps as part of a rehabilitation program rather than for sexual activity, Pearlman recommends skipping this step.)

5. To reduce the risk of side effects, never use the pump or constriction ring for longer than 30 minutes.

As a general rule, Pearlman and Elist say penis pumps are safe for daily use. Still, they advise checking in with your doctor to get more personalized guidance on the appropriate frequency for you.

You might want to try a penis pump if you have difficulty getting—or staying—hard during sex. By the way—whether you know it or not—erections aren't just important for your sex life, but also for your overall penile health.

"Damage can occur when the penis is flaccid for a long time," explains Pearlman. "This is due to a lack of well-oxygenated blood to the erectile tissue. It can cause tissue to lose its flexibility and scar. For this reason, early intervention is important for any person not getting daily erections."

All that said, penis pumps aren't for everyone. If you have a history of blood clots, a diagnosed blood disorder like sickle cell anemia, or take blood thinners, it probably isn't safe to use.

"And some men, even if good candidates for penis pumps, may just find them to be cumbersome, uncomfortable, or ineffective," Pearlman adds. "Remember: a penis pump is just one of many options when it comes to optimizing genital and sexual health."

Nowadays, penis pumps are available over the counter online, at adult/erotic shops, and even in some drugstores. But not all pumps are created equal: To minimize the risk of injury, consider seeking out a penis pump that's FDA-approved, meaning it's been evaluated thoroughly for safety and quality. Specifically, you want a penis pump with a vacuum limiter—this safety feature prevents the device from creating too much pressure.

Choosing the right device may feel downright overwhelming given how many choices there are—from good old-fashioned, no-frills manual pumps to high-tech electric pumps with smart motors and built-in strokers. Ultimately, Elist says the most important factor is fit. Penis pumps are not one size fits all, so look for one that comes in a range of size options to ensure it's comfortable and provides an optimal seal.

If you’re still not sure which one to buy, Elist suggests asking your healthcare provider or a sex therapist for product recommendations. This is especially crucial if you’re using a penis pump to treat ED or have any pre-existing health conditions. Your primary care doctor or urologist can even write a prescription for an FDA-cleared penis pump that meets your specific needs.

The bottom line? Penis pumps may not give you a massive size boost. But make no bones about it (see what we did there?)—they can be a useful, easy tool for getting stronger, longer-lasting erections without the need for medication or surgery.

Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer currently writing about Sex & Relationships at Men's Health. In her free time, she enjoys generous pours of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, true crime podcasts, and writing music (under her stage name, BEX). Rebecca is a graduate of Emerson College (BA) and The Boston Conservatory at Berklee (MFA). She has also covered health and wellness, fitness, travel, and lifestyle for Insider, AskMen, Healthline,, Clean Plates, StyleCaster, Eat This Not That, Best Life, and Bustle.

I'm Almost 40 and Bored of Sex

Mark Consuelos Reveals Kink That Kelly Ripa Loves

How Long Should Sex Last, Actually?

20 Butt Plugs for Men That Hit the Spot

My Shameful Kink Is Going to Ruin My Entire Life

35 Sex Toys That'll Make the Bedroom More Fun

Why You Should Get Yourself a Sex Blanket

Does Semen Retention Actually Do Anything?

18 Sexpert-Approved Lubes for Sex

The Science of Post-Nut Clarity, Explained

My Boyfriend is Trying to Turn Me Monogamous

11 Sex Pillows for Maximum Depth

IF YOU'VE EVER What is a penis pump? Do penis pumps really work? Are penis pumps safe? How to use a penis pump Is a penis pump right for me? How to find the best penis pump for you