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What Is a Penile Implant and How Can It Treat Erectile Dysfunction?

Half of men over 40 experience erectile dysfunction—here’s one of the most effective and predictable treatment options.

Erectile dysfunction (ED)—the persistent inability to maintain or achieve an erection for intercourse—is a common issue among older men and some older people assigned male at birth. Despite affecting half of men over the age of 40, it’s difficult for many people to talk about ED. And while the most common line of treatment is oral medication, there are other tried-and-true treatment methods for achieving a consistently rigid erection.

Inflatable penile implants have been used to treat ED since the 1980s. Involving a procedure akin to a knee, shoulder or hip replacement, a penile implant is a concealed, effective and predictable treatment option. Here’s what to know about how these implants work.

It’s implanted completely under the skin

There are two different types of penile implants—malleable and inflatable—both of which are implanted completely under the skin. “No one knows you have it, similar to getting a knee or hip replacement,” says Jefferson Health urologist Paul Chung, MD, who specializes in reconstructive urology, trauma and prosthetics.

Malleable, or semi-rigid implants, are implanted in the penis and can be bent into the desired position for either sexual activity or concealment.

Although every person is different, most patients prefer the inflatable implant, which is the most naturally appearing option available. “The inflatable implant involves three parts: a pair of cylinders that are inserted into the shaft, a pump that’s inserted within the scrotum and a fluid reservoir inserted into the lower abdomen,” says urologist Joceline Fuchs, MD, who specializes in male reconstructive urology and prosthetics.

The inflatable implant uses a pump

The inflatable penile implant uses a hydraulic system to achieve a rigid erection for intercourse. “To use the implant, you’ll squeeze the pump that’s implanted in your scrotum. Remember, it’s under the skin, so not visible to you or your partner,” says Dr. Fuchs. “When the pump is squeezed, saline fluid that sits in the reservoir in your lower abdomen will flow into the cylinders in the shaft to give you an erection.”

When you’re done, simply press a button located on the pump to release the saline back into the reservoir and return your penis to its flaccid position.

There are minimal side effects

While there are risks to most medical procedures, the penile implant is considered generally safe, with a risk of infection less than 2%. “It won’t change your current level of sensation, the way you urinate, the way you orgasm or the way you ejaculate—unless these things were changed by prior treatments for other conditions,” says Dr. Chung.

After the procedure, you may experience soreness and bruising, and recovery takes about six weeks in total before you can start to use the implant. The lifetime of the implant is about seven to 10 years. “It is a machine, and it can break down, which means you could potentially need a new implant if you wear it out,” says Dr. Fuchs.

Penile implants have benefits over medication

One of the biggest benefits of a penile implant is that it’s reliable, says Dr. Fuchs. “Unlike oral medication or injections, we know exactly what to expect with the penile implant. You get the same erection every time for as long as you’d like. You’re completely in control.”

This is especially beneficial for those with moderate to severe ED who find that medication isn’t always effective. Studies show an 87-98% satisfaction rate among those who choose to get the penile implant.

Talking with your provider about implants

If you’re interested in learning more about implants, or simply want to talk to a provider more about ED, Dr. Fuchs and Dr. Chung recommend a urologist who has specialized training in reconstructive urology and prosthetics.

“About 75% of implant procedures are performed by providers who complete four or fewer of them per year,” says Dr. Chung. “But to receive the best care, you should look for a reconstructive urologist who has a lot of experience, not just talking to patients about treatment options, but also executing the procedure.”

“ED is more common than many people realize, so don’t be afraid or ashamed to talk about your concerns with your healthcare providers,” says Dr. Fuchs. “We’re here to help and not to judge. Our goal is to help you get back to the quality of life you desire and deserve.”

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