What You Need to Know About Penile Implants
A penile implant is typically sought by men who have a history of erectile dysfunction (ED) and have not benefited from other, less invasive forms of treatment. The device is surgically placed inside the penis and enables a man to get, and keep, an erection.
Penile implants come in three types: inflatable three-piece, inflatable two-piece and semi-rigid one-piece. The inflatable three-piece implant is the most common.
Who are they for?
Erectile dysfunction most commonly affects men who are older: about 50 percent of men in their 50s, and 60 percent in their 60s, for example. Penile implants are primarily for men with ED who either failed with or were not candidates for other common erectile dysfunction treatments, such as medications, ED devices, penis pumps or vacuum constriction devices. They can also be used to treat men with Peyronie’s disease, in which penile scar tissue results in painful erections.
Penile implants are a more permanent method and may not be recommended for individuals with infrequent or situational erectile dysfunction, or men who are candidates for but have not yet tried other treatments. Implants cannot be used to treat ED caused by certain problems, such as uncontrolled diabetes or an infection, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI).
The upside to a penile implant might seem pretty obvious, but let’s do a quick recap. If you’ve been unable to maintain an erection—even if medicines like Viagra, devices like vacuum pumps and all the home remedies out there have failed—a penile implant will work. And that’s important because if you’re almost at the end of the road of failed ED treatments, the last thing you should do is give up.
The emotional toll of losing the ability to maintain an erection is incalculable. One study found symptoms of depression in 54 percent of men with ED. Regaining function is crucial for mental health, not to mention for intimate relationships. Recovery time from implant surgery is just four to six weeks on average, and then you can get back to getting it on.
With an implant, there’s no external device to potentially lessen the mood, and you don’t have to wait for meds to take effect. In addition, there is little reduction in sensitivity—one study found that less than 10 percent of men experienced diminished sensitivity—and no interference with your ability to orgasm or ejaculate.
As far as expense goes, yes, there’s an upfront cost, but penile implants turn out to be the most cost-effective treatment for ED over a 10-year time frame.
Risks and downside
As with many surgeries, risks include infection, poor or difficult healing, and scarring. Though risks specific to the implant are rare, they exist, and include implant adhesion (the device gets stuck to the inside of the penis), erosion (the device breaks down inside the penis) and malfunction (the implant does not work as intended). Infection rates are 2 to 3 percent, and if infection occurs, the implant must be removed completely and replacement is delayed. Device malfunctions occur less than 5 percent of the time in the first five years, and a malfunction also would require the implant to be removed, though it can typically be replaced in the same setting.
While implants do allow men to achieve an erection, they don’t do anything to boost libido (unless seeing your erect penis is a big libido boost). Penile implants also do nothing to help with any loss of sensation. And just so we get this out of the way, penile implants do not make your penis larger. Most men find that their erect penis measures either the same or slightly shorter after surgery. Implants are very much a physiological treatment, and not cosmetic in any way.
Advice for men
If you’re considering a penile implant, get a referral to a urological specialist. Ask if you are a candidate, discuss the pros and cons of this surgery, and learn about the different types of implants and which might be best for you.
Getting multiple opinions is beneficial. Make sure you do your own research, and particularly focus on the personal experiences of men who have already elected to have the procedure. In discussions with your doctor, be sure to ask about other options for erectile dysfunction, because it’s possible you may want to try less invasive routes, particularly new medical devices that may be available.
One such non-invasive option you might consider is a wearable device like Eddie by Giddy®, a medical device designed to constrict the veins in the penis to treat erection issues. Eddie is one option that is available over the counter without a doctor visit, and without the side effects of prescription drugs.
Insurance and costs
Happily, penile implants are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare. Talk to friends or family, if you’re comfortable with that, as support is helpful when considering such a consequential decision. If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s also important to talk with your partner. Erectile dysfunction can take a toll on their confidence and mental health as well as yours, and any decisions you make will involve both of you. Be as open as possible with your partner and invite them into the process.
Research suggests men who get penile implants have higher satisfaction rates with sexual performance than men who take ED medications. If you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction and have tried endless treatments that failed, penile implants may be your best option to get back to an active sex life.
Giddy Urologist Dr. Edwin Morales shares some guidance about ED treatments in the ED Guide video series. Click here to watch the video.