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Treating Erectile Dysfunction — Without the Little Blue Pill

Non-pharmaceutical alternatives may be more effective

3. Surgically implanted prostheses

A surgically implanted prosthesis can virtually guarantee erections on demand. “Overall, these have the highest satisfaction for both the patient and his partner,” Nehra says.

Ninety-five percent of prostheses implanted in men in the United States are pump-and-chamber devices in which the man activates a pump — via a discrete subdermal push button in the scrotum — that fills his penis with sterile saline from a reservoir implanted along with the pump.

The other 5 percent of prostheses are either pump devices in which the saline is permanently in the prosthesis, not in a separate reservoir (urologists may recommend this for men who have had multiple surgeries); or a pair of semi-rigid, malleable rods implanted in the penis, which render it hard at all times. The patient manually shifts the penis into an erect position for sex.

With the pumps, erections last until the user hits the deflate button, which Kohler says “doesn’t happen” accidentally. He adds that pump prostheses “are locker-room proof: Nobody can see that you have one.” (Obviously, this is not the case with the always-on malleable rod option.) Implanted pumps are reliable, experts say, with more than 90 percent of the devices working for 12 to 15 years. 

The downside to these prostheses includes the standard risks of surgery, the very low risk of infection — less than 2 percent in most patients, slightly higher in diabetics — and a slight drop in penis length versus a natural erection or other ED treatments. Also, unlike with other methods, any hope for a natural erection is abolished once a pump is implanted. The cost for surgical options varies, and insurance coverage is typically good.

All of the above treatments preserve men’s sensation in the penis and ability to achieve orgasm.

Choosing the treatment that is best for you comes down to preference and efficacy. Montague cites a study that surveyed three groups of men, all of whom were successfully using an ED treatment. One group was on oral medications, one was using injections and a third had surgically implanted pumps. The most satisfied users were those with the implanted prostheses.

Once implanted, the pumps become “part of their body,” Montague explains. “No out-of-pocket cost per use. Predictable response. Works every time.” Pills, even when they work, might be less effective if you’ve had more than a couple drinks or are out of sorts for other reasons. Injections are slightly more reliable than pills but, Montague says, are still subject to variability.

Originally published April 2012

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